GONE WEST

Coun­try mu­sic is cool again, y’hear?

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

Why coun­try mu­sic’s get­ting a cool-girl makeover.

The week­end after Bey­oncé hung up her denim shorts at Coachella, teeny sun­glasses and pink-hued braids were quickly re­placed by Amer­i­can flag biki­nis and (gen­uine) cow­boy hats, at the fes­ti­val’s coun­try mu­sic equiv­a­lent, Stage­coach. Head­lined by the likes of Keith Ur­ban and Garth Brooks, Coachella’s lit­tle sis­ter – ded­i­cated to coun­try, blue­grass and roots – is gain­ing a fol­low­ing of its own, just with a de­cid­edly less zeal­ous ap­proach to an In­sta­gram con­tent plan.

Back home, the Tam­worth Coun­try Mu­sic Fes­ti­val rates as the largest mu­sic fes­ti­val of any genre in the South­ern Hemi­sphere, with ap­prox­i­mately 700 acts draw­ing more than 50,000 vis­i­tors over 10 days (that’s al­most dou­ble the tick­ets sold to last year’s Splen­dour In The Grass 2017).

On Spo­tify, the “Hot Coun­try” playlist is the fifth most pop­u­lar on the plat­form, with al­most 4.8 mil­lion fol­low­ers, and coun­try favourite Tim Mcgraw has more sub­scribers than Kelly Row­land and Solange com­bined. Even bona fide pop queen Kylie Minogue went full coun­try for her lat­est al­bum, Golden. Next year, Net­flix will pre­miere an eight-part se­ries adapted from songs in Dolly Par­ton’s back cat­a­logue, each episode based on a clas­sic hit.

While we’re quiv­er­ing in our glit­ter boots to see “Jo­lene” brought to life, it’s the genre’s new guard that’s worth pay­ing at­ten­tion to. With her Lg­btqi-friendly stance and a pen­chant for a joint,

29-year-old singer-song­writer Kacey Mus­graves is carv­ing out a fresh and de­cid­edly woke ap­proach to be­ing a coun­try act in

2018 – and rock­ing an iri­des­cent rain­bow Rosie As­soulin dress on stage, no less.

Mus­graves’ sound doesn’t just have a niche Deep South fol­low­ing: her 2013 de­but al­bum Same Trailer Dif­fer­ent Park earned huge crit­i­cal ac­claim and won her two Gram­mys, and her sec­ond, Pageant Ma­te­rial, peaked at num­ber

3 on the US Bill­board 200 chart. Back in Fe­bru­ary, mu­sic web­site Stere­ogum – that usu­ally sings the praises of SZA and Vince Sta­ples – posited that her track“space Cow­boy” “may be 2018’s best song so far”.

Born and bred in Texas, Mus­graves grew up with artists like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Par­ton and Wil­lie Nel­son on nearcon­stant ro­ta­tion, “singing re­ally tra­di­tional coun­try and west­ern; wear­ing all the prints and the cow­boy hats”. It’s an aes­thetic she ac­knowl­edges peo­ple haven’t al­ways been proud to have. “Most mod­ern coun­try mu­si­cians try to be ‘not coun­try’.” In her teen years, she says, “I felt like it was su­per lame. None of my friends un­der­stood it; I was em­bar­rassed to sing it in front of them. It wasn’t un­til I started writ­ing songs that I dipped into the coun­try and west­ern I used to be em­bar­rassed by, and fell in love with the craft of writ­ing and telling my story.”

While there’s still a firmly con­ser­va­tive con­tin­gent of coun­try mu­sic fans, a lot has changed in the decade and a half since Dixie Chicks-gate – ear­lier this year for­mer Arkansas gover­nor Mike Huck­abee (who is pro-nra, and once claimed same-sex mar­riage was akin to incest) stood down just a day after be­ing ap­pointed to the board of the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion Foun­da­tion, after many in the in­dus­try – in­clud­ing Mus­graves’ man­ager Ja­son Owen – voiced their anger over the ap­point­ment.

“I love the coun­try crowd, but I’m not scared of them,” says Mus­graves. “I’m al­ways gonna do what I feel is best for me, and who­ever wants to come on board for that is ap­pre­ci­ated. No-one’s al­ways go­ing to agree with ev­ery­thing I say – and like­wise. But that’s OK.”

Of her most re­cent al­bum, Golden Hour (recorded at Sheryl Crow’s Nashville stu­dio-cum­sta­bles), Mus­graves says: “I don’t need to just make a ran­dom pop al­bum for no rea­son. It was im­por­tant when mak­ing this record to not dis­guise or hide my char­ac­ter and my spirit – keep­ing that coun­try sound I have, while play­ing with new, more fu­tur­is­tic ones, like synths.”

“You can put this record on at 2am and just let it flow by,” says Mus­graves. “It doesn’t make you think too hard, but the lyrics mean a lot,” which – whether dressed in trusty plaid or rain­bow Rosie As­soulin – is per­haps the purest joy of coun­try mu­sic.

“MOST MOD­ERN COUN­TRY MU­SI­CIANS TRY TO BE ‘NOT COUN­TRY’”

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