AF 2021 In Review: A Year Of Divorce, Heartache, And Grief

Carly Pearce // Photo Credit: Allister Ann

The world might have opened back up in 2021, but it was still a year branded with heartache, sorrow, and grief. Even if you didn’t endure the death of a loved one, you likely knew someone who did 一 or perhaps you wandered through some of the biggest records of the year and found yourself replaying your own miseries. Last year, loss in all its forms, including divorce, seemed to permeate every corner of existence.

Through a series of several mainstream releases, including Carly Pearce’s 29 and Adele’s 30, 2021 was the unequivocal year of divorce, heartbreak, and grief. An outpouring of collective pain, whether from death or severed friendships, wormed into songwriting in a remarkable, cathartic way. Artists sought as much solace as everyday folks, marking the second year of an ongoing pandemic with deep, indelible scars.

Divorce albums are not a new conceit. Historically, singer-songwriters have long written about very public breakups as a way to compartmentalize and cope. Many of music’s greatest divorce records, including Willie Nelson’s Phases and Stages, Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E, and Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, as well as more recent LPs from The Chicks (Gaslighter) and Miranda Lambert (The Weight of These Wings), served to reclaim the public narrative.

Tabloid headlines are nothing if not salacious in their details, frequently pitting one public figure against another in a way to sell magazines or get clicks. But behind those shiny veneers are living, breathing human beings simply trying to process their trauma. Yes, heartbreak is a form of trauma. In peeling back the emotional and psychological layers through storytelling, singers and songwriters find an agency they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Adele’s 30 was the most anticipated release of the year. Six years since her last studio record, 30 showcased the British performer making sense of her pain, flitting through the effects the divorce had on her son, their relationship in and out of the watery depths, and her desperate search to find herself once more. “To Be Loved” is the crown jewel of not only the record but her career so-far, as Adele gave her everything in a nearly-seven-minute epic best summed up with this refrain: “Let it be known that I tried.” Elsewhere, subtler yet still skin-scalding moments like “I Drink Wine” and “Strangers by Nature” permitted her to feel those emotions, raw and unfettered. While she’s felt anger in her divorce, 30 is not “an angry divorced woman” record; rather, it’s one of absolution from the past and the many tattered pages of resentment and misery.

Kelly Clarkson endured her own skirmish in the divorce spotlight, as well. A jovial person by nature, it seems fitting she funneled her heartache into a holiday album. When Christmas Comes Around… worked in much the same way as 30. The 12-song record dipped between jubilantly sashaying through her favorite classics, including “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Santa Baby,” and twirling through anguish like vibrantly colored ribbons. In the opening song, “Merry Christmas Baby,” Clarkson clued you into how she was feeling: “You can keep the charming lines/And you can keep your wandering hands and eyes.” Her thorny-laced lyrics coarse through the record, namely in two other originals “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)” and “Merry Christmas (To the One I Used to Know),” gloriously tinseled exorcisms. But in the end, as attested through standout “Blessed,” Clarkson emerged lighter and more self-possessed.

In the country world, Carly Pearce and Kacey Musgraves conjured up firestorms with 29 and star-crossed, respectively. Where Pearce soaked in modern-pressed traditional country, leaning upon fiddle, guitar, and other staple instruments, Musgraves stretched further into the pop world, using her much-acclaimed 2018 Golden Hour as a jumping off point. In both instances, the singer-songwriters expressed the sting of betrayal that’s now forever stamped into the emotional fabric of their lives. “So I ain’t gonna tell you everything he did/But I’ll tell you what he didn’t do: treat me right, put me first, be a man of his word/Stay home ’cause he wanted to,” sang Pearce. She seemingly flipped expectations here with “What He Didn’t Do” — but did plenty of tea-spilling later on with songs like “Next Girl” and “Should’ve Known Better.”

Conversely, Musgraves’ star-crossed unlocked a throbbing, emotional center through traditional instruments buried beneath magical production choices. The title cut is a cinematic conversation-piece, dazzling with distortion and synths, as if she’s escaping her heartbreak through a universe-defying expedition. “Let’s go back to the beginning,” she whispered on “good wife,” guitar peeking up like whack-a-mole. Staging the record as a chronological tale allowed the listener to experience the rush of burning love in those early days to the wildfire and the charred aftermath in almost real time.

My parents were never married, but when they split, it forever changed me. The night of their separation is among my earliest memories; I remember it like it was yesterday. My older sister Katrina held me tightly in her arms, tears streaming down my face and a throaty wail squirming from my lungs. I rarely cried so hard as a kid, and even now I can feel that pain rising into my chest. It’s something you can never forget. When I listen to 29, 30, star-crossed, and even When Christmas Comes Around… that memory flashes just as red and hot as it did then. In my adulthood, that moment certainly feels much different, but emotional memory can be a helluva drug.

Any sort of grief is physiological. It’s far more than simply reliving those flashing polaroids. It’s the ungodly physical pains that rip through flesh and bone like it’s happening to you all over again. And it’s not an exclusive experience to heartbreak and divorce.

You’re grieving when you feel your chest tighten and you can barely breathe. It’s not dissimilar to experiencing death. When Olivia Rodrigo is lamenting young heartbreak on Sour or Taylor Swift is recounting her own in the long-awaited release of “All Too Well” (10 Minute Version) or GAYLE is delivering the kiss-off to end all kiss-offs with smash single “abcdefu,” grief lies at their confectionary cores. Grief is grief. It doesn’t matter what the exterior looks like; the emotional and physical responses are the same.

Glam-pop newcomer Jake Wesley Rogers, taking cues from Bowie and Elton John in style and musical approach, dressed up themes of loss and moving on with his latest EP, Pluto. Songs like “Weddings and Funerals,” in which he muses that the small moments define our lives much more than the big ones, and “Middle of Love,” containing the apt line “my grandma died ’cause that’s what people do” bowl you over with their insight. The musical accomplishment of the tracks themselves give Rogers’ words even more gravitas, allowing for a universal clarity.

One-off releases, such as Lindsey Stirling’s “Lose You Now,” an electrifying plea to hold onto her father’s memory, pulled sorrow further into the conversation. Xenia Rubino’s “Did My Best” did the same, a moving centerpiece to the year, while Zara Larsson dissected her own heartbreak with Poster Girl, and Hayley Williams learned to let go on FLOWERS for VASES / descansos.

It’s hard to comprehend that 2021 is really over, now firmly in our rearview mirror. But as we take stock of yet another year lost to a pandemic, we can begin to reflect upon the common threads which connect our lives. Sadness flows much further than this feature will allow, also present in the work of countless other artists, including Joshua Bassett, Dashboard Confessional, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, James Arthur, H.E.R., and Julien Baker.

Perhaps through experiencing these musical masterpieces, we can understand the personal and universal significance of pain in songwriting and to our everyday lives. I know without a doubt that I’ve come closer to figuring out how continue on in a world so utterly destroyed by tragedy. I have plenty to learn still — but for now, I’ll listen, drink wine, and cry.

AF 2021 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

If you went into 2021 with high expectations, you weren’t alone. Even if it was hard to feel optimistic this time last year, it certainly seemed as if things could get no worse. Live music did return, after all – though with the appearance of Delta, and now Omicron, the joyful noise comes with a caveat. After sixteen months of having to livestream shows (fun, but not the same) little could stop me from attending shows in person; wearing a mask as an extra precaution felt like no big deal, even if no one else was doing it. But luck (and vaccines) feel like the real reason I emerged unscathed from dozens of risky experiences, and with performances on the horizon canceled once again, maybe it’s wise to enter 2022 with slightly lower expectations.

There’s always recorded music, anyhow. Maybe the tumult of the year just has me personally feeling a bit unfocused, but it seems as though I barely scaled the mountain of this year’s musical offerings without getting a bit buried in the avalanche of releases – ones that had been pushed back, ones that were created in lockdown. I’ll be playing catch up well into the new year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t gems I connected with almost immediately, and very deeply. And that’s what I’ve heard across the board, from those in the industry as well as casual music fans – is that our favorites this year stayed on heavy rotation, as we latched onto music that accurately reflected our moods, which evolved moment to moment and of course happened to be different for all of us at any given time. What does that mean for year-end lists? Audiofemme has always compiled an eclectic list, including favorites from each of our contributors without overall rank – consider any repeats to be the best of the best. But this year, the list seems even more diverse, meaning there’s a wealth of weird and wonderful music below to discover, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with us through another wild year.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
      3) Low – Hey What
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
      6) Dawn Richard – Second Line: An Electro Revival
      7) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      8) aya – im hole
      9) Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses
      10) Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”
      2) Loraine James (feat. Eden Samara) – “Running Like That”
      3) Hand Habits – “More Than Love”
      4) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      5) Julien Baker – “Faith Healer (Half Waif Remix)”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Low – Hey What
      2) Tirzah – Colourgrade
      3) Nana Yamato – Before Sunrise
      4) Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
      5) Jane Weaver – Flock
      6) Tonstartssbandht – Petunia
      7) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      8) Squirrel Flower – Planet (i)
      9) Veik – Surrounding Structures
      10) Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      2) Special Interest – “All Tomorrow’s Carry”
      3) Squid – “G.S.K.”
      4) Julien Baker – “Bloodshot”
      5) Mandy, Indiana – “Bottle Episode”
      6) Remember Sports – “Pinky Ring”
      7) Cedric Noel – “Comuu”
      8) Gustaf – “Mine”
      9) June Jones – “Therapy”
      10) MAN ON MAN – “Stohner”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Marketing Director)
    • Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
      Spellling – The Turning Wheel
      King Woman – Celestial Blues
      Macy Rodman – Unbelievable Animals
      Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds
      Kinlaw – The Tipping Scale
    • Top 3 Singles (in no particular order):
      Often – “Deep Sleep”
      Mannequin Pussy – “Control”
      Spice – “A Better Treatment”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Wye Oak – Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011
      2) Dori Freeman – Ten Thousand Roses
      3) Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning
      4) Fawn Wood – Kåkike
      5) Carmen Q. Rothwell – Don’t Get Comfy / Nowhere
    • Honorable Mention: Mike Gebhart – Co-Pilot 
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Doja Cat (feat. SZA) – “Kiss Me More”
      2) Mitski – “Working for the Knife”
      3) DoNormaal – “Baby May”

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deap Vally – Marriage
      2) Mod Con – Modern Condition
      3) Laura Stevenson – Laura Stevenson
      4) Joan As Police Woman – The Solution is Restless
      5) Black Country, New Road – For the first time
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Black Country, New Road – “Sunglasses”
      2) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      3) jennylee – “Tickles”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Hackedepicciotto — The Silver Threshold
      2) Saint Etienne — I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
      3) L’impératrice — Take Tsubo
      4) Pearl and the Oysters— Flowerland
      5) Nuovo Testamento — New Earth
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Midnight Magic – “Beam Me Up” 
      2) Jessie Ware – “Please”
      3) Gabriels – “Love and Hate in a Different Time (Kerri Chandler Remix)”  

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dolphin Midwives — Body of Water
      2) Sarah McQuaid — The St. Buryan Sessions
      3) Low — Hey What 
      4) Witch Camp — I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be 
      5) Full Bush — Movie Night
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Maggie Herron — “Sweet Lullaby”
      2) Sleater-Kinney — “High in the Grass”
      3) ONETWOTHREE — “Give Paw” 

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jetty Bones – Push Back
      2) M.A.G.S. – Say Things That Matter
      3) Lyndsay Ellyn – Queen of Nothing
      4) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      5) Christian Lopez – The Other Side
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Hayes Carll – “Help Me Remember”
      2) Jake Wesley Rogers – “Middle of Love”
      3) Adele – “To Be Loved”
      4) Carly Pearce – “What He Didn’t Do”
      5) Kacey Musgraves – “what doesn’t kill me”

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O​.​K.
      2) Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
      3) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      4) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World
      5) Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Blonder – “Ice Cream Girl” 
      2) Mitski – “The Only Heartbreaker”
      3) Kristiane – “Better On Your Own”  

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Polo G – Hall of Fame
      2) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Sessions
      5) blackbear – misery lake
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – “Thanksgiving”
      2) Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)  – “INDUSTRY BABY”
      3) 24kGoldn (feat. Future) – “Company”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      2) Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies 
      3) Lil Nas X – Montero
      4) Darkside – Spiral
      5) Blu DeTiger – How Did We Get Here EP
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kaytranada (feat. H.E.R.) – “Intimidated”
      2) Kacey Musgraves – “simple times”
      3) Snoh Aalegra – “In Your Eyes”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun
      2) Julia Wolf – Girls in Purgatory (Full Moon Edition)
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko
      5) Destroy Boys – Open Mouth, Open Heart
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) daine – “dainecore”
      2) Julia Wolf – “Villain”
      3) Doja Cat – “Need To Know”

  • Sam Weisenthal (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      2) Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place
      3) Mega Bog – Life, and Another
      4) Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
      5) Olivia Kaplan – Tonight Turns to Nothing
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charlotte Cornfield – “Drunk For You” 
      2) Dora Jar – “Multiply”
      3) Joe Taylor Sutkowski, Dirt Buyer – “What Luck, Goodbye”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Summer Walker – Still Over It
      3) Erika de Casier – Sensational
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Adele – 30
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      2) Liv.e – “Bout It”
      3) SZA – “I Hate U”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      2) CL – ALPHA
      3) My Life As Ali Thomas – Peppermint Town
      4) Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
      5) Remember Sports – Like a Stone
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) FKA twigs (feat. Central Cee) – “Measure of a Man”
      2) Sabriel – “Pulse”
      3) Lexie Liu – “有吗炒面 ALGTR”

Skyler Day Strikes a Chord Between Art and Empathy With ‘Six Feet Apart’

Courtesy of The Mixtape PR

There’s a strong correlation between art and empathy, a powerful notion Skyler Day carries into her work as an actress and singer-songwriter.

Day knew the arts were a part of her destiny at the age of six when she discovered her love for singing while making her stage debut as the smallest Christmas tree in her school’s holiday play. She added songwriting to her list of talents at the age of 10 and learned how to play guitar four years later. While honing her musical capabilities, Day was also fostering her passion for acting, informing her parents that she wanted to hire an agent to book auditions. “I told them by the time I turned 11, if I booked the lead in a film, then we would have to move to Los Angeles so that I can pursue my acting career,” Day recalls to Audiofemme. True to her word, the determined child soon landed a part in an independent film, her parents shutting down the gymnastics studio they owned in their hometown of Cumming, Georgia, and made the cross-country move to LA to fulfill their daughter’s dreams.

Day has since become a working actress with roles on TV shows including Parenthood, Law & Order SVU, CSI: Miami, Pretty Little Liars and many more. In between appearances on major network shows, Day continues to sharpen her songwriting skills. With a growing catalog of introspective acoustic numbers, the Georgia native credits country music for inspiring her songwriting style. “I feel like country music really takes care of the story,” she describes. “It’s really the foundation of everything I do. It’s how I learned to write. It’s the reason I picked up guitar instead of some other instrument. I love the storytelling, and that’s really how I fell in love with music in general.”

The 28-year-old breathed new life into her career as a songwriter when she won a 2019 BumbleBizz contest for aspiring female songwriters that included a mentoring session with Kacey Musgraves and a performance slot at a major festival. Citing the six-time Grammy winner as a “huge inspiration,” Day flew to Texas to sit down with Musgraves before her appearance on Austin City Limits and imparted her wisdom onto the budding artist. “The main thing that stuck out to me was ‘write what you love, make the music that you love, and then let the rest take care of itself,’” Day recollects of Musgraves’ sage advice. “I love that, and I’ve always subscribed to that, so it was nice getting some reinforcement.”

For Day, writing the music you love means embracing her empathetic side. While acting allows Day to call on her imagination to bring other writers’ words and ideas to life, songwriting creates a personal outlet for her to share her own stories and experiences. “It’s the art of empathy and I feel like that’s the same with music,” she describes of the commonality between acting and songwriting. “It’s about being dead honest about your experience, and I feel like that translates with songwriting. You can tell the same with acting, you can tell when somebody’s being so truthful. It feels more real and like you’re creating a connection there.”

This focus on empathy shines in Day’s latest creation, “Six Feet Apart.” Penned in her LA home days after the stay-at-home order was put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Day’s emotions toward the situation were bubbling beneath the surface, in need of a way to get out. She turned to Joni Mitchell’s album Blue for comfort, sitting in solitude and letting the lyrics wash over her. But at album’s end, Day noticed something profound taking place outside her window. “It got quiet and then I listened and the birds were going crazy. They were singing so loud,” she remembers. “I was thinking, they’re singing so loud and they have no idea what’s happening in the world.”

Her emotions soon began spilling onto the page, Day reflecting on the people who bring color into our lives, from our family and loved ones to strangers we pass on the street. She captures the heart of the song’s message in its potent closing line: “I guess that it’s simple/Now we know that our hearts/They weren’t made to be six feet apart.” “I hope that people feel less alone in the fact that someone else feels the same way and that we’re all really feeling the same way. I didn’t notice how important everyone is around you when you’re walking down the street or you’re at a restaurant. These people in the world, they fill up our lives and now I’m noticing how much I took that for granted,” Day professes. “I think it’s beautiful to now be so aware of the fact that we really need each other.”

Follow Skyler Day on Facebook for ongoing updates.

5 Christmas Songs by the Women of Country Music You Need to Hear

Katie Pruitt, YouTube

Year after year, the same holiday standards come pouring through our speakers when the calendar flips to December (or before Halloween in recent years). While these often become ubiquitous, there are several artists who deliver original renditions of these holiday standards, in addition to offering new classics of their own.

The women featured below deliver a mix of original songs and covers that uniquely shine, whether it’s three superstars uniting for an iconic holiday number or a burgeoning superstar penning one of the saddest Christmas songs you’ve ever heard. Check out Audiofemme’s pick of five Christmas songs by the women of country music.

Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire – “Silent Night”

When Clarkson, Yearwood and McEntire took the stage during Clarkson’s 2013 special, Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale, they delivered one of the most beautiful renditions of the holiday standard regarded as “the most beautiful song ever written.” The trio defines the word “perfection” with their performance, as Yearwood’s powerful voice reaches new heights, while Clarkson provides enchanting harmonies. And when McEntire joins in, her voice adds even more magical layers. When they end the performance a capella, their harmonies knock the wind right out of you.

Kacey Musgraves – “Christmas Makes Me Cry”

Challenge: Try not to tear up when listening to “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” Between singing about broken hearts and those who couldn’t make it home for the holidays, Musgraves doesn’t try to disguise the fact that there’s a somber side to Christmas that’s often forgotten. “I wonder if I’m the only one/Whose broken heart still has broken parts/Just wrapped in pretty paper/And it’s always sad/Seeing mom and dad getting a little grayer,” she sings. What I appreciate most about the track is how Musgraves extends a hand to those experiencing grief during the Christmas season, and this compelling country queen recognizes them with this gem. “Christmas Makes Me Cry” is poignant, emotional and beautiful, reflecting the intense emotions of the Christmas season and the foundation that Musgraves builds her artistry on.

Loretta Lynn – “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas”

Before Musgraves, Loretta Lynn set the precedent for melancholy Christmas tunes, and “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” has all the makings of a Christmas classic. Penned solely by the country icon, Lynn turns tear-in-my-beer mainstay country lyrics into her own Christmas original. Between the twinkling of the piano keys and her timeless voice, she paints a peaceful scene of decorative Christmas trees and flying snowflakes. But the pain inside her is anything but peaceful as she sings of missing the person she loves. “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” is a highlight on her 1966 Country Christmas album that features six original numbers, including heartbreaker “Gift of the Blues” and sassy “To Heck With Ole Santa Claus.”

Cam – “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”

Get ready to be stunned when you press “play” on Cam’s cover of this holiday classic. With a voice that’s timeless and modern at the same time, Cam truly captures the sadness and longing expressed in the song in a way that resonates. While I’ve heard the track countless times during the holiday season, Cam’s version made me realize how heartbreaking this standard is, written from the perspective of a solider who hopes, but ultimately doesn’t make it home for the holiday, making for one of the most powerful renditions of the popular hit I’ve heard.

Katie Pruitt – “Merry Christmas, Mary Jane”

If you want a Christmas song that’s original and modern with a dash of humor, then look no further than Katie Pruitt’s “Merry Christtmas, Mary Jane.” With a soulful voice that cuts like a knife, Pruitt tips a cheetah-print Santa hat to the one thing that’ll take her spirits high: marijuana. Her voice is so striking you almost miss the humorous little gems she sprinkles in (“All these Christmas lights would look twice as good/As we hotbox around your neighborhood”), all of which she expresses in the midst of bluesy guitar riffs. This unique holiday tribute demands a spot on your playlist.

Kacey Musgraves Glows in New Christmas Special

With her new holiday special, The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, Kacey Musgraves proves that her star power only continues to grow.

The idea for the made-for-TV event arose from a conversation Musgraves had with her band leader last year about creating a classic holiday special that brings her 2016 album A Very Kacey Christmas to life. Musgraves and her team transformed this vision into an elaborate set of pink glistening Christmas trees, gorgeous ensembles that her stylist Erica Cloud describes as “Wes Anderson meets Gucci” and range from a chic, tan Western suit to a gorgeous red gown, and a star-studded cast that includes Fred Armisen, Zooey Deschanel, James Corden, Lana Del Rey, Camilla Cabello and more, with beloved Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy serving as narrator. Musgraves’ nana, Barbara Dean, also makes a special appearance.

Musgraves delivers on this clever, creative concept  that’s set up like a telethon, complete with a live studio audience and a team of operators in the control room. Combined with an elaborate set that looks like the interior of a Victorian dollhouse, Musgraves achieves the classic feel that she was aiming for while stepping out of her comfort zone, sharpening her new acting and scripted comedy skills.

She sets the stage by opening the show singing “Let it Snow” with James Corden in the middle of an artificial snowstorm that blasts through the windows of her makeshift home before trying to sing “Silent Night” with Fred Armisen while an intrusive handyman carries out his nosiest chores in the background. The “High Horse” singer also allows her band to step into the spotlight, engaging in playful banter with them as they step from behind their instruments to test out their own comedic chops.

Her unique ideas shine throughout the special, whether floating upside down on the ceiling as she sings “Present Without a Bow” with Leon Bridges or adding fiddle, steel guitar and accordion to give “Silent Night” a country edge while still capturing its beauty. But the purest moment, one that is distinctly Musgraves, is when she sings “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” “It feels like we’re supposed to be happy during the holidays, but sometimes they just make you really sad,” she begins. “So I wrote this song for anybody who might be feeling a little bit lonely.” With just her guitar and a microphone, sitting poised in a bedroom set with giant tree in the corner, the gentle, but heartbreaking song feels like a moment separate from the glamor and flash around her. Musgraves steps outside of the extravagance of it all to deliver a human message, speaking to the outliers and lonely souls as she so poetically does.

The heartfelt moment is curtailed with a snarky comment from Levy (“so Kacey had an emo moment in her bedroom…”), leading into the second half of the show that feels more natural and confident, demonstrated by a series of solid one-liners shared between Musgraves and the Schitt’s Creek star, such as when he hands her a tin of “homemade” cookies that were “processed in a factory” (“that’s what I call my kitchen,” he says) and expired in 2017 (“always looking out for your health,” he replies). Musgraves rounds out the show with the debut of her charming new duet with Troye Sivan, “Glittery,” and a dreamlike rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with Lana Del Rey. And when the final, and arguably most precious, guest star appears at show’s end – her nana – Musgraves brings it back to that human place that makes her so beloved.

The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show reflects what the Grammy winner does best: creating a classic aesthetic that mixes her own brand of western flair, country music and 70s style with a modern look, demonstrating her ability to compellingly reimagine holiday standards while creating some of her own. With this special, Musgraves proves how the success of Golden Hour has positioned her as a burgeoning superstar with the gift to draw all walks of life to her – a power she’s always possessed, but one that glow even brighter in this dynamic and celebratory event.

The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Fri., Nov. 29.







ONLY NOISE: Kacey Musgraves Still Speaks to Me with Golden Hour, a Year After its Release

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Cillea Houghton delves into her personal connection with Kacey Musgraves’ ground-breaking Golden Hour, a year after its release (and several Grammys later).

Watching Kacey Musgraves take home the Album of the Year Grammy for Golden Hour was a moment I can only compare to a football fan watching their team win the Super Bowl. When I listened to it for the first time, I had a gut feeling it would be one of the best albums I’d ever hear in my life and knew I would find meaning in it 10, 20 years in the future. I also had an instinct that it would earn her a lot of praise, and felt vindicated when it did, especially significant seeing as she did it with little to no support from country radio. Golden Hour felt like a full circle moment in a way, as it had me thinking about the beginning of my journey with Kacey many years ago, hearing “Merry Go ‘Round” for the first time, not yet knowing the breadth of her artistry and how it would affect my life. She has a special gift of capturing the raw, honest truth about life that most people may not consider or ignore altogether, and Golden Hour is her finest example of that gift. My initial review only touched the surface of this powerful album that I’ve since developed such a strong bond with; in the year since its release I’ve come back to revel in its beauty again and again.

My introduction to Musgraves is burned into my memory. I can still feel myself sitting in the passenger seat of our family mini van, my mom driving us home after she picked me up one Friday afternoon during my sophomore year of college. I had the radio on the country station and we’d just made it over the Sagamore Bridge when I heard the opening banjo lick to a new song that instantly grabbed me. A woman’s voice came pouring through the speakers, and I was enamored as she sang “If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone, at least that’s what tradition told you.”

A few weeks later during a weekend visit at my cousin Jacquie’s house, I learn that this captivating song was “Merry Go ‘Round” by Kacey Musgraves. I told Jacquie how much I liked it, and she said I needed to listen to the whole album because it was so good. She played Same Trailer Different Park for us while we were getting ready to go out for the evening and I remember being so intrigued by each track. It sounded so different from anything else I’d heard; the melodies were warm, but her lyrics provided such a sharp, real world perspective that I hadn’t been introduced to in the music I was listening to through my 19 years of life. There was something about Musgraves that resonated with me. The album quickly made it into my heavy rotation – I was particularly drawn to “Dandelion” and “Keep it to Yourself” for their gentle melodies and honest lyrics, but respected the realism of “Blowin’ Smoke.” I was struck by her boldness in “Follow Your Arrow” and applauded her weed references and celebration of LGBTQ inclusion.

This was merely the beginning of my journey with an artist that would deeply impact with me. “Merry Go ‘Round” has taken on new meaning as I look back on it with a refined perspective.  She makes me think of all the people who did settle like dust in their hometowns, and I revere how she presents these thought-provoking observations in a non-derogatory way. She doesn’t cast judgment on the people she’s singing about, but rather makes keen observations about life and conveys them in a way that’s universally applicable. Musgraves takes real risks in her songwriting, and it’s inspiring to see that her conviction has earned her acclaim from all walks of life.

Her second album, Pageant Material, grew on me more slowly. Though I loved “Biscuits,” I viewed it as sequel to “Follow Your Arrow” and unfairly judged the album based on that one song. Some three years after its 2015 release, I fully immersed myself in in the album, saw how dynamic it is, and discovered how much I had misjudged it. I fell in love with the melody and her IDGAF attitude on the title track, appreciating how she stands up for those who will never be deemed “perfect” in a world where this unachievable ideal is forced upon women from the day we’re born. “High Time” is a gem, while the line “had to get away so I could grow but it don’t matter where I’m going, I still call my home town home” from “Dime Store Cowgirl” always sticks with me. I’ve lived these words, moving away from my tight-knit family in Massachusetts to chase my dreams in Nashville, but still hold tight to my New England identity. She brings to mind fond memories with my family on “Late to the Party,” the sentiment of the song making me envision all of us laughing and enjoying each other’s company at our favorite local bar. I was awestruck by the sorely underrated “Fine” and the way she wrote such a timeless, melancholy song about the longing feeling of missing someone. It makes me think of how my grandmother must feel about my grandfather, missing her husband of more than 60 years every day in the wake of his passing. And I think the fact that she chose to cover the lost Willie Nelson song, “Are You Sure” instead of one of his hits, and that he willingly offered to sing it with her, is just one small example of how she’s a true original.

But I didn’t realize music could be so pure until I heard Golden Hour. When I heard “Space Cowboy” and “Butterflies” in the months before the album’s release, I knew they were a strong indication that Musgraves was going to gift us something incredible. But little did I know just how much the album would enlighten me. From the moment I pressed play on “Slow Burn,” I was stunned. Hearing her sing “old soul waiting my turn, I know a few things but I still got a lot to learn,” is the moment I bonded with her on a soul level. I often find myself using the term “slow burn” now in conversation, particularly as I contemplate my own life and how things tend to happen when they’re meant to. I’ve always been a late bloomer and not one to keep up with the pace of my peers. I come into things in my own time and I appreciate how the song speaks to that so viscerally.

I had never heard an album that reflected so many emotions I’ve experienced, but haven’t put into words. I’m in awe of the way she captures our existential existence in “Oh What a World.” How she managed to convey so brilliantly the overwhelming magnificence of the universe in such a simple and compelling way, I’ll never know. And I hold in high regard her ability to communicate such a specific feeling as that brief interval in time between a fleeting moment of happiness that’s immediately followed by sadness. It makes me think of my childhood and how excited I would get (and still do) about visiting my family, going to bed on Christmas Day, or coming down from a euphoric concert, feeling grateful for those special moments and also sorrow in knowing that they’re over.

I’ve identified with every aspect of “Lonely Weekend.” I know how it feels to have those lonely days when it seems like everyone else is out in the world enjoying life while I’m home alone. It was reassuring to hear someone touch on an insecurity I’ve often felt, but also acknowledge that it’s okay to have those days of solitude. And I admire how gracious she is in “Space Cowboy.” Most breakup songs carry an essence of bitterness, but Musgraves is the bigger person in this scenario. There’s a selflessness she brings to the act of letting someone go when you know it’s the right decision.

She brought me to tears with “Mother,” the way she so thoughtfully and beautifully conveyed the overwhelming emotion of the world while simultaneously tying generations of people together in just a few words. The way she expressed missing her mother, who was sitting miles away thinking of her mom, reminded me of how much I miss my own mother and grandmother being 1,000 miles away from them. And though they see each other every few weeks, I know they still miss each other. It also made me wonder how often my grandmother thinks of her mother who passed away years ago, one she wrote a poem about when she was 13 years old regarding the passage of time and watching her mother’s hair turn gray. I know she must miss her no matter how many years go by. With just 11 lines, Musgraves made me ponder my relationship with two of the most influential women in my life and the connections they have with their own mothers. Serendipitously, just before she performed “Mother” at the Ryman Auditorium, I was thinking about how my mom and grandma would enjoy her music and her stage show, my eyes welling with tears as I sat in the pew.

What I learned about Musgraves through Golden Hour is that she is truly a woman of her word. In an interview prior to the album’s release, she philosophizes about feeling her way through the music and being inspired by the beauty of the world after experiencing the solar eclipse. She detailed all the characters we’d see and be able to relate to, without any bullshit. Golden Hour is a marvel in that way – transcending earth while being incredibly grounded at the same time, just like Kacey herself.

Musgraves proved to the world that it is possible to take simple and honest thoughts and transform them into profound art. I love how Golden Hour connects with people on so many different levels, and I always feel a glimmer of pride when I hear one of her songs out in the world, whether on my local roots music station, hearing “High Horse” coming from the speakers at a strip mall or someone blasting “Slow Burn” from their car with the windows down. I can’t remember the last time I connected this intensely with a body of music, and that’s a personal revelation I’m so thankful I got to share with Kacey when I fulfilled one of my ultimate dreams of meeting her.

It’s rare that I want to share an artist’s music with every person in my life because I know they’ll gain something meaningful from it, but that’s what Kacey Musgraves does for me. She created an album that touched my soul because it stemmed from her own, and I’m so inspired by how she owned her truth in every way and made a project that was so genuine and personal to her, not knowing if it would be commercially viable. She taught me that magic exists and music born from sincerity can reach beyond the stratosphere. Thus far, this journey has made me understand that I want to live my life the way Kacey Musgraves creates art: vulnerable, observant, sincere, fearless, truthful yet compassionate, grounded while seeing the world from a grand perspective, and above all, pure.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Pazz & Jop Lives, 21 Savage vs. ICE, and MORE

Kacey Musgraves topped the 2019 Pazz & Jop Albums List with Golden Hour.

Pazz & Jop LIVES – Even if the Village Voice Doesn’t

When I received my Pazz & Jop Ballot in December, I couldn’t have been more shocked.  I’d assumed that when the Village Voice shuttered in August, the music critics’ poll would go along with it. As an NYC resident and regular Voice contributor I was sad to see the paper go, but the loss of the poll was like salt in a wound; there was something so methodical, so definitive, so objective, about tallying hundreds of critics’ top ten albums to determine the year’s best in a way that wasn’t influenced by the branding of any particular publication. And while the top of the list was interesting, the real value I got from the poll came from scouring the ballots of critics with similar taste to mine, mining for overlooked gems.

The Voice had published only one piece since its death, though an archive remained online. No one seemed to know who would helm the poll itself – some critics even thought the email ballots that had been sent were a  a ghostly, automated mistake, though some of the copy had been changed. The defunct alt-weekly began running Robert Christgau’s old year-end analyses, stretching back to 1971, when the poll began. And then, this week, a flurry of essays from Christgau, Jessica Hopper, Sasha Geffen, Tirhakah Love, and a roundtable of former editors, not to mention the poll itself, appeared.

There are five women at the top of the album list – for the first time in the poll’s history. Kacey Musgraves got the top honors, with her breathlessly praised Golden Hour, followed by Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. Next comes Cardi B, Mitski tied for third, and Robyn’s Honey rounds things out. Noname and Lucy Dacus appear in the top ten as well. And though Childish Gambino’s “This is America” was deservedly voted best single of the year, the rest of the year’s top songs feature Cardi, Janelle, Ariana, Robyn, Mitski and Kacey as well.

While it’s hard to say if there will be a Pazz & Jop next year, this year feels at least a little triumphant, and not just for the women who dominated year end lists. It’s a reminder that music journalism, while on shaky ground, has the potential to grow, change, and most of all, to keep existing, so long as there is a community of critics willing to sound off. Ann Powers says it best: “With Pazz & Jop I bring a different mind-set to it. I am thinking about the larger community of music writers. And I care about the larger community of music writers a lot. I want us to have a home to be together, and that’s what Pazz & Jop gives us. And so, the fact that this poll still lives, it makes me feel like I still have a bigger home.”

21 Savage vs. ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 21 Savage on Sunday, claiming that the Atlanta-based rapper was born in the UK, is in the US on an expired visa, and that felonies stemming from a 2014 arrest could lead to his immediate deportation. 21 Savage, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, confirmed that he was indeed born in London, but that he was already in the process of renewing his visa after becoming aware of his “illegal” status in 2017. A representative for 21 Savage pointed out that while the rapper had indeed been arrested on felony drug charges, he was not convicted and has a clean record, and should be allowed to remain in the US until matters of his citizenship are settled, given his fourteen-year residency and the three children he has fathered in this country.

Immigration is obviously a hot-button issue in this political climate, and some have pointed out that 21 Savage has been critical of the government’s separation of families at the US-Mexico border. Though he came to prominence rapping about life in the streets – including gang violence, drug dealing, murder, and guns – he’s given a lot back to the Atlanta community as of late, and his latest album, I Am > I Was has been a huge success. Despite lots of support from fans and the hip-hop community at large, 21 Savage has a long legal battle ahead of him – we can only imagine what is like for those facing the same battle, but without resources.

That New New

Just in time for Black History Month, Chicago neo-soul singer Jamila Woods announces her next album, Legacy! Legacy! whose thirteen tracks each honor a different person of color; the latest single from the LP is dedicated to writer Zora Neale-Hurston.

Patio shout out fellow NYC DIY band Washer in their latest single, “Boy Scout,” from their forthcoming debut LP, Essentials, out April 5.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast directed the latest video from Charly Bliss. “Capacity” will appear on the band’s sophomore LP Young Enough, out May 10 via Barsuk.

Foxygen’s new album Seeing Other People will arrive April 26 via Jagjaguwar and have shared its lead single.

Neneh Cherry shared a video for “Natural Skin Deep,” from her phenomenal 2018 comeback album Broken Politics.

Death Hags shared “Electrochemical Communication.”

Andrew Bird is equal parts Frank and Richie Tenenbaum in the new video for “Sisyphus,” from his cheekily-titled My Finest Work Yet LP, which comes out March 22 via Loma Vista Recordings.

The Japanese House will release their debut LP Good At Falling on March 1 after releasing a string of buzzy singles.

Thelma shared a delightfully weird video for “Stranger Love” as well as a new single, “Sway,” both from her sophomore record The Only Thing, out February 22.

Madrid duo Yawners have confirmed their first live appearances in the US will take place at this year’s SXSW; to celebrate they’ve released a video for “Please, Please, Please,” the lead single from their debut LP Just Calm Down, out March 22.

SOAK (Derry, Ireland based singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson) releases sophomore LP Grim Town on April 26 and has shared its very timely first single “Valentine Shmalentine” with a cute visual.

Khalid dropped this Disclosure-produced banger from his latest album, which will be out in April.

iamiamwhoami vocalist ionnalee announced her sophomore solo album REMEMBER THE FUTURE (out May 31) and subsequent tour with lead single “Open Sea.”

Bibio shared this smooth-as-fuck track from an as-yet-unannounced follow-up to 2017 LP Phantom Brickworks.

Ariana Grande just dropped thank u, next, only six months shy of last year’s Sweetener LP.

End Notes

  • The 61st annual Grammy Awards will air on CBS this Sunday, featuring performances by Janelle Monáe, Cardi B, Camila Cabello, Brandi Carlisle, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves, Dua Lipa with St. Vincent, and, in what is sure to be a train wreck of mediocrity, Post Malone with Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Ariana Grande has dropped out after the show’s producers refused to let her perform recent single “7 Rings.”
  • The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan has been reunited with his Gish-era Stratocaster after it was stolen nearly thirty years ago.
  • Recently released from a year-long prison stint, DMX has announced an anniversary tour to commemorate his 20-year-old debut, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot.
  • Early-aughts dance punks The Rapture will reunite for a Brooklyn show and festival appearance (at Long Beach’s Just Like Heaven).
  • Big Boi, whose very brief appearance was literally the only highlight of Super Bowl LIII, has also announced a tour with Goodie Mob and other members of Atlanta’s legendary Dungeon Family crew (but hopefully not Cee-Lo Green?).
  • Merge Records turns 30 this year, and the iconic indie imprint will celebrate in July with the MRG30 Music Festival in Carrboro and Durham, NC. The lineup will of course feature Superchunk and other label stalwarts like the Mountain Goats, Wye Oak, Fucked Up, Destroyer, and more. Tickets went on sale today.
  • Kim Gordon is getting her first-ever solo art show at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum; featuring figure drawings, sculpture, paintings and sound installation; the show, titled Lo-Fi Glamour, goes up mid-May through September 1st.
  • Jonah Hill and Vampire Weekend took over the UWS Zabars to shoot a music video.
  • Dinosaur Jr. mysteriously appeared on the Japanese Billboard Hot 100 with “Over Your Shoulder.” The track appeared on 1994 LP Without a Sound, but unlike that album’s inescapable alt-rock jam “Feel The Pain,” was never released as a single.
  • 52-year-old Gorilla Biscuits guitarist Alex Brown passed away from a brain aneurysm last Friday.