Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

Kacey Musgraves – Justified

If we blurb just a little / and score high just a little…


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Wayne Weizhen Zhang: There’s a lot of beauty to pick apart on “Justified” — the lead single off of star-crossed, a three-act, Greek-tragedy inspired follow-up to 2018’s Golden Hour written in the wake of Kacey Musgraves’ divorce to Ruston Kelly — but one would be remiss not to appreciate the opening lines. “It was a fun, strange summer / I rolled on, didn’t think of you” hits with a precision of emotion and awareness of the world that can only be described as arresting. The rest of “Justified” is just as a intentional and smart in its songwriting: whereas Golden Hour felt like a personal invitation to singular love story, “Justified” aspires for mass catharsis. The song is at once a search for healing and justification for pain. But the narrative is far from a black-and-white, scorched earth breakup: the evolution in the chorus from “You should have treated me right” to “I should have treated you right” injects a nuanced layer of self-reflection, rare in most pop narratives. It’s an effective emotional reset from what we’re used to from Kacey, one underscored by her voice which gleams and flickers with memories, melancholy, and maturity. 
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Alex Clifton: I will admit that I had high horse hopes for the Kacey Musgraves Divorce Album Extravaganza, only to be greeted with a muted album that didn’t do a whole lot to break my heart. It’s a shame, because I think the writing on “Justified” has some lovely, sad little details: “To touch somebody / you know I tried to make that you” and the switch from “you should have treated me right” to “I should have treated you right” are both great lines. I do like it well enough, but I just wish it had a little more oomph to capture my attention.
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Al Varela: “Justified” is an interesting midpoint between Kacey’s flirtations with pop and her roots in country. Fluttery and car-ready enough to have that country rider sound, but soft and dancey enough to have those traces of pop within it that don’t quite fit with the Nashville sound. But they both still come together really well as Kacey mulls over the mixed emotions of her relationship being over, the back and forth between being in love with him and being angry at the way he treated her. It’s unclear what her ex-husband did to cause this rift between them (not yet at least), but it’s enough to set the stage of what was likely a difficult, miserable divorce that tore apart the optimism of Golden Hour.
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Michael Hong: There’s some really pretty moments here, particularly the line “healing doesn’t happen in a straight line” that defines much of star-crossed and the flip from “you should’ve treated me right” that feels obvious only in retrospect. But blame the mixing and production because like much of star-crossed, everything comes across muted, its wide range of emotions just feels like ambivalence.
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Austin Nguyen: The main criticism levied against star-crossed, at least as far as I’ve seen, is that it’s muted and middling, too tidy and polished to be a divorce album. Which, uh, sounds like a familiar reproach. If ever there were a resurgence of The New Boring, would it not be now? Lorde, Taylor Swift, Clairo, not to mention “Your Power” and Ed Sheeran’s return, have all traded in their synths for something more quiet and reflective (whether it’s the pendulum of time swinging back or the pandemic, it’s happening). Musgraves follows suit: She doesn’t take the shotgun off the wall and blow Ruston Kelly’s brains to bits (antithetical to The New Boring 2.0 is the post-“good 4 u” pop-punk wave, a symbol of rage and mess and catharsis, and I’m wondering if all narratives of betrayal swallowed into the recent memory of SOUR, which is basically a mini-franchise in itself at this point, must now meet some secret threshold of teenage-diary angst). Instead, she feigns composure, lingers on platitudes as if she were hearing them for the first time, but it doesn’t seem staid so much as it feels guarded with a wounded grace. However vague, the memories are re-traced with the colors washed out — a photo negative of “Drive,” the promise of a future made cavernous.
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Nortey Dowuona: The twangy guitar that begins the song feels as wistful as Kacey sounds, and feels so soft it settles around your body as the drums and slithering bass and circling slide guitar wait for her to fall. But Kacey keeps walking, strumming her guitar and placing the bass on her back, hopping on the drums and cycling away, the circling slide guitars following her, curious now. As Kacey kneels at the stone that commemorates her marriage, she sheds a single tear, then rises, strumming her guitar and summoning up her echoes as she disappears into the dust.
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Andrew Karpan: Hot, honeyed and forceful like the late summer that Musgraves’ voice carefully carves out, “Justified” is a moment of revelation, the urgent hum of taking account before the leaves begin to fall and the year begins to end. The song’s architecture glitters inside the confines of country without reinventing them and instead the loose and distant production has the effect of making the record eventually feel voluminous, a container to store the resignation and betrayal discovered at its very start. A therapeutic exercise for hurt cowboys everywhere.
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Leah Isobel: There are touches throughout “Justified” that bring to mind Kacey’s Golden Hour bliss; the synths drip with light, the harmonies peek through like sunbeams, and the prechorus’ switch into a major progression almost positions the song as triumphant. Then the electric guitar hits in the chorus, leading the chord changes and the vocal melody down and down. Her voice’s natural warmth plays against the song’s movement, and it mostly works. She reads as apathetic, which makes the encroaching darkness feel deeper but also — just a little — more distant.
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Dorian Sinclair: I’m a very technical listener; when I like something, I enjoy picking it apart and articulating precisely what I like about it. I’ve been trying to do that with “Justified”, and I’ll admit it’s been tricky! Sure, I can gesture at specific things it does well — I enjoy the hyperabbreviated phrases and the sing-song melodies, which are echoed by the back-and-forth Musgraves has with herself in the lyrics. The production is sleek and effective without being obtrusive; I’m especially fond of that walking bassline. But ultimately, it’s just a really frictionless listen. I’m not convinced it’s great, but everything about it is good, and I think a high mark on that basis is more than just a little, well, you know.
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Reader average: [6] (1 vote)

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