For a lot of music fans — country and otherwise — Sunday night's Grammy Awards broadcast (8 p.m. CBS) will be the first look at a young performer who has electrified Nashville over the past year or so: Kacey Musgraves.
Miss Musgraves has garnered four nominations, including for the genre-neutral best new artist, and is slated to perform during the awards show, which often has little to no interest in showcasing country talent.
But anyone paying attention over the past year knows there's a feeling that the 25-year-old singer-songwriter is something entirely unexpected for Nashville.
The sassy Texas native burst onto the scene last spring when her major-label debut album, "Same Trailer Different Park," took country by storm on the strength of catchy but decidedly subversive songs like "Merry Go 'Round" and "Follow Your Arrow."
Hit makers in Nashville these days invariably celebrate the simple pleasures of small towns, back roads and traditional values. But on "Merry Go 'Round," Miss Musgraves offers a bleak and bluesy lament on the limitations of rural life: "Mary, Mary, quite contrary / We're so bored until we're buried / Just like dust, we settle in this town."
Then there's "Follow Your Arrow," her girl-power song, with lines like "Roll up a joint, or don't / Just follow your arrow / Wherever it points," and "Make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that's something you're into."
Girls kissing girls? Sounds more like Katy Perry than country radio, right? But Miss Musgraves' album topped the country charts in March, and while the lyrics raised eyebrows, the provocative songwriter drew praise and attention outside the country universe. Rolling Stone called "Merry Go 'Round" an instant classic, and The New York Times Magazine profiled Miss Musgraves as a smart, ambitious rebel turning Nashville conventions upside down.
The aforementioned Miss Perry, who once had her own song about kissing girls, liked the young troublemaker so much that she hired Miss Musgraves to open shows on her tour this year. The concert pairing left fans of both artists scratching their heads.
But if Miss Musgraves, with her nose ring and envelope-pushing lyrics, represents an edgy generation of Nashville stars, she comes by her bona fides honestly. She grew up on stage singing cowgirl songs in variety shows in the little East Texas town of Golden, not far from the area that produced her friend Miranda Lambert.
Like Miss Lambert, Miss Musgraves got her start on the USA Network talent show "Nashville Star," and both women have knacks for no-holds-barred songs that seem to capture the zeitgeist of female frustration, circa 2014.
Miss Lambert had a huge hit last year with "Mama's Broken Heart," another song Miss Musgraves wrote about small-town claustrophobia that ended up being nominated for a Grammy in the best country song category — along with "Merry Go 'Round."
Miss Musgraves chalked up her fourth Grammy nomination in the best album category, tying Lorde and Taylor Swift for the most nominations for a woman this year.
Even with several big-time performances scheduled for Sunday's broadcast — a star-studded tribute to Carol King, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on stage together — the Grammys could be a coming-out party for Miss Musgraves.
But she is not the only reason for country fans to tune in: The Grammys also are taking the time to acknowledge a couple of faces from the genre's Mount Rushmore — Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
Mr. Nelson and Mr. Haggard, joined by Kris Kristofferson and Blake Shelton, are scheduled to perform together in a segment that the show's producers have said will be a surprise that honors music of the three country legends. (Mr. Shelton's the biggest male star in Nashville today, so he's probably tossed into the mix to keep the whole thing current.)
But trust me, I'm not complaining. Whatever it takes.
Seeing Mr. Haggard, Mr. Kristofferson and Mr. Nelson, who famously celebrated his 80th birthday last year, dipping into their respective catalogs will be thrilling no matter what they pull out.
Mr. Kristofferson, who has teamed several times with Mr. Nelson over the years, most notably in the 1980s country supergroup The Highwaymen (with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings) will accept the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday night. His classic 1970 album, "Kristofferson," was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year.
Maybe with Mr. Shelton and the legendary Mr. Haggard onboard, we might see another album from The Highwaymen? Who knows?
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