12 Must-Hear Kacey Musgraves Songs
Kacey Musgraves’ songs are a breath of fresh air to the modern country music scene. Skillful songwriting is evident in every track on her debut album, Same Trailer, Different Park, and its follow-up, Pageant Material. Golden Hour may be her finest moment yet. She shines both lyrically and musically, and the largely stripped-down production lets the songs shine through without any distractions.
Musgraves’ style is one part quirky, one part sincere personal experience and one part social commentary. Her songs don’t try to hide behind vague metaphors or walls of synthesized sound. It’s nearly always clear what Musgraves is trying to say. Though some are more lighthearted than others, all of Musgraves’ songs are unique and artful, making it difficult to narrow down to her best. But we've tried!
Musgraves is never slow to utilize wordplay, and “Step Off” is no outlier. With this happy-go-lucky sounding tune, Musgraves uses her wit in a way many Southern women are accustomed to — disguising an insult by wrapping it in charm. At first, it could be overlooked with its perky rhythm and sweet-sounding melody, but dig a bit deeper and you can hear the real sass behind her words. Of course, the term 'step off' has a meaning in and of itself, but Musgraves takes it to another level, inviting the subject of her telling-off to basically jump off a cliff. The artist tells it like it is in this take-down, wiping her hands of the situation and warning the person she will get what’s coming to her. “Step Off” was not a single from the record, but it’s certainly a testament to her songwriting skills and ability to weave an engaging narrative in three minutes like few others can.
Not many artists venture to pen their own Christmas songs, but Musgraves was up to the challenge. Her A Very Kacey Christmas album featured a few original tunes, and “Present Without a Bow” is one of the standouts. Bringing her own flavor to Christmas — a breezy, classic country vibe with splashes of Hawaiian and R&B thrown in — Musgraves submits this song to the Christmas canon and adds R&B vocalist Leon Bridges for good measure. Musgraves says the idea came to her in a dream, and the imagery was so memorable she created this song from it, along with Bridges.
“Dime Store Cowgirl” is Musgraves’ homage to her roots despite her recently-attained celebrity status, explaining that though she may have met her hero, Willie Nelson, and sold a lot of albums, she’s still the girl she ever was. The catchy tune is a bit more pop-influenced than her other more classically country songs, but it still keeps her strong wit and lyricism intact and shows a slightly different side to her style. “Dime Store Cowgirl” was the second single off her sophomore album, Pageant Material, and was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2016 Americana Music Honors & Awards.
If there’s anything Musgraves is an expert on, it’s life in the small-town south, particularly of the trailer park variety, which appears frequently in her songwriting.”The Trailer Song” is a not-so-polite telling off of a neighbor that can’t keep her nose in her own business, especially when the neighbor’s life isn’t so perfect either. “Keep your two cents on your side of the fence,” Musgraves sings in a very matter-of-fact way, framed in a laid-back old-school country tune. Though it does not appear on a full-length album, the 2014 single still makes a solid contribution to her catalog of well-crafted stories.
Another tribute to the Winnebago lifestyle, "My House" is a sweet love song couched in a road trip soundtrack, declaring a dedication to a long-distance relationship. Somehow, Musgraves can even make draining a septic tank sound whimsical. “Water and electric and a place to drain the sceptic, a KOA is A-OK as long as I’m with you,” Musgraves sings. “If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.” The charming tune appears on her first record, Same Trailer, Different Park, and brings out the softer side of this sassy songwriter.
A gritty, rock-infused country track, "Blowin’ Smoke" takes a well-known phrase and turns it on its head, in true Musgraves fashion, skewing it toward both the figurative and literal meanings at the same time. The song tells the story of women who work in a diner, stuck in a rut with dreams of breaking free but never actually taking the leap. Gang vocals join in on the chorus and bridge, turning the lyrics into a sort of ironic anthem. The clever lyrics call it like it is, putting a somewhat darkly-humorous air over a bleak situation. "Blowin’ Smoke" was released as the second single from Same Trailer, Different Park, and while it wasn’t a No. 1 hit, it introduced the world to Musgraves and showcases her unique style and talent, earning it a spot in our list of the best Kacey Musgraves songs.
Written by the same writing team and as part of the same session as "Follow Your Arrow," "Biscuits" is musically similar, while lyrically it's a bit less challenging. The lead single from Musgraves' sophomore Pageant Material album reminds listeners to "mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy."
Kicking off Same Trailer, Different Park is "Silver Lining," a life lesson wrapped in a folky mid-tempo tune. The song begins with a somber vibe, as the verses depict that dejected feeling we all get when nothing seems to be going right. Musgraves shows off her songwriting skills with smart twists on cliches, breaking into a more uplifting chorus which explains that if you want to achieve something great or do something worthwhile, you often have to persevere through hard times. They’re occupational hazards, like rain from a silver-lined cloud or bees surrounding honey. "Silver Lining" is a perfect introduction to the rest of Musgraves’ debut album and proves her songwriting prowess from the first line.
The signature song from Golden Hour is "Butterflies," if only because it's the only one to get a little radio airplay thus far. It's also beautifully simple. "Cloud nine was always out of reach / Now, I remember what it feels like to fly," she sings during the "chrysalis" song. Only Musgraves could mix the galactic with the western and have it come out feeling like important art.
Musgraves’ most well-known hit, "Follow Your Arrow" is a bold, quirky statement about casting off what other people think and staying true to yourself. The singer-songwriter has become known for her unabashed lyrics, and "Follow Your Arrow" is chock-full of them. While the song may have drawn a bit of controversy from more conservative listeners, it was largely welcomed with open arms as an encouragement for people to be who they are. Billboard ranked Musgraves’ third single from her mainstream debut as No. 2 on their list of the 20 Best Songs of 2013, and it reached No. 10 on the Hot Country charts.
Musgraves paints a beautifully sad picture of a small town community in "Merry Go 'Round," a ballad she co-wrote with Shane McAnnally and Josh Osborne. The song features a rolling banjo and piano hook, framing the rather blunt lyrics with a soft, laid-back resignation. It’s a story most people from a small town can relate to — the cyclical pace of life, the addictions, the settling for what has always been rather than pursuing a better future. "Merry Go 'Round" isn’t exactly a lighthearted tune, but the combination of its raw truth and skillful musicality resonates with listeners on a deeper level. The song was released as the lead single from her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park and won a Grammy for Best Country Song in 2014. Is there any question that it's the best of Kacey Musgraves' songs?
The patient "Space Cowboy" sends a lover off with emboldened independence. "When a horse wants to run, there ain't no sense in closing the gate," she sings. "So you can have your space cowboy." Taste of Country reviewer Grady Smith called the song a "breakup ballad for the ages."