The Kacey Musgraves bandwagon is getting very crowded these days. The 24-year-old singer was one of the most talked-about artists at the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Nashville. Her performance of "Follow Your Arrow," from her debut "Same Trailer Different Park" (March 19, Mercury), at the Universal Music Luncheon on Feb. 27 touched off a firestorm of excitement among attendees, with its laissez-faire approach to marijuana smoking and same-sex relationships-an anomaly in a still-conservative genre.
KKBQ Houston PD Johnny Chiang was impressed. "It's one of the most original and witty songs I've ever heard, and I can't wait to play it," he says. "However, there will be some stations that won't give it a chance on the air because the lyrics are somewhat edgy."
KAJA San Antonio PD Travis Moon compares Musgraves' smartly subversive lyrics to Big & Rich's 2004 hit "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy." "It's an impact song," he says. "It's going to be special should it come out next. There will be lots of extra notice for country radio--that's exciting."
Musgraves' CRS performance follows her four Academy of Country Music Award nominations, which helped boost her debut single, "Merry Go 'Round." After slowly building for months, the song breaks into the top 10 of Billboard's Country Airplay chart this week, rising 11-10 in its 27th week on the tally. It's sold 496,000 downloads since its release last September, according to Nielsen SoundScan, partly thanks to heavy exposure on NPR, which named Musgraves a "favorite discovery" on its "Year in Music" episode last year. Between that track's steady momentum and the challenging lyrics of "Follow Your Arrow," the label has yet to decide whether the latter will be pushed to radio, though it was quietly made available on the album's preorder page at iTunes, selling 6,000 copies so far.
Whether or not "Follow Your Arrow" gets the push some CRS attendees are clamoring for, Mercury has lined up some choice marketing opportunities for Musgraves' debut. ITunes will offer a single download during street week, and Musgraves has been selected as the CMT Listen Up artist for April. She's also slated to be the first country act to be featured in Vevo's emerging artist program, LIFT. Musgraves will take full advantage of the onstage charisma she showed at CRS as well, with plans to perform on NBC's "Today" on March 19 and open for Kenny Chesney's No Shoes Nation tour through August.
The singer--who first made noise nationally as a contestant on USA Network's "Nashville Star" in 2007--was signed in 2011 by Luke Lewis at Lost Highway Records, where she became accustomed to the kind of creative freedom needed to write and co-produce a song like "Follow Your Arrow." "[Lewis] told me, 'I will never mess with what you do. Even if it falls on its face, you will know that I gave you the chance to be what you wanted to be,'" she recalls.
Musgraves says she retained this independence after she moved to Mercury's roster when Lost Highway was absorbed by Universal Music Group and Lewis was replaced by Mike Dungan as chairman/CEO of Universal Music Nashville Entertainment. "Halfway through the project, Mike Dungan stepped in, and I couldn't have asked for a better switchover. He let me continue to do what I want to do."
If Musgraves' CRS breakthrough is any indication, she could be doing that for a long time. "Her potential is enormous," UMG senior VP of marketing Cindy Mabe says. "She's only 24 years old and she knows exactly who she is and what she's about. That is so rare. She's not going to change who she is to please anyone."