“I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be all right,” croons Kacey Musgraves on “Slow Burn,” the standout opening track on her third album, Golden Hour. The lyric sums up both the radical optimism permeating the record and the free-thinking approach that has made this year’s Innovator stand out. On Golden Hour, the 30-year-old Texan embraced new themes (romance and happiness, inspired by her recent marriage) and new sounds (disco flourishes, electro grooves). “I changed nearly everything,” says Musgraves, and the result, which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, was one of the best-reviewed albums of 2018 and won the CMA Award for album of the year. For Musgraves, challenging the expectations that country artists — and women, especially — face is a matter of course. “I would much rather have fewer [fans] that know exactly what I’m about than have this mediocre mass appeal that’s watered down,” she says. “I’m not into pulling punches.”
What was it like opening for Harry Styles on his summer arena tour?
The insecure part of me was thinking, “[Styles’ fans] are going to be like, ‘Who’s this country bitch?’” But they could not have opened their arms wider to us. They were like, “I didn’t know what to expect, but I really like your music, and now I actually like country music. I didn’t know I liked country music!” Or, “I hate country music, but I like yours!” It was cool.
What changes do you hope to see within country music soon?
The hot topics for years now have been gender and equality. And while I do align with a lot of those thoughts, I want to see change in all areas. Where are our country artists of color? Where are our country artists of a different sexual orientation? I’m proud to be a woman in country music right now, but we have a long way to go. Gender is just the tip of the iceberg.
How do you ensure that you’ll keep evolving creatively?
My one wish is to always be able to tap into something, whether that’s working on a coloring book with my mom, which I’m doing right now, or getting to design the inside of a tour bus for the first time. Getting to lend my creativity to different things — that’s happiness to me.
Who inspires you to keep speaking your mind in your music?
Dolly Parton’s at the top of that list. Selena Quintanilla, being from Texas, she’s the ultimate queen. I got to meet Adele for the first time recently, and she was so refreshing — she knows who she is. I still look to the Dixie Chicks for inspiration. And when Avril Lavigne came out, I was like, “Holy shit, this is my chick!” I needed an emo idol.