I’m still a fan of this album, but I feel like its moment came and went pretty quickly. Some of that may be due to the fact that Star-Crossed is decidedly one big bummer of an album, though I would argue it’s far more bittersweet than straight-up depressing. Also, the album kinda confirms that Kacey Musgraves has gotten to a level of cross-over success that few country singers get to, but she’s not Taylor Swift. She’s not using her cache as a singer-songwriter to invade the pop world with bangers that abandon the nuance and wit of her earlier work. Instead, she’s decided to use her strengths to use music as therapy to deconstruct the romance that led to her greatest achievement.
“Golden hour faded black” is a lyric that sticks out in “What Doesn’t Kill Me” that kind of sums up Star-Crossed and its relation to the album that preceded it. Golden Hour was not only a Grammy winner and a huge critical success for Kacey Musgraves, but it was also one of my favorite albums of the last decade. You’d think this would have made Star-Crossed a bit of a disappointment for me, since it’s such a U-turn compared to the romantic warmth that that former album radiates. But honestly, I knew she was never going to be able to top that album, so this detour is more than welcome, even if the personal stake I had in Golden Hour feels a little deflated. Though just because Musgraves’ marriage that inspired the album didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean everything about that album isn’t still emotionally honest at its core.
Also, while Star-Crossed is lyrically a much more muted and grieving look at love, considering it was written and recorded in the wake of Musgraves divorce, it’s still not so removed musically from Golden Hour. You still have that subtle mixture of traditional country mixed with more pop elements while the emphasis is on Musgraves’ knack for sharp one-liners. It’s possible the bite of her lyrics in the past have been softened a little bit, but that’s understandable considering the album’s M.O. that this is all just Kacey working through some shit. While she clearly devised the album in this very specific way, with its structural allusions to Greek tragedy, she is still processing her failed marriage and figuring out some answers without having all the answers.
I’m also a fan of the way the album incorporates more pop elements while still feeling attached enough to Kacey’s country roots to exist in this weird region between pop and country that doesn’t particularly sound like pop-country. It’s also refreshing that a bunch of pop super-producers and songwriters weren’t brought in to work on Star-Crossed, since it feels like this could have been that kind of album. Instead, Musgraves works solely with production/songwriting team Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashan who also brought Golden Hour to life. We’ll see if Kacey decides to continue honing her sound with these boys on the next album and whether she’ll sound as morose as she does on Star-Crossed, but something tells me she’ll bounce back.