Review: Kacey Musgraves’ ‘star-crossed’ is a Shakespearean tragedy

The country-pop artist reflects on divorce in her fifth studio album.

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Aaliya Luthra

Kacey Musgraves released her fifth studio album “star-crossed” on Friday, Sept. 10. In the album, Musgraves dives into the conflicting feelings of love and hate and eventually the acceptance of both. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

By Paree Chopra, Staff Writer

“star-crossed” — Musgraves’ fifth studio album — explores the end of a relationship and everything that goes with it: fears, thrills, love, grief, yearning and remembrance of good times shared. Written during her divorce, “star-crossed” emphasizes the peaks and troughs of a doomed relationship with vulnerability and self-reflection. Musgraves’ latest album takes the happiness expressed in its Grammy-winning predecessor, “Golden Hour,” and converts it into a confessional unmasking of the singer. Emulating themes from “Romeo and Juliet,” the album exposes the singer’s heartache

Musgraves is candid on the album’s introductory title track, singing “Let me set the scene/Two lovers ripped right at the seams,” making it clear the album’s theme is separation. The song’s arrangement — rich with Spanish guitar, psychedelic synths and reverb-heavy backing vocals — gives it a cinematic element that illuminates the darkness surrounding a pair of doomed lovers.

“Tragedy,” Kacey Musgraves said in a recent interview with Vogue, “has been at the core of the most popular artwork and storytelling since the dawn of time … There is something cathartic in watching a character, feeling for them, then witnessing their downfall.” 

Depictions of tragedy, like those in “star-crossed,” allow us to cope with our own sources of pain. In “good wife,” Musgraves trudges down the relatable path of knowing her relationship won’t end well, but not being ready to leave it yet. “Let’s go back to the beginning/I just wanna be a good wife,” she pleads in the intro. The song is a prayer and a call for help, with its laid-back guitar and synth-filled melodies circling around the notion that “I could probably make it on my own/But without him, this house just wouldn’t be a home.”

In three acts of honest songwriting, Musgraves dives deep into reverie, imagining what could have been, while also reflecting on the act of growing up. This is exemplified in songs such as the contemporary-pop “cherry blossom,” video game-inspired “simple times” and Hollywood-inspired “if this was a movie…” Through love songs and daydreams, the first act of the album argues that divorces can be painful and heartbreaking without anyone being the villain of the story.

“justified” — a country-pop beat involving acoustic guitars, aerial synths and subtle percussion — begins the second act. “If I hate you and I love you, and then I change my mind,” she confesses, “Then I’m more than just a little justified.” As Musgraves conveys her heartbreak to listeners, she acknowledges her conflicting emotions and reminds them that “healin’ doesn’t happen in a straight line.” The country-pop artist cuts herself some slack in this contemplative anthem. 

Self-reflection transforms into self-growth in the last act of “star-crossed.” Musgrave’s considers what she’s learned from her life-changing divorce. “hookup scene” captivates with its melodic simplicity and hard-hitting songwriting that explores the emptiness of hookup culture. Musgraves advises that “If you’ve got someone to love/And you’ve almost given up/Hold on tight despite the way they make you mad/’Cause you might not even know that you don’t have it so bad.”

As “star-crossed” reaches its denouement, there seems to be an acceptance of the heartbreak, and a healthy optimism for the future seems to develop. “keep lookin’ up,” “what doesn’t kill me” and “there is a light” dwell on the conflicting feelings of love and grief at the end of a relationship. The songs capture the moment when you recognize the conflict, as well as the power that moment holds: It is the first step toward healing and moving forward. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, Musgraves realizes. There is a light inside of her — one she vows is never going out.

Contact Paree Chopra at [email protected]