Earlier this year, Kacey Musgraves released what's quite possibly the best work her career with Golden Hour, her fabulous third album that highlights the happiest time in her life (thus far) in 13 sparkling tracks. Five months after Golden Hour's March release, the boundary-pushing country singer was rightfully acknowledged by the Country Music Association with a coveted album the year nomination for this year's CMA Awards.
"I have the biggest heart for country music," Musgraves tells Billboard. "And I’m honored to represent the female creative spirit as — unfortunately — the only female album nominated this year."
It's a bittersweet recognition for her, as Golden Hour is the only work by a female artist nominated in the album the year category. And five years after her breakout year, history is repeating itself: In 2013, Musgraves won new artist the year, but once again stood as the sole female in the field.
While the lack female representation has been an issue felt across all genres in recent years, country music may be feeling it the most, especially in the wake the 2015 "Tomatogate" controversy that compared women to tomatoes in a salad. And as the 2018 CMA nominations suggest, country radio isn't the only part the genre guilty gender disparity: all five entertainer the year nominees are male (for the second year in a row), and Miranda Lambert is the only female to receive more than two nominations.
Musgraves dove a little deeper into country's equality issue following her nomination, fering her takes on why it's still happening — but also, what it means to her to represent her fellow females.
Aside from being excited about your own nominations, what were your initial thoughts on this year’s overall list?
Though I’m extremely honored to be nominated, I have to say that the number females included still doesn’t satisfy me — especially considering the fact that I feel that we’re in a current time where more females are making good music.
When you won new artist the year in 2013, you were the only female in the category. Does this year’s album the year category bring you back?
Five years later, we’re still all focused on how many females are or aren’t included. I can’t say exactly why this is still an ongoing issue, but the current formula or way music is serviced and pushed in modern country music just doesn’t allow for equality.
Taking nominations out the equation, how have you seen Nashville/the country landscape change (for better or worse) since 2013?
I’ve seen more women writing more varied lyrics and being more than just a big voice or a pretty face, as opposed to years in the somewhat recent past. I’ve seen indications the genre opening its mind, but unfortunately no hard pro yet in a lot areas that matter — radio play, award shows, festival billing, etc.
What do you think needs to be done to change the way CMA nominations — or noms for any award show, for that matter — are determined?
There are many caveats to the current system that need a thorough rebuild. Inclusion on many different facets — not just gender — desperately needs to happen. I’m hoping we can get back to a musical world where talent and uniqueness got you further than politics, where the quality song was what would make you a household name. Can you imagine what that landscape could sound like? What future generations it could inspire?
I think the basic root this issue stems from fear and greed. The fear that money will be lost if something different doesn’t succeed. That is so dangerous to a wonderfully rich and beautifully historic genre that, at its core, has traditionally always celebrated the underdog.
Negatives and sexism aside, what does it mean to you that Golden Hour is nominated for album the year, especially considering what that album means to your personal life?
Golden Hour is my most personal collection songs yet. I really felt my way through this album, versus thought my way through, and it all came out at a time when there was a lot positive change in my life — though, ironically amid chaos and turmoil in our social and political world. It was my beautiful space to turn to and believe in.
I had the luxury time on my side. Time to explore with whom I wanted to work, where I wanted to record. And the time to just live and write and live and write. My co-producers, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, helped me navigate the balance all my widely-spread inspirations without losing my character or spirit. They helped me find this world where futurism meets traditionalism. A world where synth and vocoder live in harmony, with warm acoustic guitars and pedal steel and banjo. On Golden Hour, my country qualities were imperative for me to preserve as well as forge new paths sonically. So, for this record to have a life within the modern country landscape means everything to me. It is my life and it is my version country music.
I gratefully and proudly stand as the only female in the album the year category to shine a light for other women — or people in general who sound different — who weren’t nominated.