On top of all the renewed worry about COVID, Kacey Musgraves faces what seems like another daunting hurdle heading into her tour this week: singing the ultra-personal, heartbreak-filled songs off her latest album night after night.
Like a Texan caught in a squall, though, the Grammy-winning country-turned-pop singer is shrugging off the latter concern — and a lot of other headline-making news related to her 2021 record "Star-Crossed."
"I'm in a happy place now," she said firmly. "I'm comfortable sharing the pain, and showing I got through it."
"Comfort" was the word du jour as the East Texas native talked by phone two weeks ago on a day when snow pelted her Nashville home — a scene she relished.
"I'll be ready for you," she quipped to the journalist in Minnesota, which somehow wound up being the spot she chose to launch her tour in mid-January.
Musgraves, 33, returns Wednesday to St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, the same venue where she had her breakthrough gig in the Twin Cities, opening for Harry Styles in 2018 just as her album "Golden Hour" arrived. ("It was such a good feeling being embraced by Harry's fans," she remembered.)
Loaded with the clever wordplay, small-town agitation and self-deprecating humor that permeated her two previous albums — 2013's "Follow Your Arrow" ranks among the top 5 country radio hits of the past decade — "Golden Hour" traded Musgraves' rootsier country sound for synth-tinged dance-pop and up-tempo, Southern California-breezy twang-pop.
The musical change-up worked like a charm. "Golden Hour" got picked up by pop and adult-contemporary radio stations on its way to being named the Grammys' album of the year in 2019.
"I don't like to feel I have to serve any one particular entity or person's taste when I go in to make a song," Musgraves said of her sonic progression. "If it feels good to me, I go with it, and hopefully I'm not the only one who likes it."
She followed that gut instinct in making "Star-Crossed." Released in September, the 15-song collection was written and recorded with the same Nashville collaborators as "Golden Hour." The big difference this time around was the emotional tone of the songs.
"Star-Crossed" follows Musgraves' divorce from singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly after 2½ years of marriage. "It simply didn't work," the musical couple said in a joint statement, adding that they were "put into each other's lives for a divine reason" and "have both changed infinitely for the better."
Many of the songs on the album follow a similar no-love-lost, lessons-learned attitude. From the balladic, Spanish-guitar-infused title track, which opens the LP, to the slow-rambling single "Justified," Musgraves more often sings about her own guilt and mixed emotions than those of her ex.
"Moving onwards, feeling strong, but healing doesn't happen in a straight line," she sings in "Justified."
Musgraves said the "moving onwards" line will be at the core of her upcoming performances — which, she pledged, "will be uplifting."
"I really believe that this chapter of my life deserves a platform, and it's something a lot of listeners will connect to," she said.
"I'm leading with the fact that healing is not linear, and you need to learn to depend on yourself, learn to depend on your friends. There was a lot of exploring myself spiritually, and getting a lot closer to whatever God is throughout this process."
She promised to drop in a lot of the "Golden Hour" songs "to lighten things up," but she also emphasized that the new songs aren't entirely filled with heartache.
"There's a lot of love on the album, too," she said. "It is a divorce record, but there's a lot of love and admiration and reflection on the experience I had with this person. Just because it didn't last forever, it doesn't take away the beauty that it did have at one point."
Time to 'de-stress'
While she believes everyone in the crowd can relate to the messages — "especially after what we've all been through the past couple years," she said — Musgraves singled out "Good Wife" as one song that's "definitely been more a favorite among women."
Lyrics include: "God, help me be a good wife 'cause he needs me / Even when he's not right he still needs me."
"That song was sort of a funny little prayer," she explained, "a little nod to myself being newly married and in over my head and not really knowing the way to support somebody unconditionally. It's hard."
Upon releasing "Star-Crossed," Musgraves found her support in the country music industry to be far from unconditional. The album got scant attention from country radio and was even deemed ineligible in the country categories of the (currently postponed) Grammy Awards — never mind that "Golden Hour" was just as un-twangy and won those same categories in 2019.
You could chalk up these perceived snubs to sexism, given "Star-Crossed's" more feminist tone ("I really couldn't say if that's the case," is all Musgraves said), but she isn't sweating them.
"I already have six Grammys, so I can't really complain," she said. "It gets dicey in this day and age when you're trying to break down and dissect what kind of music an album is. Some of my favorite artists are kind of genreless.
"Really, what matters most to me at the end of the day is that I wrote songs that feel authentic to me, whatever category they get put in."
After already waiting four months to perform these songs on tour, Musgraves said she didn't want to delay any longer, even with the rise of COVID's omicron variant.
"We have the vaccines, booster shots and masks to protect ourselves, and I think people know by now what they're comfortable with," she said. (St. Paul's citywide mandate requiring vaccine/test documentation for bars and restaurants begins Wednesday, but it does not go into effect for ticketed events like this until Jan. 26. The city's mask mandate will be in effect at the show.)
"I think we can all use a night out to de-stress a little," she added.
Besides finishing "Star-Crossed," Musgraves said she spent the long months of lockdown taking pottery classes ("It feels super-meditative") and working on her Spanish-speaking skills. She shows off the latter work on the album-closing cover of Violeta Parra's "Gracias a la Vida," a dramatic ballad that Musgraves described as "an ode to experiencing life and everything terrible and beautiful."
She also settled into her new home and wrote a lot of songs in recent months. Asked what her next record might sound like, Musgraves wouldn't go into detail — but did share probably the most important detail.
"Just an inkling here," she said with an audible wink, "but I think it'll be a lot happier."
With: King Princess, Muna.
When: 8 p.m. Wed.
Where: Xcel Energy Center, 175 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.
Tickets: $16-$100, ticketmaster.com