Blake Shelton may have won Album of the Year at this year’s CMA Awards, and George Strait may have taken home Entertainer of the Year honors. But who shot to No. 1 on the iTunes country albums chart (and No. 3 on the all-genre rankings) the next morning? That would be Kacey Musgraves, the 25-year-old Texas native who won Best New Artist and performed her much-discussed (and FCC-bleeped in the live broadcast, for its reference to smoking a joint) single “Follow Your Arrow.”
A few days before the CMAs, EW chatted with Musgraves, whose album Same Trailer Different Park won major acclaim earlier this year, about tying Taylor Swift, dying for Dolly Parton, and where she stands on the Luke Bryan/Zac Brown feud.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You tied Taylor Swift for the most nominations at the CMAs—six each. How did you get the news?
KACEY MUSGRAVES: I was woken up by a phone call from friends and my manager. And my roommate downstairs was screaming up at me. [Laughs]
Were you trying to stay asleep to distract yourself from your nerves?
No, I was just hungover. But it was a good reason to get out of bed, I’d say.
It’s interesting that you and Taylor are in the same spot, since in many ways you seem like opposites. Where do you see yourself on the country spectrum?
Undeniably, I’m a country singer, I’m a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music, and for people who don’t. It’s a blend of being inspired by super-traditional country roots and then all these other kinds of music: Cake, Weezer, Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, Glen Campbell. I don’t really see genre boxes. I see good and bad.
Who was your country idol growing up?
I used to love, and I still do, Lee Ann Womack. And Alison Krauss. I mean, how many Grammys does she have? She’s just remained solid and true and great, and I respect that.
Does meeting your idols freak you out?
I don’t really get starstruck by anyone except Willie [Nelson], who I’ve met a couple times now. Yeah, Willie or Loretta [Lynn]. And if I met Dolly [Parton], I would probably s— my pants.
Your first big Nashville moment came when Miranda Lambert recorded “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which you co-wrote with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark. How did that come together?
She heard it and just fell in love with it and wanted to do it herself. As a songwriter, that’s one of the biggest compliments you can ever get—some of my favorite artists had hits with other people before they had their own. I was like, “She’ll do it justice, her fans will love it, everybody wins.”
Is it a weird feeling to give up a song you’ve written?
I mean, you’re partial to your songs for different reasons because they came from your brain, and I enjoy singing it. But letting Miranda record “Mama’s Broken Heart” doesn’t take it away from me. I still play it every night.
We really got to know you with your debut single, “Merry Go ‘Round,” which showcases this mix of pride and frustration with small-town America. Did you catch any flak back in Texas?
There’s been literally one person who’s ever been negative about the song, and I think they’re just negative in general. I feel like big city or small town, you can relate to following your parents’ footsteps, or putting your own dreams on the back burner, or vices that we get caught up in—that whole cycle. That’s not just a small-town thing. That’s a life thing.
Let’s talk your new single, “Follow Your Arrow,” which includes the lines “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.” How have country fans responded to that?
It’s been positive. The thing is, that’s not controversial. It’s 2013! Nobody wants to admit that they’re on the wrong side of that. I feel like country music has kind of wrapped their arms around me about it. Maybe it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. Not to be corny, but that’s them not following their arrow, and that’s what it’s about.
“Arrow” also mentions rolling up a joint, which seems to be a rising trend in country, with other songs like Ashley Monroe’s “Weed Instead of Roses.” Is Nashville more high than we realize?
[Laughs] Ha, who’s to say? It’s been around in country music for a long time, and it’s no different than singing about moonshine.
Katy Perry is a big supporter of both you and the song.
Yeah, we got to, a little while back, work in the studio together on some music. She’s been great, and it means a lot coming from someone that I really think is a really great lyricist and performer.
Do you think “Follow Your Arrow” might have a similar trajectory to “I Kissed A Girl?”
I don’t know. I’m not really sure. But she’s been really great in supporting me.
What do you make of the Luke Bryan vs. Zac Brown debate about the overabundance of truck and tailgate songs?
Well, there’s a lot of great music out there that hasn’t been heard yet. Brandy Clark is one of those people. She made a brilliant record that does have substance and great songwriting and great producing. And I think there’s other people like that too. I mean, what’s out there doesn’t really affect what I do. I just stay in my own little corner, and I do what I think is good, and I’m lucky to have the support that I have gotten, which has been insane and amazing, so I’m not really a part of that.
You mentioned some idols, but what other women in country are you loving?
Ashley Monroe is one of them. I’ve been a big fan of her for a long time. Brandy Clark. Caitlin Rose is another one. I always love Patty Griffin and Mindy Smith. It doesn’t have to be a new chart topper. I think a lot of trends in music are cyclical, and I think for a while it was popular just to be pretty or to have a big voice, and we’re in a time period where it’s all come back around. Loretta Lynn was one of those ladies a long time ago that opened a lot of doors and paved the way for a lot of ballsy singer-songwriters who weren’t just cute. But for a while that trend kind of went away, and now it’s coming back. It seems to be a good time creatively for everyone, and I’m just excited to be a part of it.