“Dime Store Cowgirl”
Written by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves
Despite a slew of industry awards and sales figures that dwarf those of male artists who receive ten times the airplay, Kacey Musgraves has yet to connect with country radio. Plenty of thinkpieces have been logged about #SaladGate, Musgraves’ social mores, and the disconnections between critical favor, sales, and radio’s callout research, but there are increasing murmurs that it is Musgraves’ refusal to play politics with the powers-that-be at radio that has kept all but one of her singles (“Merry Go Round,” her debut single and lone top 10 hit) from missing the top 20. This is hardly a new phenomenon, and it is, unfortunately, indicative of contemporary gender politics both within and beyond country music that Musgraves might be penalized for not behaving in the ways that a woman is expected to behave.
That context gives her latest single, “Dime Store Cowgirl,” perhaps a bit of added weight. If not a capitulation to the reigning Boys’ Club mentality— the kinds of concessions best exemplified by Kelsea Ballerini’s chart-topping “Love Me Like You Mean It” and RaeLynn’s thankfully-not-as-ubiquitous “God Made Girls”— the song strikes a different tone than previous singles like “Blowin’ Smoke,” “Follow Your Arrow,” and “Biscuits,” all of which positioned Musgraves as at least a little bit condescending and snarky. Which, for those who already agree with her overall thesis, is still problematic, but not nearly to the extent that it is for the unconverted.
“Dime Store Cowgirl,” then, tempers Musgraves’ finger-wagging by emphasizing humility and self-deprecation, modes that suit her even better and strike an even more inclusive tone. When she sings, “Maybe for a minute/I got too big for my britches,” she’s letting the audience in on a joke at her own expense and taking herself to task for her own behavior as much as she’s telling other people to stop pissing in her yard. She and co-writers Luke Laird and Shane McAnally balance experiences unique to Musgraves and her rise to fame (“I’ve had my picture made with Willie Nelson,” and “And I made it all the way/Past Austin City Limits”) with those that are far more accessible (“Stayed in a hotel with a pool,” or “Went to San Antonio/With the River Walk and the rodeo/And I felt really small under Mt. Rushmore”). It’s worth noting that Saguaro cacti do not, in fact, grow in New Mexico, but Musgraves and two of her go-to cohorts choose their details well.
It’s smart, measured songwriting that doesn’t trip over itself to be clever. In fact, the refrain hinges on familiar turns-of-phrase (“You can take me out of the country/But you can’t take the country out of me” and “I’ll still call my hometown home”) that are notable for their plain-spokenness.
What elevates the single beyond the accessibility of its message are Musgraves’ multifaceted performance and its attention to structure. The verses offer a lilting melody that’s perfect for a campfire singalong, while the melodic line soars in the B-section as Musgraves sings, “And that’s all I’m ever gonna be.” Even better is the second chorus, in which the lines come at double the meter except to emphasize their key lines (“I’m still the girl from Golden/Had to get away so/I could grow” and “But no matter where I’m going/I’ll still call my/Hometown home”).
That kind of attention to detail in songwriting doesn’t happen by accident, nor do production flourishes that further highlight key lines in the song, such as when the drumline stops as Musgraves sings, “too big for my britches” at the end of the first verse. While the focus on Musgraves’ songwriting has focused disproportionately on her lyrics, it’s her knack for a memorable melody and her mastery of structure that are her most impressive gifts. By placing those elements in the foreground and by striking a tone that approaches inclusiveness from a different angle, “Dime Store Cowgirl” might just be her best single to date.