On Kacey Musgraves’ fifth studio album, Star-Crossed, the modern country artist leans into heavy production and theatrical undertones that make it an intriguing yet sometimes flawed spectacle. For most, Kacey Musgraves emerged from the shadows with her fourth studio album, Golden Hour. It was critically acclaimed, and won four Grammys including Album of the Year. The record was dedicated to one thing: love. The majority of the innovative tracks were dedicated to her then-husband, Ruston Kelly. In 2020, the couple split, which led to the creation of Musgraves’ newest album, star-crossed. On the 13th track, “what doesn’t kill me,” Musgraves sings the line “I’ve been to hell and back, Golden hour faded black.” A haunting lyric, it perfectly describes star-crossed, which doesn’t portray love, but heartbreak.
Musgraves brought all of the production that made Golden Hour unique, and has taken it even further. While Golden Hour focused on the array of emotions that come from love, star-crossed focuses on all the emotions that come with heartbreak. Divided into three acts, five songs each, the album is intended to act like a Shakespearean play—The first act, sadness, the second act, anger, and the third and final act, hopeful redemption. The acts are vital to the cohesion of the album because when played on shuffle, it becomes disjointed and there are too many dramatic shifts in sound. It is accompanied by a fifty-minute film showcasing the album, which could explain why it’s best listened to in order.
Act One: Sadness. While necessary to the storytelling, it is the weakest of the three acts because of its lack of intimate, complex songwriting, and the production feels off on a few of the tracks. The opener of the album, and the title track, “star-crossed,” starts with the line “Let me set the scene, two lovers ripped right at the seams,” later stating that, “No one’s to blame.” While not expected on a heartbreak album, the line plays perfectly into the record’s theme of “star-crossed lovers.” The song is one of the most theatrical, and while Musgraves’ vocals are beautiful, it feels short and plays more like an intro rather than a complete song that can stand alone. The highlight of act one is “cherry blossom.” The songwriting is on point, the sound is catchy, and the production fits the themes of the song. Musgraves writes about the delicacies relationships hold and the fear of something beautiful ending. It sits in the middle of the act, which gives the act as a whole an uplift. The last two songs, which turned out the most disappointing of the act, “simple times” and “if this was a movie,” don’t help the act gain any traction. The writing on “simple times” can feel cringey at times, with lyrics like, “being grown up kind of sucks, and I’m really just missing the simple times uh-huh” and on “if this was a movie,” the writing and production combined were intended to give it a dream-like quality, but instead make the track sound clashy and leaves the listener disappointed.
Act Two: Anger. It begins with “justified,” one of the best songs Musgraves delivers on the album. The writing is straightforward, and the storyline of the track is meaningful and passionate. It showcases what Musgraves does best, blending pop and country seamlessly. Included in this act is undoubtedly the best song on the album, “angel.” Musgraves sings about not being able to be the perfect companion that she wishes she could’ve been. It is one of the most intimate songs, with lyrics like, “If I was an angel, I wouldn’t have to try, So hard to save you” and “You’d only get the best of me, I’d never want to make you leave.” The chorus is gorgeous, the writing is simplistic in the best way possible, and Musgraves’ vocals will give you a lump in your throat. The slow buildup of production and emotion Musgraves projects throughout the song harnesses the gravity of the subject matter and the theatricality of the album. On “breadwinner”, Musgraves shows the most anger towards her ex-husband out of any track. On a heartbreak album where the absence of anger is noticeable, a song like “breadwinner” feels more impactful than if put on a standard heartbreak album. Others on the act like “camera roll” and “easier said ” don’t necessarily add anything to the act, but at the same time don’t detract from it.
Act Three: Hopeful redemption. While not the best of the album, don’t sleep on act three. There is a smooth transition from the second act with “hookup scene.” The first song off of act three is classic country, and is the second-best track, only behind “angel.”
Again, the chorus showcases Musgraves at her finest. The most surprising part of the track is the feeling of regret that she expresses with lyrics like, “If you’ve got someone to love… Hold on tight, Despite the way they make you sad, ‘Cause I wish I would have known we didn’t have it so bad.” This is perhaps the most vulnerable Musgraves gets on this record. Musgraves’ description of regretting calling it quits is yet another unconventional surprise for a heartbreak album. On the other hand, “there is a light” is an underwhelming track. The production progressively gets worse throughout the track, which seems to be intended to make up for overly repetitive writing. The last track, “gracias a la vida,” is by far the most interesting one. Written by Violeta Parra, the track, which is in Spanish, expresses gratitude towards life, including all the good and bad. Musgraves re-recorded the song and has elevated it into new, experimental territory. Using vocal synthesizers, mysterious recordings that lay low in the background, and the classic picking of a guitar, it showcases all the tricks up Musgraves’ sleeve. Like the title track “star-crossed,” it couldn’t survive on its own as a standalone song, but is the perfect closer to a cathartic album.
Musgraves extends her reach into different genres, grabbing elements of pop as well as a variety of experimental sounds, and brings them into her home-territory of country music. While not perfect, star-crossed allows Musgraves to express the wide range of emotions that come with heartbreak, all in an attention-grabbing way. If you take anything away from this review: give the album time to grow on you.
Album rating: 8/10