Kacey Musgraves has made an undeniable mark on modern country music with her deeply honest songs. Since she introduced herself with “Merry Go ‘Round,” Musgraves has proven to be a universal voice of truth, whether she’s making us laugh, cry, or touches on some deep, intricate emotion somewhere in the middle.
While half of this list is comprised of songs from the Grammy-decorated Golden Hour, which turned Musgraves from a beloved country artist into a revered songwriter with massive crossover appeal, her previous albums also have several gems that are just as praise-worthy. Here are 10 of Musgraves’ best songs.
1. “Slow Burn”
It’s not often that a song transports the listener through time, but that’s what “Slow Burn” does. Musgraves lets every note and lyric simmer on this awe-inspiring number that appreciates the small, but beautiful details of life, whether it’s admiring the flowers on a walk to the local bar or sharing autobiographical facts, like how her grandmother cried when she pierced her nose. It almost feels like time stops listening to this song–the sign of a masterful songwriter and artist.
I’m alright with a slow burn
Takin’ my time, let the world turn
I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright
If we burn it down and it takes all night
It’s a slow burn, yeah
2. “Merry Go ‘Round”
“Merry Go ‘Round” is the song that set the tone for the Texas native’s career as an unflinchingly honest songwriter who’s not afraid to deliver hard truths. “Merry Go ‘Round” is a prime example of this, as Musgraves offers a truthful perspective on the stagnancy of small-town life. But she strikes the delicate balance of doing this with empathy, without sugarcoating the truth, which allowed the song to resonate with so many. “Merry Go ‘Round” was named Best Country Song at the 2014 Grammy Awards, proving early on that Musgraves was just as adored by the music industry as she was by her fanbase.
Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay
Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane
And Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down
Mary, Mary quite contrary
We get bored, so we get married
Just like dust, we settle in this town
On this broken merry go ’round
3. “Space Cowboy”
When “Space Cowboy” was released as one of the first songs off Golden Hour, it was clear the album was going to be something truly special. This is captured in the song, which features ethereal production and Musgraves’ dreamy voice as she sings of gracefully letting someone go. Rather than taking a vengeful tone, the country singer leans into grace, the lyrics being a masterclass in how to peacefully move forward in life while giving someone the space they need. “Space Cowboy” isn’t just one of the best on Golden Hour, it’s one of her best songs overall.
You can have your space, cowboy
I ain’t gonna fence you in
Go on ride away, in your Silverado
Guess I’ll see you ’round again
I know my place, and it ain’t with you
Well, sunsets fade, and love does too
Yeah, we had our day in the sun
When a horse wants to run
There ain’t no sense in closing the gate
You can have your space, cowboy
4. “Oh What a World”
Golden Hour demonstrates Musgraves’ masterful ability to write songs that are transcendental while being down-to-earth at the same time. She exemplifies this in “Oh What a World.” The lyrics ponder the concept of past lives while expressing gratitude for the person she has in her life now and the deep emotions that come with it. She’ll whisk listeners off to a dreamland that they’ll never want to leave before gently returning us back to real-time. If you need a moment of escapism, “Oh What a World” will provide it.
Oh, what a world, don’t wanna leave
All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe
Thank God it’s not too good to be true
Oh, what a world, and then there is you
5. “Follow Your Arrow”
Where “Merry Go Round” solidified Musgraves as a new country artist to keep an eye (and ear) on, “Follow Your Arrow” broke through the barrier that proved she’s a voice for all. The LGBTQ-friendly lyrics make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of boys if that’s something you’re into may have shocked country radio, but it allowed queer country fans to feel seen in the genre.
The introductory lines if you save yourself for marriage / You’re a bore / If you don’t save yourself for marriage / You’re a horr-ible person will make listeners laugh and think–part of Musgraves’ songwriting magic.
So, make lots of noise (hey)
Kiss lots of boys (yup)
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don’t
6. “High Horse”
It didn’t take long for “High Horse” to become a buzz-worthy track off Golden Hour. With its disco-tinged melody and spitfire lyrics that creatively call out those who think a little too highly of themselves, “High Horse” quickly positioned itself as one of her finest (and funniest) efforts.
While filled with sass and humor, Musgraves doesn’t hurtfully try to knock someone off their pedestal, rather using her sharp focus to craft what is now one of her signature tracks. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser in her live shows, “High Horse” is easily one of her best songs yet.
And I think we’ve seen enough, seen enough
To know that you ain’t ever gonna come down
So why don’t you giddy up, giddy up
And ride straight out of this town
You and your high horse
Like “Follow Your Arrow,” “Rainbow” delivers a clear message of support to the gay community. With just a piano and her voice Musgraves’ words are pure, shining a light through the dark. Musgraves may be bold on other tracks, but here, she lets her guard down with “Rainbow” to express raw vulnerability as she gently sings in the final line, it’ll all be alright. This tender ballad extends into a message of love and hope for us all.
Well, the sky has finally opened
The rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same ol’ storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella
Well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
8. “Camera Roll”
Leave it to Musgraves to take a minute detail that we all use daily and turn it into a compelling song. On her post-divorce album, star-crossed, Musgraves takes us inside her world as she scrolls through the gallery of photos on her phone, looking at all the highlights of a love that’s no longer part of her life.
Don’t be surprised if a wave of sorrow washes over you as Musgraves sings look at my I’m livin‘ all alone / Now you’re only living in my phone. But she leaves the song on a high note. With just a few words, the singer packs in tender nostalgia that gently breaks your heart as she sings anyway, thanks / For all the nights and the days / And everything that you gave / I’ll never erase it / There’s one where we look so in love / Before we lost all the sun / And I made you take it.
Ain’t nothing but torture
Scroll too far back
That’s what you get
I don’t wanna see ’em
But I can’t delete ’em
It just doesn’t feel right yet
The crossover star’s ability to craft a witty lyric is on full display in this track, taking the notion of the “breadwinner” (aka the main person making money to support their family) and twisting it on its head with plenty of lol-worthy lyricism to go around. Musgraves is no-holds-barred as she relays the pitfalls of being with someone who’s insecure about their partner’s success. She serves sweet with the salty as she proclaims, I wish somebody would’ve told me the truth / See, he’s never gonna know what to do/With a woman like you. “Breadwinner” isn’t just a standout track on star-crossed, it’s also one of the most cleverly-written songs in her whole catalog.
He wants a breadwinner
He wants your dinner
Until he ain’t hungry anymore
He wants your shimmer
To make him feel bigger
Until he starts feeling insecure
I wish somebody would’ve told me the truth
See, he’s never gonna know what to do
With a woman like you
10. “Pageant Material”
Weaving humor into her music is a subtle trademark of Musgraves. She demonstrates this on “Pageant Material,” the title track of her sophomore album. She immediately sets us up for a healthy dose of truth with the opening line there’s certain things you’re supposed to know / When you’re a girl who grows up in the south. From there, she doesn’t let up, lightly poking fun at the world of pageantry as she sings, God bless the girls who smile and hug / When they’re called out as a runner-up on TV.
Try as she might, Musgraves embraces the fact that she doesn’t fit in, whether admitting that she’d fall down if she tried to walk a runway in heels in front of an audience or that she’s always higher than my hair. “Pageant Material” is an underrated gem that’s worth a listen.
I ain’t pageant material
I’m always higher than my hair
And it ain’t that I don’t care about world peace
But I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t
Photo Credit: Adrienne Raquel / Courtesy RCA Records