Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Kacey Musgraves – High Horse

You can take your high… scorse… and ride them straight… onto the sidebar, Kacey.


Lauren Gilbert: I am a connoisseur of song intros.  Long before I wrote for TSJ, or any publication, I had lists of my favorite intros, playlists of just the first 30 seconds clipped out of context.  (Needless to say, my ringtone game has always been on point.) This is a fucking excellent intro.  The pulsing beat, the disco feel, the Shania Twain “oh, I bet you think you’re John Wayne” – the intro is a solid [12].  The rest of the song is probably an [8] – despite being only 3:33, it feels like it runs out of ideas by the bridge – but this still averages to a solid [10].

Jonathan Bradley: “High Horse” is about as disco as Kylie Minogue’s “Dancing” was country: that is conscientiously and carefully, without threatening to intrude too far upon unfamiliar cultural spaces. Instead each settles on a kind of naff AM-radio appeal that as easily positions it alongside “Islands in the Stream” as it does “September” or even “Copacabana.” But where Minogue’s song stirs nostalgia, the faded polyester drift of Musgraves’s more Western sound fits her lyric’s exhausted contempt. The opening line — “I bet you think you’re John Wayne” — is sass worthy of Shania, but Kacey’s disaffection crystallizes in her more arch dismissal: “You’re classic in the wrong way.” The hand claps, popping bass, and very canned strings underline the point.

Alfred Soto: The question isn’t whether Musgraves should record a Kylie-dusted cut like “High Horse”; it’s whether the cut is better than middling at best beside Brandy Clark’s unskinny bop fryin’ up some girl’s bacon in 2016.

Hannah Jocelyn: I have qualms with “High Horse” that are more personal preference than genuine criticisms (I would love a more dynamic arrangement, for example), but I feel too late. Like “Run Away With Me” or “Praying,” the place of “High Horse” in the modern pop canon was secured upon arrival. Musgraves sets up and lands every punchline, no matter how corny (“I bet you think you’re first place/someone should give you a ribbon”) or vague (“everyone knows someone who knows someone/Who thinks they’re cooler than everybody else”). The song could literally consist of “I bet someone’s got a bad case of the Mondays” repeated but Musgraves would still make it work. That the delivery is as good as it is separates Musgraves from both her country peers and her should-be pop contemporaries. With its meticulous craftsmanship and unapologetic twang, “High Horse” is great not despite being country, but because of how it stays true to the storytelling of classic country music while forging its own path. 

Abdullah Siddiqui: Fun, but vacant. Musgraves sounds unconvinced of her own pandering. And also, why is it considered innovation now, within a genre, to make things pinker and shinier? There was a kind of delicate grit to tracks like “Blowin’ Smoke” and “Merry Go ‘Round” that was genuinely interesting but she seems to have completely abandoned that. It’s a little depressing to think how mainstream concessions are no longer just inevitable in the course of a musical career, but lauded as innovative. 

Ryo Miyauchi: Kacey’s usual passive handling of conflict makes me wish this went a little harder on the personal with a more explicit hint that this may have actually been a diss at someone real. But the lyrical decorations from the Shania Twain-channeling opening line to that chorus full of silly twists to cowboy cliches forgive the lack at which she sinks her teeth. Oh, and the disco strut works wonders as well.

Ian Mathers: Fun but slightly anemic-feeling pop country/lite disco hybrid seeks slightly more compelling chorus… the current one has a moment where it seems like it’s about to lift off, but then it never does. Sometimes songs like this reveal with repeated listens that you’ve been tricked and in fact the gentler approach is key to the song; with “High Horse,” as winning as it otherwise is, that just never happened for me.

Stephen Eisermann: In my childish mind, this song is a big middle finger to everyone’s least favorite country music critic/villain: the one who decides what real country music is and is trying so hard to save it (from bold women, it often feels like). This disco-flavored, pop-country track has all the makings of an anthem, but is delivered with such chilliness that rather than chant along, you can’t help but let Kacey take the center stage to deliver each biting line with as much pettiness as possible. It’s delicious, but also impressive – who thought that one of country’s most recent rising stars could foray into pop so easily?

Katherine St Asaph: Whenever country or country-leaning artists are poised to cross over, there’s a certain tension, as they try (or don’t) to reconcile the genre’s Southern-libertarian values with mainstream pop culture. Comparisons to “That Don’t Impress Me Much” are inevitable and probably intentional, but “get off your high horse,” as an idiom, isn’t about ego but moralizing. And buried in the guts of “High Horse” is the trope of the elitist carpetbagger from out of town who looks down upon the regular everyfolks — a trope with, to put it mildly, baggage. (Also a trope where pointing it out is liable to get you branded one of them.) But it’s left unexplored, subtext beneath a lyric of generalities; there’s nothing as cartoonish as “I can’t believe you kiss your car goodnight,” but also nothing as vicious. Same goes for the lite-disco arrangement.

Edward Okulicz: It’s kind of a pity this song has to be disco to get the attention, because it’s a neat little pop song to begin with, and the way it’s been performed doesn’t put that cleverness front and centre. It’s fine as it is, but it could stand to be more full-blooded in its trip to the nightclub. It’s got the whole Shania Twain going on meets the Alanis Morissette of not quite understanding the word that’s the linchpin of your chorus, and that is viral paydirt, but you know Shania wouldn’t have been so polite. The banjo line at the end reminds me of a song this should also sound more like: Basement Jaxx’s “Take Me Back to Your House” which came at the country/dance combo from the other end, and works better on both counts. The icy but dreamy vocal performance of “High Horse” says Musgraves is not slumming it for laughs in the genre, but it’s still not too late to commission the appropriate remix to prove it (the Kue remix is close, but not quite).

Josh Love: If you stare at the lyrics too long, the sense of “High Horse” starts to go a little wobbly. Where I’m from, people who are on their high horse are usually thought to be acting holier-than-thou, like moral scolds, and are therefore rarely concerned with seeming like “they’re cooler than everybody else.” It’s doubly fortunate then that this song’s real selling point is how sleek and effortless it sounds. Maybe the words don’t altogether scan, but as a piece of popcraft “High Horse” is assembled seamlessly.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A pure symbiosis of music and lyrics — this fully commits to the disco-by-way-of-country aesthetic, which allows Musgraves’ portrait of arrogance to turn from just another riff on “You’re So Vain” to an instant camp classic. It helps that this is deeply fun, from the “giddy-up”‘s of the chorus to the guitar and banjo parts, which skitter across the track with such precise glee that it almost made me think that someone should make more country & disco records.

Alex Clifton: I’ve tried writing a more coherent review, but I’m struggling because I love this so much. So: it’s everything I’ve ever wanted as a queer person who lives in the south who loves both disco and country! Kacey sounds amazing! I wanna karaoke this and point at random people in the crowd and tell them off for being snobs! I wanna rent a truck and blast this up and down the road! I wanna rent a truck and take this to the White House and blare it there, too! I want every song that comes out this year to make me feel as jazzed about being alive as “High Horse” does, and I won’t settle for anything less!

Reader average: [6.77] (18 votes)

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2 Responses to “Kacey Musgraves – High Horse”

  1. ^exactly what Alex said except for from the Midwest!

  2. Huh. This is a great score of course but I thought yall would like it more.

    Such a fucking good song