Kacey Musgraves showcased a different side of country music last night at the CMA Awards when she performed her hit song "Follow Your Arrow" – a come-one, come-all progressive pop-country anthem that sidesteps traditionalist country themes and encourages acceptance of alternative lifestyles, with references to non-marital sex, homosexuality and marijuana use.
"I think its super awesome that country music has been so supportive of [my] message," Musgraves told Rolling Stone backstage during show, where she took home the 2013 Best New Artist trophy. "I mean the fans, too. I think people are just really ready for a message that's just encouraging of all kinds."
Musgraves' win is perhaps as much a victory for country music as it is for the singer herself. Her victory comes little more than a decade after country music establishment crowned "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" singer Toby Keith Male Vocalist of the Year. Could embracing Musgraves' free-spirited, inclusive message of self-empowerment and progressive diversity signal the start of a sea change?
"It just feels good to be [working] in a time period there's room for everyone," she says.
In a genre often (rightfully) pigeonholed for hackneyed, red-blooded "bro-country" anthems about red-state pastimes like tailgate parties and pick-up trucks, Musgrave's 2013 chart-topping major-label debut Same Trailer Different Park stood out from the pack as a gritty, whip-smart collection written from the perspective of a modern woman working to escape the small-town trappings that so many of her country peers embrace. Her album, along with efforts by contemporaries including Miranda Lambert, Brandy Clark and Ashley Monroe, is indicative of a progressive movement toward strong female voices.
"I think Kasey is going to be a new champion for the genre," Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley told reporters on the red carpet last night.
"I'm so excited to be part of the women-in-country-music movement," Musgraves said during a post-show press conference. "I look at people like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton – songwriters who are sexy and beautiful and also intelligent and humorous – they inspired me, and if I can in any [way be] part of that, carry that on, that's just the icing on the cake for me, and I feel like I've done my job."
Despite country music's loosening the cultural screws a bit, the CMA folks (or perhaps just ABC) are still Muskogee-style Okies when it comes to weed references. The network bleeped a reference in "Follow Your Arrow" to rolling a joint during last night's broadcast, though censors did leave in the line about smoking crack.
"I guess for some reason people feel the need to censor that word, but yet, they decide to leave the word 'crack' in there, I'm not really sure why," Musgraves told the press. "To me, 'Follow Your Arrow' is just a really positive anthem, just encouraging people of all kinds to do whatever makes them happy.
Truth be told, Musgraves is anything but a new artist. Same Trailer Different Park – which was nominated for Album of the Year, losing last night to Blake Shelton's Based on a True Story . . . – is actually the 25-year-old singer's fourth release in 11 years, much of which she has been spent behind the scenes as a songwriter in Nashville, penning cuts for the likes of Lambert, Martina McBride and the ABC series Nashville. Nevertheless, her recent success has come seemingly in a hurry.
"I can't even wrap my brain around this moment," she said during the press conference, after mentioning the she and her roommate attended last year's CMA Awards as fans, and sat in the nosebleeds. "And now I'm holding this," she said, pointing to her trophy. "It's amazing what 52 weeks can do to a person."