“Do you want anything to drink?” Kacey Musgraves asks one recent afternoon. “I’ve been really into gin and tonics lately.” Still wearing her gym clothes — a white tank top and leggings — Musgraves is giving a tour of her modest two-story home in East Nashville. It’s full of mementos from the past few years, including a signed copy of a Loretta Lynn album and an autographed Rolling Stone from 1978 with Willie Nelson on the cover (it’s signed, mistakenly, “To Katie”). Near the kitchen, a poster reads ‘Believe in your fucking self. Stay up all fucking night.’
When she’s not on the road, Musgraves likes to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (“It’s the funniest shit I’ve ever seen,” she says) or hang with her boyfriend, Misa Arriaga, who is also the guitarist in her band. Or she might hit the inflatable hot tub on the porch with her friends. “It’s probably the most redneck decision I’ve ever made,” she says of the tub.
Right now, Musgraves, 26, is dealing with headaches surrounding her upcoming album, Pageant Material. She says her label wants to push the release date from June to September (“Not gonna happen,” she says). They also take issue with a key line in her single “Biscuits”: “Pissing in my yard ain’t gonna make yours any greener.” The label wants to change “pissing” to “spitting.” “I’m like, ‘Sorry, no,’ ” she says. “People are so worried about offending that they water down everything. Come to a show, and that’s the line everyone loves. Don’t take that away from me!”
Musgraves has been through this before. In 2012, she was discouraged from releasing “Merry Go Round” as her debut single. The song was a bleak portrait of the monotony and heartache of life in small-town America. “I was advised it’s not something that a new artist should say,” she says. “I’m like, ‘That’s exactly why I want to say it!’ ”
Musgraves released “Merry Go Round” anyway, and it went on to win a Grammy for Best Country Song. Musgraves also took home the Best Country Album Grammy that night (for 2013’s Same Trailer Different Park), beating out Taylor Swift. (“I told you,” Swift mouthed to her friend Ed Sheeran after she lost.) The album earned Musgraves fans ranging from Katy Perry to Willie Nelson, both of whom Musgraves opened for in the same summer. “She’s a huge talent — I’m a big fan,” says Nelson, who eventually learned her name.
With down-home good looks, a Katy Perry-like visual aesthetic — her stage sets feature light-up cowgirl outfits and neon cacti — and a gift for spare, folky melodies, Musgraves has broad appeal. But she also has a rebellious streak that makes her stand out from her peers. Her 2013 single “Follow Your Arrow” playfully championed both weed and same-sex hookups. “I see gay couples at my shows all the time. In the country world, that’s rare, which is sad. But it makes me proud.”
At the Country Music Association Awards last year, she made headlines for appearing to snub Tim Tebow when he reached for a handshake. Also last year, she got into a Twitter feud with country radio DJ Bobby Bones, who called her “rude” after an interview. “It’s so stupid,” Musgraves says. “People want artists to be transparent and real until they do something that is actually real.”
Musgraves grew up in Golden, Texas (pop. 398), an idyllic town that holds a Sweet Potato Festival every October. Her grandmother lived next door, and her parents owned a print shop nearby — her mother, Karen, still makes Western-and-wildlife-themed canvases and pillows. On weekends, the family would hop in a minivan and hit the “Opry Circuit.” Kacey dressed as a cowgirl and sang Patsy Cline and Hank Williams songs with a house band at small theaters like the Greenville Opry or the Mesquite Opry. “She was this yodeling queen in Texas, and she was famous for that,” says friend and fellow songwriter Maren Morris, who met Musgraves as a teenager.