At first blush, Kylie Minogue and Kacey Musgraves have little in common other than the same initials and a recording contract. Minogue, who has reached near Madonna-levels of fame in Europe and her native Australia, is celebrating her 30th year as the impossible princess of international electro-pop. Musgraves is a Texas-born twenty-something who is rewriting the rules of outlaw country for a new generation. You would be hard pressed to find both on the same Spotify playlist let alone the same sentence, and, yet, in an odd pop music case of simultaneous innovation, the pair are releasing two very similarly titled albums within a week of one other, in which each takes a stab at dabbling in the other's trademark genre. Musgraves's Golden Hour, released today, features the country star's first undeniable dance floor bop, while Minogue's Golden, releasing next week, took the singer to Nashville to meld her club pop sensibilities with the talents of country music pros.
Driving the overlap home is the fact that both have lately adopted a wardrobe that can best be described as rhinestone cowgirl—or is is Kirakira cowgirl nowadays? Musgraves has made multiple late-night appearances in spangled Juicy Couture jumpsuits that wouldn't have seemed out of place on last night's RuPaul's Drag Race runway. Minogue, meanwhile, has reworked her trademark showgirl glam to better incorporate cowboy boots and Stetson hats. They're surely both making Dolly Parton, and maybe also Diana Ross, proud.
This comparison might seem to invite some inevitable competition (especially as both have carved out cult followings among gay audiences), but on listening to Musgraves's full album and the songs Minogue has released so far from hers, it's clear neither is coming directly for the other's gig. It just feels more as if each is at a turning point in their careers, even if one is much younger than the other.
The most talked about song on Musgraves's album is "High Horse." It's an uncharacteristic Chromeo-goes-country bit of disco-informed dance pop that makes you wonder if Musgraves doesn't have her eye on the sort of crossover career that Taylor Swift currently enjoys. Though, the rest of the album reveals that while she may be attempting to plant a flag in Top 40 radio, she's not intending to make a home there. Yet, anyway. There's a few other cross-genre gestures on the album ("Oh, What a World" features a sublime Daft Punk-esque vocoder voice woven in, "Velvet Elvis" is buoyed by a pop punk pluck, and you could argue there's a bit more of an undercurrent of folk than her previous records), but for the most part, Musgraves stays doing what she does best: breezy, personal mid-tempo country songs.
Though, more than many of her peers, she's attracted audiences that don't consider themselves traditional country fans and bristled some that are (she has a rather libertarian attitude about things like gay marriage and drugs that have carried over into her lyrics). Musgraves is enjoying owning her lane (and life as a newlywed), but isn't intent on moving that far beyond the genre anytime soon. The Golden in her album title seems to be a nod to her hometown of Golden, Texas after all.
Meanwhile, the Golden of Minogue's title is more a nod to the fact that at 49 she's entering her "golden years."
Several pop stars, including Madonna and, more recently, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, have viewed country music as a vehicle for more personal and confessional songs. (Also, country is more forgiving to middle age in pop star years.) Golden, indeed, is being billed as one of Minogue's most personal albums yet. Minogue is no slouch with a pen, but this will be her first album in 20 years where she has co-writing credits on every single song (the last, incidentally, was her other notable cross-genre experiment, 1997's Impossible Princess).
So donning some country drag isn't particular notable (it's not even the first time Minogue herself has done it), bur what is interesting is what Minogue is using the genre for. She's tackling the taboo matter of aging while a pop star in a way that no one before her quite has. When she sings, "When I go out I wanna go dancing," on first single "Dancing," she doesn't mean "out" to the club. She means "out," like completely. Finality. Death. It's a declaration that she's been a pop star for 30 years, done it better than most, and doesn't intend to stop anytime soon. The title track "Golden," which premiered recently with a live performance on Australia's version of 60 Minutes, likewise addresses aging. "We’re not young and we’re not old, when the story’s not yet told,” she sings.
To create the album, Minogue spent weeks in Nashville working with local writers (many of whom had worked with Taylor Swift right up until she decided to go full-fledged pop herself), but most of the actual production was handled by European pop vets. Like Musgraves, while she's not afraid to try out some new things, she's not going too far out of her wheelhouse. We'll get the full picture upon the album's actual release, but it does not appear that Minogue is now going full tilt for the CMT set.
As it turns out, despite similar visual vibes, similar titles, and even similar genre description, both Minogue and Musgraves remain the artists they've always been. Though, for the first time, they may actually not sound too bad back-to-back together on your playlist.