My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review – Kacey Musgraves – ‘Follow Your Arrow’

UnknownFor as long as country music has been around, there’ve been songs of social justice tackling the issues of the day in their not-so-easily-digestible glory. Such musical moments have been banned from playlists and censored so as not to offend. But they still paved the way for whatever ‘issue’ song came next. This is the United States of America after all, where as citizens we’re encouraged to take on the hard topics and have blunt conversations in which they take center stage.

One listen to “Follow Your Arrow” and the message is clear – Kacey Musgraves has crafted the best country single of 2013 and she really doesn’t seem to give a damn about it. She doesn’t care that she’s breaking down a long-standing wall of prejudice, nor does it bother her she’s in direct opposition with the views of country music’s Republican Base. She’s just singing a happy little tune that just happens to ooze more substance in three and a half minutes than any single that’s received airplay this year. And yet she’s so darn carefree, she has yet to grasp the enormity of her actions.

So, what are Musgraves’ actions? Well, by condoning a ‘love whom you love’ attitude, she’s released the first mainstream country single to openly celebrate the same-sex lifestyle. Remarkably, she’s doing it in a format that has little precedent for this sort of thing, where being gay has never come to the forefront in song or in coupling. It’s even more revelatory that Musgraves co-wrote the track with two of Nashville’s best songwriters – Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark – both of Follow-Your-Arrow_High-Reswhom who happen to be gay themselves.

In listening to Same Trailer Different Park since it’s March release, I’ve always taken “Follow Your Arrow” a step further – more than its stance on romance equality, I’ve looked at it is a mantra for following your arrow through life, whether in terms of employment, where you choose to live, or any other aspect that might affect one’s own personal happiness. “You only get so many trips round the sun, yeah, you only live once” are definite words to live by.

In a world in which men going redneck crazy on their ex’s is rewarded with heavy rotation status, it’s nice to hear a song that is equally as controversial but for the right reasons – Musgraves isn’t running off at the mouth simply to hear herself talk. Instead she is trying to effect change simply by using her platform for good. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Grade: A+ 

3 responses to “Single Review – Kacey Musgraves – ‘Follow Your Arrow’

  1. Noah Eaton December 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    I certainly wouldn’t go that far as to mint this the “best country single of 2013” (“Merry Go ‘Round” of last year was superior lyrically, in my opinion)………….but this is definitely in the top-tier.

    I already explain my chief criticism of this track in the Best Country Songs of 2013 thread, but it comes down to the execution and stringing of lyrics at certain points. The one that especially stands out is the opener to the second verse: “If you don’t go to church, you’ll go to hell…” The tonality of binaries like this can’t help but reinforce a tribalistic mentality that can’t help but undercut the inclusivity message intended at the heart of this admirable effort in that it comes across as mocking church-goers/religion even when that is not the intention.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a compelling effort and definitely among the top-tier singles of 2013: mostly for Musgraves’s sweet, affecting delivery and a comely dialed-down production. Plus the theme obviously appeals greatly to me. The lyrics are just juvenile at some points and partially get in the way of helping this attain “classic” status. Granted Musgraves is 26 and so this is age-appropriate, but I much prefer “All Kinds of Kinds” overall to this because it more richly captures that “Let’s all just get along!” manta and achieves this with some compelling character descriptions, slices of life, a neo-traditional harmony and a nuanced performance from Lambert that knows when to punctuate a little sass but otherwise wisely restrains herself with a notably sweet delivery.

    In terms of grading, I’d give this a strong B+ to weak A-. It falls short of “Merry Go ‘Round” (a solid A+) but is a rung or two above “Blowin’ Smoke” (which I’d rate a strong B to weak B+). This will lose out to “All Kinds of Kinds”, “It Ain’t The Whiskey”, “What Are You Listening To?”, “Sober”, “Stripes”, “Tin Star”, “Alone In Memphis” and “Deadman’s Blues” in the year-end horse race, but needless to say this fits somewhere just behind that first pack.

  2. Luckyoldsun December 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    ” ‘If you don’t go to church, you’ll go to hell…’ The tonality of binaries like this can’t help but reinforce a tribalistic mentality that can’t help but undercut the inclusivity message ….”

    You’re right, I suppose, but can we really expect a popular song to accurately or fairly present opposing viewpoints?
    I mean, Jeanie C. Riley’s “Harlan County PTA” was pretty much a caricature of such a provincial group, as is the “church lady” in Cal Smith’s “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” but those classic social-commentary country songs still resonate.

  3. Noah Eaton December 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    I’ll add this: as immature as some of the lyrics of “Follow Your Arrow” are, at least they are delivered by an age-appropriate vocalist. In contrast, if someone like Avril Lavigne or P!nk were singing this, it would look utterly embarrassing.

    And given I was raised on more traditional country in addition to all that was played on the radio during the mid-to-late nineties in particular, I’m more drawn to country music that stands up to its lengthy history of balladeering/storytelling. Even though the technical songwriting is excellent here, I can’t help but feel the lyrics are lacking and seem kind of “laundry list-esque” if you will in that they string a bunch of polarities together in the verses (even though in this case it mostly works).

    There’s no storytelling here though. It’s modern country radio’s answer to the trend of “be yourself” self-affirmation anthems that flooded the chart between 2010-2012 especially. “Follow Your Arrow” absolutely succeeds mostly in what it sets out to accomplish, but make no mistake: this is very much written in the vein of a pop song, albeit with significantly more grit.

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