At Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Kacey Musgraves proved herself as much a pop icon as a performer steeped in country music traditions.
Kacey Musgraves arrived in Nashville in 2009 as a hopeful country star. More than a decade later, in a capacity-packed Bridgestone Arena on Friday night, she showed how she has exceeded stereotypical country expectations and become a pop superstar.
Musgraves recognized half of country music’s vaunted unbroken circle: a rainbow symbolizing a deeper acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. As much as the show highlighted his firm grasp of pop flair with country roots, it was a love where his fanbase celebrated the Golden, Texas native as a beloved avatar of social freedom. .
Los Angeles band Muna and Brooklyn-based singer King Princess warmed up a receptive crowd largely ready to dance to the Musgraves’ disco-tinged pop melodies and proudly display their garish, glittery, fringed and western.
Musgraves opened her set by stepping out from behind a red velvet stage curtain which then revealed a fiery heart formation similar to the one she performed in front of at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards. She sang “star crossed”, the first single from his fifth studio album of the same name, released in September 2021.
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“This album is so depressing it should have come with a warning,” Musgraves joked before launching into the “star-crossed” amorous track “Simple Times.”
“star crossed” failed to attract the same level of critical acclaim or commercial success as her 2018 album “Golden Hour,” which won four Grammys, including Best Album. But live, the unwavering clarity and force of Musgraves’ vocals, backed by a spirited band and adoring crowd, shines through.
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As players onstage delved deeper into the chords and progressions familiar to new wave and 80s soul music, a key point in Musgraves artistic and creative growth became apparent.
The evolution of his sound from using pedal steel guitars on 2015’s “Biscuits” (not played during the Friday night concert) to falling in love with keyboard synths on his albums “star crossed” and “Golden Hour “is as much a musical choice as it is a desire to evolve one’s view of the cultural evolution of country music.
For fans, the six-time Grammy winner delivers a style, sound and aesthetic appealing to those who see the Musgraves’ music as challenging unwritten cultural codes that demonize people based on their race, gender or their sexual orientation. So when a rainbow of lasers streaked across Bridgestone Arena, it was a deliberate choice.
Later in the show, songs like “Butterflies”, broadcasting a bluegrass banjo with electronic elements, connected with the crowd.
And “Golden Hour” hit “Space Cowboy,” played in a 30,000+ seat arena awash in the twinkling glow of a disco ball, elevated the song from a heartwarming country ballad to a torch song that evoked as much lyrical euphoria and heartbreak than any song chart between Gloria Gaynor’s 1978’s “I Will Survive” and Bonnie Tyler’s 1983’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Four decades ago, artists began fusing country melodies with the irrepressible energy of disco, and the genre enjoyed unprecedented pop success. But unlike then, this generation’s embrace of these styles and sounds has welcomed a much more diverse fanbase into the genre.
As was readily apparent on Friday night, there are now as many straight men wearing red hats who love country music as there are queer women wearing diamond fringe denim jackets who also love it. For some, country music is three chords and the truth. For others – especially those at Bridgestone Arena – country music is lights, confetti, fashion and positive healing vibes from a recent divorcee on stage trying to resolve her grief.
However, for country traditionalists wondering if that sweet girl who lived in the same trailer in a different park ten years ago can ever come “home,” a moment occurred near the end of her concert of 90 minutes which says a lot.
Musgraves decided to add a fan-chosen karaoke cover to his set. The choices were: TLC’s 1999 5x platinum single “No Scrubs”, Fleetwood Mac’s legendary 1977 rock anthem “Dreams”, the Fugees’ 1996 cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” or the 42-year-old country classic by Dolly Parton. “9 to 5.”
Without missing a beat, 20,000 fans picked, then, in unison, sang a country song, because they know that Musgraves, long before she was their pop music icon, was and always will be a country artist.