Kacey Musgraves breaks hearts with ‘star-crossed’

With ‘star-crossed,’ Kacey Musgraves explores topics and genres beyond her country roots. But the album lacks any real exploration of the emotions and stories it describes. // Photo courtesy of Instagram

Our Take: 2 Stars

Following her 2019 Grammy album of the year “Golden Hour,” Kacey Musgraves released the long-awaited “star-crossed” on Sept. 10. This record arrives after Musgraves’ recent divorce from fellow musician Ruston Kelly — a topic which she does not shy away from as she illustrates life post-divorce.

Her experience with divorce is explicit in the album from the start, with Musgraves singing, “Let me set the scene / Two lovers ripped right at the seam” on the titular “star-crossed.” The first portion of the album includes songs inspired by the last chapter of Musgraves’ marriage, though certainly written with the awareness that it would soon be closing.

The album continues into a wave of heartbreak songs — longing for things to have turned out differently with tracks like “simple times,” “angel” and “easier said.” The third and final act on “star-crossed” follows Musgraves into resolution as she croons about survival and moving forward with songs like “keep lookin’ up” and “what doesn’t kill me.” Musgraves’ folk cover of Violeta Parra’s 1966 “Gracias a la vida” concludes the album, due to her experience hearing the song during the guided mushroom trip that acted as the catalyst for “star-crossed.”

Musgraves has demonstrated her originality and maturity in the past, but does not bother to draw on them on “star-crossed.” An album centered around a crude emotion like heartbreak requires more depth and exploration than Musgraves provides, leaving listeners desperately wanting more.

Heartbreak may be a universal human experience, but successful artists have found ways to bring originality to the topic. “star-crossed” does not accomplish this. Songs like “if this was a movie..” and “easier said” beg for her grief to have an alternate, happy ending, with little novelty across the sound to make these additions unique in any way.

This album is easy listening only due to a perfect balance of slow, acoustic songs and louder pop songs, especially for an album established in heartbreak.

“Hookup scene” argues against the praise of society’s current dating landscape, which is largely expressed as favorable among Musgraves’ songwriter peers. The simple acoustics paired with Musgraves’ criticism of Tinder provides the most refreshing and stimulating arrangement on the record.

Pop song “breadwinner” tackles Musgraves’ experience as the more successful partner within her relationships, a topic that traditional country music fans would never dream of singing along to.

While “star-crossed” is a comfortable listen, the album does not fit into any genre, much like Musgraves herself. Even though Musgraves’ prior hit “Golden Hour” managed to fall into country-pop, “star-crossed” certainly does not fit into the same box. Several heartbreak ballads approach close enough to Musgraves’ country roots for nostalgic fans to enjoy without forcing the album solely into that country music category.

With a 15-song tracklist, the album marches on a few songs too long. Acoustic folk songs and catchy pop tunes with some funk sprinkled throughout may attract a wide array of music fans but struggles to keep any of them.The lyrics, while personal, have a simplicity that do not generate a strong desire for listeners to revisit the album more than once. Several upbeat songs on “star-crossed” feel like empty additions, with too few verses to convey any emotion or story worth experiencing again.

Musgraves ultimately leaves fans experiencing their own heartbreak with this album. While “star-crossed” spans more genres than ever before, it should be received at face value: as a journey directly through Musgraves’ heartbreak with nothing hiding between the lines.