Back in 2019, Kacey Musgraves was honored at Variety’s Power of Women event, where she gave a truly incredible speech that encompasses exactly what makes her one of my all-time favorite artists.
She started off by talking about being interested in music from a young age, and the challenges that presented being in the tiny town of Golden, Texas, where life revolved around sports.
Kacey spoke about how her first guitar teacher John DeFoore challenged her to write songs, and she quickly discovered a knack for it, realizing that it was her passion and she wanted to make a living as a songwriter one day.
Of course, she also noted the important influence of icons like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn specifically in her writing, who often spoke about taboo subjects unapologetically in their music at a time when that was not nearly as accepted as it is today (and also why they both had more than a few songs banned at country radio):
“Okay, they got the big hair and they’re frilly and they’re rhinestone and they’re glamorous, but they’re important for more than that.
They’re writers and they wrote about real things — birth control, women’s libido, husbands that drink.
And even if the subject matter was thought to be controversial and banned by radio, they had the courage to stay true to these visions in the face of disapproval, especially at that time.
It must have required some gigantic balls.”
Amen to that…
The best part of the speech came, though, when Kacey detailed the process of sending her incredible, Platinum-certified debut single “Merry Go ‘Round” to country radio.
Included on her 2013 debut studio album Same Trailer Different Park, it put her on the map for a lot of country fans, but it didn’t have success without her putting up a fight:
“Starting out, I found myself being told that I really shouldn’t write about certain things. Weed, homosexuality, most of my observations on society in general.
I was told that a debut female had to release something upbeat, you know, the classic, ‘Oh, we need something that everyone’s gonna like.’ And clearly, I don’t agree.”
She says a big record executive at her label back then told her “Merry Go ‘Round” would never work, probably because he felt the subject matter wasn’t “universal,” or upbeat enough, to fit the taste of the masses, especially for an artist no one knew at the time.
Needless to say, it was a huge risk for all parties, though that clearly doesn’t mean it was the wrong move.
Let’s be honest… that kind of talk is nothing new when it comes to the big wigs in Music City, though Kacey’s response is less-than-common when it comes to young female artists in the music business, to say the least, because it can be really damn hard to stand up for yourself the way she did here.
Kacey just wasn’t satisfied or okay with that idea or concept, saying she ultimately knew she wouldn’t be proud of herself if she altered the song, which was so full of her own story and truth, to make record sales:
“I really fought for my first single, which is ‘Merry Go ‘Round,’ saying, ‘I am willing to go down in flames for the song which you’re saying isn’t going to work. You know, I just wouldn’t feel proud of myself if I altered this, you know, to try and sell more.’
And I was actually met with the word for word response, — this is from a grown man, one that runs a company — saying, ‘Well, you know, sometimes in this business, you just gotta do things that you’re not proud of.'”
Integrity… you love to see it.
She also hit him with one of the greatest lines of all time, which was even more impressive knowing how young she was at the time talking to such a powerful person in Nashville that could certainly control a lot of her career back then, saying fearlessly:
“And I said, ‘That’s where me and you are very different.’
So not heeding the warnings of all this failure, I put out the song, and it’s still my highest charting radio single, and it ended up winning a Grammy for song of the year.
Little gold stars just reinforcing what I instinctively felt: that a woman’s perspective is important, but it’s even more important to have the courage and the opportunity to share it.”
I think every album she’s put out since, including my all-time favorite Pageant Material, is proof of that.
It’s simply refreshing to hear an artist, especially a woman like Kacey, speak so freely and full of conviction about having integrity and believing in yourself and what you want.
I also like to think her song “Good Ol’ Boys Club” was partially inspired by this incident, especially the following verse:
“There’s a million ways to dream and that’s just fine Oh but I ain’t losin’ any sleep at night And if I end up goin’ down in flames Well at least I know I did it my own way”
She inspires me so much, and I find myself going back to this speech often and think it’s so important that women, and really everyone, take time to listen and reflect on everything she says here and the larger message behind it:
“Merry Go ‘Round” won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song at the 56th Grammy Awards, and the album Same Trailer Different Park was certified Platinum by the RIAA in 2018. It was written by Kacey along with Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally.
The song barely cracked the Top 10 on country radio after it peaked at #10 on the U.S. Billboard Country Airplay chart, and like she said, is still her highest-charting radio single to day.
It’s easily one of the best country songs put out in the last 15 or so years in my very humble opinion, too, and it’s not particularly close.
You can watch her full speech here, and I highly recommend it: