Traditional values and patriotism have long proved the cornerstones of country music.
But the conservative façade has cracked after Nashville honoured a new star who pens hymns on same-sex relationships and smoking marijuana, at the biggest night for America’s heartland music.
Kacey Musgraves, a 26-year-old singer from Texas, won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards on Wednesday for “Follow Your Arrow”, a breakthrough song she co-wrote with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, both of whom are openly gay.
The song features the lyrics “So make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into” and encourages listeners to “roll up a joint”.
The song was too risqué for some country radio programmers, who play a vital role in determining hits. Accepting her award, a surprised Musgraves said: “Do you guys realise what this means for country music?
“I think I can speak for all of us when I say that this award means so much because our genre was built on simple, good songs about real life – and that’s what this was.”
Country artists who offend the Nashville establishment can be ostracised, as Dixie Chicks discovered when they were effectively banned from radio after attacking George W Bush in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
However, Musgraves has won a younger, more liberal audience for her album Same Trailer Different Park, a collection of songs about “deadbeats trying to be better”, which won the Best Country Album Grammy.
The CMA Awards honoured another female artist, Miranda Lambert, hailed as a successor to Dolly Parton for her gritty narrative songs, rooted in the lives of working-class women.
Lambert, 30, took four awards, including Album of the Year and Female Vocalist, beating Taylor Swift, who has abandoned country for a more commercial, pop sound. The Texan’s winning Platinum album includes “Bathroom Sink”, about the pressures that the beauty industry places on women, and “Gravity Is a Bitch”, a self-lacerating commentary on ageing.
Speaking to The Independent, Lambert said she was offering a corrective to “Bro Country”, the sound which currently dominates the airwaves and revolves around Stetson-hatted male vocalists singing about “trucks, babes and drinking beer”.
Lambert said: “I try to sing honestly about what’s going on in women’s lives and what they are going through. Hopefully people can see that.”
Now the most decorated female artist in the history of the CMA Awards, with 11 trophies, Lambert said she was inspired to write songs by her parents, who formed an investigation agency and were hired to gather evidence of Bill Clinton’s alleged affairs when he faced a 1997 sexual-harassment lawsuit from Paula Jones.
“I heard all kinds of stories over the table. When you’re 12 you don’t have a life of your own to write about but there was lots going on outside the home,” she said.Reuse content