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Keeping-it-real country singer headed to No. 1 with an Arrow

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Kacey Musgraves won new fans with her recent Grammy performance.

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Kacey Musgraves won new fans with her recent Grammy performance.

After winning Grammys for best country album and song, earning five Academy of Country Music nominations and sweeping the Nashville Scene's nationwide critics poll in 2013, Kacey Musgraves discovered the new normal last month.

First, there was a cake covered with glitter and a Grammy logo presented by country superstars Lady Antebellum, whom Musgraves just rejoined as opening act on tour (they appear at the MTS Centre on Wednesday night). Then there were rehearsals for a new cover song that Lady A wants to play with her in concert. And there's the newfound excitement when audiences hear Follow Your Arrow, the tune she recently performed on the Grammy show.

"There was a huge reaction to Arrow so I guess a lot of people must have watched," she says.

Like Taylor Swift, Musgraves tries to keep it real -- except she comments more on society than on ex-boyfriends. The newcomer, 25, refuses to sugarcoat her lyrics for country radio. If she wants to sing about pot smoking, same-sex love or people who have two kids by the time they're 21 -- all referenced in Follow Your Arrow -- she does.

The song's genesis was a note Musgraves wrote to a pal.

"I had a friend who was moving to Paris for like five months and she was leaving everything she was comfortable with behind -- even the language," she said. "I gave her a little arrow necklace and on the card I wrote a dumb little poem. It said something about following your arrow and kissing lots of boys and having fun. But I saved the idea because I thought it would make a really great song."

She began writing Follow Your Arrow with Katy Perry for the pop star's most recent album. (She will open for Perry on Aug. 26 at the MTS Centre.)

"When I played the idea, Katy said, 'That sounds like something you'd really be great at. I think you should keep it for yourself.' I'm really glad I did."

Musgraves finished writing it with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, two songwriting aces who are gay.

Noted critic Geoffrey Himes praised Musgraves and Clark for relying on "vigorous realism rather than lazy clichés... There's a fearlessness in their writing that puts the iconoclasm of most indie rockers to shame. Musgraves and Clark seem to believe that if they write honestly and evocatively about American small-town life, the people who live there will respond."

Just don't call Musgraves a rebel.

"I get frustrated when people throw the rebel and outlaw card out there. The things I'm singing about aren't controversial, especially not to me."

She just wants to reflect real life. That's what she did with her debut single, Merry Go Round.

The song was sparked by a joke by co-writer McAnally's mom, who observed lots of comings and goings at a neighbour lady's house. "I don't know if she's selling Mary Kay (cosmetics) or Mary Jane," slang for marijuana.

"We played on words with 'Mary' and then the circle theme presented itself," Musgraves recalls. "It's not just something about small towns; it's a life thing. I feel like no matter where you come from, you follow in your parents' footsteps because it's familiar."

Musgraves grew up in Golden, Texas, a town of 500.

After high school, she moved to Austin, and eventually Nashville, releasing three independent albums and placing seventh on USA Network's Nashville Star talent contest in 2007. She's written tunes for such stars as Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson. In 2012, she signed her own recording deal with Mercury Records and released Same Trailer Different Park in spring 2013. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country and No. 2 on the pop charts.

And yes, Musgraves has lived in a trailer park.

"The first house that my parents brought me home to was a little yellow trailer out in the middle of nowhere, outside of Mineola, Texas. So I'm allowed to poke fun at it a little bit."

 

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2014 C3

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