“I know not everyone is going to relate to everything I’m saying, but that doesn’t make me a rebel,” said Kacey Musgraves in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. She was speaking in regards to a question posed to her about being a “pop-country rebel”. On her 2013 debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, Musgraves won critical acclaim from country and non-country fans alike; some loved her well-executed, traditional country sensibilities while others praised her for challenging old-fashioned country ideals. That being said, some didn’t see her as a welcome face in the country scene because of the latter. Either way, her second album, Pageant Material, has been long awaited by her growing, crossover fan base. We find her in full form here, with an extremely accessible, high-quality, album that has the ability to win over fans of all sorts.
As someone who isn’t the biggest country connoisseur, it’s a little difficult to review an album like Pageant Material. To one respect, compared to her first record, this one is definitely poppier, in a relative sense. While she doesn’t abandon her wits to please the mass populous, Musgraves seems to want to do two things here. Not only does she deliver catchier and sunnier melodies, but she also tries to make things a little more traditionally country. Now, I say traditional country to mean, what most would put forth as “stereotypical country”. What makes things tough for me to judge is the fact that my exposure to country has been pretty limited. In my mind, Pageant Material is a mix of what comes to my head when I think country music, and a slight shade of older Taylor Swift.
While her debut began with a sunrise of shy guitar on “Silver Lining”, “High Time” kicks off the record hard and fast. Filled with a glow of confidence, its group harmonies and whistles are a welcome product of her growth over the past two years. This charisma carries over to “Dime Store Cowgirl”, a gem of a self-referential look at Musgraves’ rise to stardom. She is as humble as she can be in a song about herself, recounting feeling “small under Mount Rushmore” and drinking “some wine I can’t [she couldn’t] afford”. In mere minutes, she draws listeners in with her infectious melodies tailored for summer, melodies that aren’t obnoxious or irritating, but are worthy of the Kacey Musgraves name.
Throughout, Pageant Material treads along a variety of trappings that Musgraves hit right on the head. Towards the middle of the record, she rattles off a string of somber takes, ranging from the internal pensiveness on “Somebody to Love”, to her vague John Mayer impression “Miserable” and romantic “Late to the Party”, Musgraves’ slower side is a good one, and she manages to do so much without anything too grandiose or self-indulgent. Part of Musgraves’ appeal stems from her narratives and commentary regarding her southern upbringing. She goes from criticizing pageant life on “Pageant Material” to bringing out the dark side of small town life on “This Time” and an appreciation for the good and bad of family on “Family Is Family”, Musgraves shows off her ability to use her words and music to tell stories and speak to southern life.
The record doesn’t try to be something that Musgraves doesn’t want it to be. Just like her anthem “Follow Your Arrow”, “Biscuits” follows up the “just be yourself” sentiment that brought her to where she is today. From the “mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy” refrain to “you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea/some like it bitter some like it sweet” on “Cup of Tea”, not only does Musgraves show a knack for food and drink metaphors, but she reiterates the fact that it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about her craft. In the end, it doesn’t matter that she can be criticized by some for making music that she is proud of. Even so, Pageant Material is such an enjoyable listen from start to finish. Lyrically and aesthetically effective, it is filled with a sense of warmth and freshness that will click with, really, any music fan, that of country or otherwise.