Is it country or pop? Kacey Musgraves’ label protests Grammy eligibility for new album

A woman with long brown hair looks over her shoulder
Kacey Musgraves’ new album, “Star-Crossed,” won’t be eligible in the country categories for the 2022 Grammy Awards.
(Adrienne Raquel)

The Recording Academy has reportedly classified Kacey Musgraves, who made her name as a country musician, as a pop artist. And the millennial singer-songwriter’s rebranding isn’t sitting well with her music label.

The academy, which votes on the annual Grammy Awards, has bounced Musgraves’ divorce album, “Star-Crossed,” over to the pop vocal album field while screening it for the forthcoming awards nominations, Variety and Billboard reported Tuesday.

The album, which boasts the singles “Breadwinner” and “Camera Roll,” was expected to contend in the country categories.


But “Star-Crossed” was ruled ineligible to compete in the country album category, according to a Monday letter written by Universal Music Group Nashville president Cindy Mabe protesting the voting committee’s move.

“This decision from the country committee to not accept [‘Star-Crossed’] into the country albums category is very inconsistent and calls into question the other agendas that were part of this decision,” Mabe wrote to Recording Academy President-CEO Harvey Mason Jr. in the letter, which was obtained Tuesday by The Times.

Kacey Musgraves’ new album ‘Star-Crossed,’ the follow-up to her throes-of-love breakthrough ‘Golden Hour,’ chronicles the dissolution of the same relationship.

Musgraves’ publicist declined to comment when reached Tuesday, and representatives for the Recording Academy and UMG Nashville were not immediately available for comment.

Going to bat for Musgraves and country music as a whole, Mabe argued that taking Musgraves out of the country category “actually does harm to a format struggling with change and inclusivity overall.”

The Texas-bred singer-songwriter, a Grammys favorite whose “Golden Hour” won album of the year in 2019, released “Star-Crossed” in September through the country-oriented UMG Nashville in partnership with pop label Interscope Records.

While that partnership might have influenced the committee’s decision, Mabe doesn’t mention it. Musgraves’ previous albums were all released under UMG Nashville.

“Kacey Musgraves is a beacon in a format ready to push back on the ideas that there is more than one way to succeed, there is more than one sound and perspective for what country music is and most importantly who it speaks to,” Mabe wrote.

“While that might not sound radical, I’ll remind you that our world believes you are either on country radio or you aren’t country. Kacey Musgraves is an extreme revolution and if Kacey can create her own path, others can too.”

Mabe cited the genre’s problematic history, including women getting little air play on country radio and the paradoxical case of embattled country star Morgan Wallen, whose fanbase grew after he used a racial slur earlier this year.

“THIS IS NOT ALL THAT WE ARE,” Mabe wrote, “Under the surface are the artists that change it all and they are led by the example of Kacey Musgraves.”

Morgan Wallen is not invited to attend November’s CMA Awards, despite his album of the year nomination. Next up: What will Grammy voters do?

Musgraves is a nine-time Grammy nominee and a six-time winner. The 33-year-old claimed those wins in 2014 and 2019: first, with the country song “Merry Go ‘Round” and country album “Same Trailer Different Park.” Five years later, “Golden Hour” won country album and album of the year. Her songs “Butterflies” and “Space Cowboy” also received awards that year for country solo performance and country song, respectively.

Mabe argued that Musgraves’ new album has “more country instrumentation than ‘Golden Hour’” and “was consistently classified as country” throughout its release. Mabe also accused members of the screening committee of playing politics.

“The idea that a handful of people including competitors, who would benefit from Kacey not being in the country category, are deciding what is country only exacerbates the problem,” Mabe wrote. “The system is broken and sadly not just for Kacey Musgraves but for our entire genre because of how these decisions are made for music’s biggest stage.”

‘It’s a long road to get to a transformative change like this,’ Recording Academy Chief Executive Harvey Mason Jr. told The Times.

In May, the Recording Academy announced sweeping new rules, revamping how nominees are selected for the Grammy Awards. It mainly eliminated the secretive — and highly controversial — committees that shape nominations.

Many in the music industry interpreted the move as a targeted response to the widespread outcry over the Weeknd’s shutout from this year’s ceremony, but the academy’s Mason said that wasn’t the case.

The Recording Academy’s dissolution of its nomination review committees did not sway the “After Hours” singer, who has called the group “corrupt.”

Now the final pool of nominees will be decided by a majority vote of academy voting members. The top eight vote-getters will be the nominees in the four major categories of album, record and song of the year, as well as best new artist. As for the Grammys’ dozens of genre categories, the top five vote-getters will be the nominees.

This year’s nominees, selected from those who released music between Sept. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, will be announced Nov. 23.

The 64th Grammy Awards are scheduled for Jan. 31.