Although she recently achieved chart-topping success with her cynical single "Merry Go 'Round" and its equally acerbic parent album Same Trailer Different Park, 24-year-old alt-country phenom Kacey Musgraves wants to make one thing clear — she's no overnight sensation. In fact, she first started playing the Texas Opry circuit in her early teens; slogged countless anonymous hours at a publishing house when she finally moved to Nashville; rolled the reality-show dice on Nashville Star in 2007 (she came in seventh); and issued three indie albums before inking with Mercury Nashville for her latest.
"And I have to remind myself that I have been working hard for this," Musgraves notes of her newfound fame, which just landed her three 2013 ACM nominations, including Top New Female Artist. "Because literally, it's so much fun that I get to wake up and do what I love every day. So many people fight that every day and have to do something that they hate, so I'm really lucky."
Stardom eluded her for so long, she reckons, because only now is the Nashville tide beginning to turn in favor of brash, roots-rocking female artists who lay it on the lyrical line. Among them are Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert, who recently put together the side project Pistol Annies, and Lindi Ortega, who trills songs about offing an unfaithful beau and burying him out in the cornfield.
But the biggest breakthrough remains Musgraves, who, on "Merry Go 'Round" alone, offers up a litany of the double-standards and insincerities that lurk within small-town Southern life: "Same hurt in every heart, same trailer, different park," she sings, before launching into the killer chorus: "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay, brother's hooked on Mary Jane / Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down / Mary, Mary quite contrary, we get bored, so we get married / And just like dust, we settle in this town."
It was roughly 20 years ago in Nashville, Musgraves says, that "the guys were the ones saying everything and the girls were just supposed to be sweet. So I guess it's cyclical, and it's coming around again now, like back in the day with Jeannie C. Riley, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. I mean, those women said things — they really had something to say. And for a while, that was lost. So I'm just really happy to see that substance coming back. It makes me proud to be a female country singer."
Meanwhile, it's been less than a decade since Musgraves spent her high school weekends playing western-swing and C&W concerts, sporting pigtails and cowgirl fringe while wielding a diminutive mandolin. ("It came easy for me because I had small hands," she explains.) In her late teens, she discovered The Used and Dashboard Confessional and promptly chopped all of her locks and went full-on Emo.
Ironically, that's when her path back to country became crystal-clear. "When I understood that I could have music that came from somewhere deep inside of me — instead of someone else's story — then that seemed so much more appealing," she recalls. "And my favorite thing is having something that sounds timeless up against something that doesn't. I just love that juxtaposition, where a lyric that's really in your face has music that's not."