The album that marks a country artist’s fully fledged shift into pop music in some ways represents the turning point of their career. This phenomenon can be observed in Taylor Swift’s incredibly successful 1989, which arguably paved the way for the female country artist’s transition to the pop genre. When Kacey Musgraves followed her junior record with Golden Hour in 2018, there were hints of a coming pop switch buried in high-tempo melodies and shiny vocals, yet it wasn’t until Musgraves dropped Star-Crossed that her artistry crossed the unmistakable pop threshold. Unlike its predecessor, Star-Crossed is not a manifestation of love and its endless beauty, but instead, offers a 48-minute account of its dying breaths — and a detailed narration of the grief that inevitably follows.
In the record’s most glorious moments, Musgraves emulates the insightful lyrical work that won her Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammys, and listeners hear a side of the album’s central relationship that refutes the polished affections of Golden Hour. Like any good storyteller, Musgraves delivers these insights in sensible increments, forming cracks in the wall before all-out demolishing it — revealing the heartbreaking split between her and ex-husband Ruston Kelly. Earlier tracks, such as “Good Wife” and “Justified,” effectively introduce listeners to the record’s narrative, giving Musgraves’ perspective on early turmoils and internal conflicts.
As the album progresses, so does the story that Musgraves is telling. Her relationship unravels with every track, and listeners gain an even deeper understanding of her motives and intentions. On “Easier Said,” Musgraves looks back on her previous effort, dismantling its picture-perfect relationship and breaking the mirage of the eternal Golden Hour. This sentiment continues on “What Doesn’t Kill Me” where she laments: “Golden hour faded to black/ Say that it ain’t coming back” — literally and figuratively closing the chapter opened three years prior. These full-circle moments make Star-Crossed a living and breathing body of work, one that represents the limits of love and the finite space it can inhabit.
This record, however, is not restricted to memorializing a past love; it also seeks to teach valuable lessons from the experience of loving. Some of these lessons, such as the ones expressed on “Breadwinner” — an undeniable testament to Musgraves’ talent as a lyricist — allude to broader themes of gender and capitalism on the periphery of the tracks’ core story. On “Breadwinner” in particular, Musgraves extends the eponymous metaphor for financial hierarchy to remark on its inherent masculinity, and cleverly flips that idea on its head. As a result, listeners understand the effects of this patriarchal gaze manifest in her relationship, as she goes on to advise others to be wary of participating in such a toxic paradigm. Another inevitable highlight, “Hookup Scene,” unfolds like a letter Musgraves is writing to her past self, expressing caution and regret in abandoning a relationship that may have been salvageable.
All of these themes culminate in what feels like a quiet, but nonetheless tragic ending. Following some more lighthearted, albeit forgettable, final tracks, Star-Crossed finally arrives at its closing remarks: “Gracias a la Vida.” This song — originally sung by Chilean artist Violeta Parra — is a fitting, hushed end to an emotional record that warrants such a conclusion. As the curtain begins to close, listeners are left with nothing but Musgraves’ distorted vocals over layers of static and guitar in what feels like an epilogue to some epic tragedy. In many ways, that’s exactly what Star-Crossed embodies — a story of two lovers who clash and break apart. In other ways, however, this album is Musgraves’ personal list of lessons learned from a failed attempt at love, which she’s generously decided to share with the masses.
And as the final spotlight dims, and the final chords echo through “Gracias a la Vida,” we’re reminded of an artist who not only survived the shattering of a marriage, but also created a work that reminds us all that loss — much like love — does not last forever.