For Kacey Musgraves, getting divorced was just as personal as it was professional. Most people struggle while going through divorce, even when the entire world isn’t privy to the details of the relationship’s demise and the couple’s initial marriage story. Kacey has mostly kept quiet about the specifics behind the end of her marriage, but since her love story was implicitly entwined with her rise to fame, it’s not as simple as that when it comes to her music. So when she greeted the audience after performing a few initial songs on Sunday night, at the newly-dubbed Crypto.com arena, and was met with a minutes-long roar of applause and a standing ovation, it’s easy to understand why she almost broke down in tears right then.
The decidedly leftist, queer friendly country singer has been a rising star in the genre since her major label debut, Same Trailer Different Park, came out back in 2013. But over the course of her subsequent releases, 2015’s quirky and fun Pageant Material and particularly 2018’s groundbreaking Golden Hour, she became a household name. Golden Hour catapulted Kacey to mainstream pop success, even winning the coveted Album Of The Year award at the 2019 Grammys, and since the record was almost entirely an homage to her relationship with then-husband and fellow country songwriter, Ruston Kelly, Kacey’s entry into the spotlight was primarily as a married woman.
Until the news broke in mid 2020 that the couple had split up, and a year after that, the update that Kacey was returning with a new album directly addressing her divorce: Star-Crossed. Though it might be a bit dramatically titled, Star-Crossed is actually an incredibly thoughtful, gracious and even necessary meditation on the subject of losing a cosmic connection. It wasn’t a crowd pleaser in the same way that Golden Hour was, but this record has growing power as an eventual classic. Also existential and deeply sad — during Sunday’s show Musgraves cracked that the record should’ve come with a trigger warning — Star-Crossed was so at odds with the honeyed, joyous mood of Golden Hour that a tour including elements from both albums seemed like a steep ask. Luckily, Musgraves did what she does best: rose to the occasion.
In fact, after hearing the two albums together, it’s suddenly impossible to imagine one without the other. Golden Hour’s sweet naivete is balanced by the staggering loss and emotional turmoil presented on Star-Crossed, and both sides of the coin make more sense when taken together. Isn’t the beginning of every love story the potential start of another breakup? And every breakup clears way for new love to take root. Since Kacey was, in her own words, “single for about a minute,” it’s pretty clear that she’s moving through the grief phase of her divorce and working to grow past it. But, she’s still performing these gut-wrenching songs with the help of a little support from Xanax, and still, somehow, soldiering through the fan-favorite love songs she wrote for her ex. That’s pretty fucking brave, barely two years out.
Clad in a form-fitting, canary yellow dress so short and tight that the dress alone should put all pregnancy rumors to rest for now, and a pair of lowkey Nike sneakers, Kacey commanded the sold-out crowd at LA’s signature downtown arena with even more poise than at a string of smaller shows at the Greek Theater back in 2019. For some performers, the leap from audiences of a few thousand to the 20,000 mark is tough to navigate, but Kacey’s star power only seems to grow along with the crowd size. She’s always been a very reserved performer, though wildly charismatic, delivering devastating lines and clever kiss offs with the same serene poker face.
Her material on Star-Crossed leaves plenty of room for both, as the record’s groove-flecked frontrunner, “Breadwinner,” is the closest this psychedelic album gets to scorched earth. “Cherry Blossom,” a love song infused with an inevitable sense of doom, is another standout when performed live, fleshed out with her excellent backing band (which still includes zero women, whyyyyy), and the ‘90s-loving crowd will latch onto the wacky wub wub of “Simple Times,” which trades existential pain for teenage nostalgia. It’s possible that the strongest song on Star-Crossed is “Good Wife,” the track that most clearly showcases Kacey’s struggle to fulfill her former, rather ill-fitting role. “God help me be a good wife / ‘cuz he needs me,” she sings, showing little regard for her own needs, and a penchant for Tammy Wynette all at once.
Where the crowd got more emotion from the star was when she broke out of performer mode, and just talked with her fans, laughing about hookup culture, weed, tequila, the Madonna Inn, Xanax, Dolly Parton and even fighting with her label over her very first single, “Merry Go ‘Round.”The sole song on the setlist that wasn’t either a tribute to Dolly (her “9 To 5” cover, ceremoniously selected from a scroll), or from the last two albums, Kacey explained how as a then-unknown singer-songwriter, she was discouraged from releasing the track as her debut single because of how “depressing” it was. Longtime fans will remember that though women have long struggled on country radio due to the format’s documented misogyny, the song went all the way to No. 10 on the US Country Airplay chart — a feat that was all but unheard of in 2012.
For Kacey, the single is a reminder to continue marching to the beat of her own drum, and put out music that resonates within her own heart first and foremost. (The song also won Kacey her first Grammy, for Best Country Song, in this very same stadium back in 2014.) Following the one-two punch of “Hookup Scene,” a song that bemoans the worst parts of being newly-single over a Simon & Garfunkel style, finger-picked melody, and the even more morose “Camera Roll,” about how our iPhones quietly keep track of our happiest moments with those who are now gone, “Merry Go ‘Round” was a grounding moment for the show. It was a reminder that before her loved-up days as a newlywed, Musgraves already knew about the darker, grittier side of life, and a testament to her tenure as a songwriter and storyteller, which has now passed the decade mark.
As a divorcée — and a proud one — what Kacey’s Star-Crossed tour most clearly revealed is that despite the breakup, the love, the pain, and the whole damn thing, she’s still pretty much the same person she was before her marriage. That’s a lesson that plenty of other people who have loved and lost can internalize and hopefully move forward with. Instead of letting her divorce be a defining moment for her life, Kacey took her tools as a songwriter and wove it back into the grand tapestry of her own story. Facing the reality of the situation head-on in her songs let Musgraves dictate the way she shared her pain with fans, and becoming the master of her own narrative is a giant step toward healing. Witnessing that masterful act of courage in person, especially after a period of isolation, is part of what made this tour so special.
Finishing out the show with the Golden Hour standouts “Slow Burn” and “Rainbow,” both songs seem to have shifted in meaning since Kacey originally wrote them. “Slow Burn” now doubles as a reminder to go at her own pace in love, no matter what happens, and “Rainbow,” a song that was once written to provide comfort to others now seem perfectly suited to bring peace to her.
Kacey Musgraves’ Star-Crossed Tour at Crypto.com Arena setlist: