Country artist Kacey Musgraves isn’t ‘country’ enough for the Grammys

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I don’t listen to Kacey Musgraves, mostly because I don’t really listen to much country music. And that’s what Kacey is – a country singer. You could argue that she’s a crossover artist, and I would probably agree with that, but to be a crossover artist, your feet need to be firmly planted in one genre, thus enabling you to “crossover” into another genre. She’s a country artist with pop influences and pop crossover appeal. That’s how she bills herself, that’s how her label promotes her, and that’s the whole deal with so many female country stars these days. They’re part of the “New Country,” the less insular, less pure-Nashville energy in country music today. So it’s very strange that the Recording Academy – responsible for the Grammys – is now saying that Kacey’s new album is not eligible for nominations in the country music categories.

Since her debut album Same Trailer Different Park won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album in 2014, Kacey Musgraves has been a mainstay in the category — nominated again in 2016 for Pageant Material, and winning for Golden Hour in 2019. But her newest record, Star-Crossed, won’t be in contention for the same honor at this year’s ceremonies. According to an email obtained by Rolling Stone, from Cindy Mabe, President of Universal Music Group Nashville, to the Recording Academy, the Academy has decided the album is not eligible for contention in the country album category. Star-Crossed was instead ruled eligible for Pop Vocal Album. The letter argues that excluding the record — which was tagged as “country” in streaming and metadata — sets a dangerous precedent for the genre.

“This decision from the country committee to not accept star-crossed into the country albums category is very inconsistent and calls into question the other agendas that were part of this decision,” Mabe writes. “The idea that a handful of people including competitors, who would benefit from Kacey not being in the country category, are deciding what is country only exacerbates the problem. The system is broken and sadly not just for Kacey Musgraves but for our entire genre because of how these decisions are made for music’s biggest stage. Building roadblocks for artists who dare to fight the system is so dangerous and against everything I think the Grammy’s [sic] stand for.”

The Academy previously used committees of industry insiders to determine nominees and winners, but following demands for change from artists like the Weeknd, the Academy shifted to a majority peer-to-peer voting system that the Academy said would place power “back in the hands of the entire voting membership body.”

Despite country radio’s reluctance to embrace anyone other than conservative straight white men (and a limited pool of straight white women), the Grammy Awards have historically been a crucial foothold for artists like Musgraves who don’t adhere to the genre’s “shut up and sing” norms. It’s where the Chicks found success for Taking the Long Way in 2007 after being banned from radio, where Mickey Guyton sang “Black Like Me” after denial from the industry, and where other independent-thinking artists like Sturgill Simpson have found recognition.

As Mabe points out, this year “country music has been mired in the controversy surrounding one of the formats biggest artists, Morgan Wallen, who used a racial slur and grew fans and audience from it. THIS IS NOT ALL THAT WE ARE,” she writes. “Under the surface are the artists that change it all and they are led by the example of Kacey Musgraves.” Wallen, notably, is nominated for a CMA Award for Album of the Year at the November CMA ceremonies.

[From Rolling Stone]

A lot of things are happening all at once – the Recording Academy is facing widespread and completely justified criticism for their secretive, misogynistic and out-of-touch dysfunction. This problem highlights how out-of-touch those old men are, and yes, they’re mostly old men. This is also about “who gets to be country,” and who defines the genre, who gatekeeps the genre, and what gets played on country radio. Kacey is forward-looking in her attempts to crossover into pop radio, because the old white men in charge of country music radio stations have a major thing about not giving much air time to country music’s women. The Recording Academy is basically taking the side of the old white male gatekeepers of country radio: you don’t get to call yourself country, little girl, now run along and don’t make a fuss.

54th Academy Of Country Music Awards - Arrivals

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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25 Responses to “Country artist Kacey Musgraves isn’t ‘country’ enough for the Grammys”

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  1. Rose says:

    Considering how many Good Ol Boys I’ve seen in my (very red) country state bumping rap music in their lifted pickups, and women who are fans of Musgraves because she’s fresh and original, those old white men better have a wake up call or they won’t have an audience to sell to.

  2. SH says:

    Country music obviously has their issues, but this one is on Kasey. She marketed this as her pop album and how she was leaving country behind and made a big deal out of living in LA now and then when it did not perform well commercially they tried sticking it back in country to try and get awards recognition.

    • Green Desert says:

      I’d push back on this a little bit. A huge reason for this is the conservative white male guard of country music. Much has been written about country music stations not playing female artists. They’ve also done much to keep the genre white. Add to that the fact that Kacey is outspokenly progressive in her views which bleeds into her music. It’s more than just how it’s been marketed. Who she is scares country gatekeepers.

    • IMARA219 says:

      I have zero clue who she is. She had a music movie event on Paramount+ for Starcrossed and the ads were on my FB feed. I checked it out because I have Paramount+. Didn’t have any working knowledge of her. I appreciated some of the sounds and even downloaded the album on my Amazon Music account. That’s when I realized she was a country artist. The music is all POP. None of it sounds like a product of Country.

  3. olliesmom says:

    And then there is “bro country”. How is that classified?

  4. just a small town girl says:

    Amusingly enough we just watched Netlfix’s Explained episode about Country Music. It’s always been a flexible/in flux genre and it’s embarrassing that racism and what is essentially eliteism is so deeply embedded into “what country should be”

    • Oh_Hey says:

      First they came for Faith and the Chicks in the 90s for the same thing. Then Lil Nas X when he is very clearly a member of the “Hee Haw” agenda. The almost complete ignoring then industry tokenization of Mikey Guyton (“black like me” is a bop) after they got called out. Anyone remember the year all the nominees for Best Album at the CMAs was 4 dudes and Carrie? Marin Morris has BEEN talking about this.

      I’m not a country fan but stuff like this is what keeps the genre mostly male and white and drives ladies to pop and POC to R&B/Hip Hop when they’re really doing different kinds of county.

  5. Noki says:

    Taylor Swift had great cross over success,she should seek her advice.

    • AMA1977 says:

      I like Taylor well enough and have a lot of respect for her musical talent and marketing/branding abilities (genius!) and I know and will sing every word of “Shake It Off” anytime I hear it, but Kacey does NOT need Taylor’s “help.” She is amazing in every way and should be (SHOULD BE, but evidently is not) accepted with open arms by both pop and “country” listeners. I would categorize her as Americana moreso than country (purely based on her sensibilities and my bias toward that label as opposed to the bigger, more problematic tent of “country”) but she is a joy to listen to always. Thought-provoking, cheeky, hilariously funny, wistful, sensitive, outspoken, wildly talented, and with a beautiful voice to match. She is a GREAT songwriter and a good human. Kaiser, you should give her a listen, I think you’d find some common ground in her “the South, amirite??” wink-wink-aesthetic.

      • kimmy says:

        Agreed! I am not a country fan by any means, but I really really love Golden Hour. Kasey is really talented!

    • funinsun says:

      Taylor had GREAT success, but when she wanted to come back country, she got a lot of grief and there were comments about how she left, she cannot come back.

    • funinsun says:

      Taylor has had GREAT crossover success, but when she wanted to go back country, she received a lot of grief from some saying she left country.

  6. Andie says:

    Fuck the current genre of music that’s classified as country.

  7. sassafras says:

    On the one hand, I agree that star crossed is NOT a country album. But I also agree that country absolutely needs to be inclusive. But if EVERYTHING is country, then nothing is? There’s no point in having a genre if anyone who has a twang can be in it. I mean, Post Malone and Beyonce and Megan Thee Stallion are from Texas… do they make country records?

  8. Ellie says:

    I realize the CMTs and the Grammys are different award shows, but if Taylor Swift’s “Betty” and Folklore are country enough for her to perform at the CMTs… then this is country. I haven’t heard the new album but absolutely love Golden Hour, and I normally avoid the country genre at all costs.

    • Fortuona says:

      And as her label said this was a lot more country than the last album and that won the GRAMMY

  9. ItReallyIsYouNotMe says:

    To the point about old white men controlling country music, Maddie and Tae basically called this out years ago with “Girl in a country song.”

  10. Pamplemousse says:

    I listened to this entire album when it dropped because she is one of the few country singers I enjoy. Let’s just put it this way – at one point I had to check that I hadn’t accidentally turned on shuffle and started playing from a pop playlist. Kacey may be a country artist but this is not a country album. The academy made the right call here.

  11. Grant says:

    It seems like country purists love to try and discredit/minimize female country superstars’ successes by criticizing their country roots. I remember back in the 90s when Faith Hill was one of the hottest tickets in music, she was always accused of “Murder on Music Row” because she dared to release music that didn’t comport with “traditional country” norms and that invited massive crossover success. They said the same thing about Shania, The Chicks, Martina McBride, etc. Where are all these critics now that we have to suffer through this insipid “Bro Country” trend that itself is very pop-like and couldn’t be further from “traditional” country sounds?

    It’s all just very misogynistic IMO.

  12. Jen says:

    I’ve long been a listener of Kacey’s music, since her first album. I’m not the biggest fan of country music – I generally hate the twangy voices – but I appreciate the use of real instruments and that they are (usually) genuinely talented singers, instrumentalists and songwriters, unlike the pop genre. My favourite song of hers is Merry Go Round and I think she’s a very good lyricist. Golden Hour had a lot of genre blending but was still country. I listened once through her new album. It is not a country album, it’s a very overproduced pop album. I was so disappointed, it’s everything I don’t like about other artists. There was one song on there that was a bit more stripped back with guitar accompaniment (and I really liked it) but that was it. Each to their own and I’m sure there are people who love the full on pop sound. But a country album, it ain’t.

  13. Marigold says:

    Kacey got me through quarantine. I love this album, but as recorded, it is not country. The way she played on SNL was more of a country sound. Either way, she is fabulous.

  14. The Recluse says:

    I can’t tell any of these modern country music performers apart. They all sound alike. Sigh.
    I guess I’ll stick to Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride and Marty Robbins.