Kacey Musgraves isn’t afraid to get real. The music of the superstar singer-songwriter has always let listeners enter his inner world, but his latest album, Crossed by stars, go further. Written as Musgraves divorces her ex-husband, Ruston Kelly, her exploration of love, grief and self-discovery is daringly confessional.
In 15 tracks, Musgraves gives his heart to tackling the realities of relationships, celebrating both the thrill and vulnerability of romance. Star crossed is Musgraves’ most ambitious project to date, existing as both a genre album and an accompanying film directed by Bardia Zeinali. Filled with saturated colors, misfits, and plenty of fashion shows styled by Erica Cloud, the surreal visuals add another layer to the experience.
Released exclusively on Paramount + on Friday, the project is unlike anything from a country artist, a genre where folkloric realism is a selling point. For Musgraves, creating an authentic tale was more important than adhering to conventions. “It’s not just a one-off music video. I felt that this story, this chapter of my life, deserved the right description, ”she shared via Zoom from Los Angeles. “Music videos are great, but you digest them and move on. It is something completely different. I had never been able to devote so much creative space to the visual aspect of a project before, and it has been a blessing to convey my story in this form. When we first started I was in a place of intense healing, and I knew it would take a special someone to make this visually come to fruition.
Musgraves met Zeinali on a Vogue.com video shoot a year earlier, and he turned out to be the perfect collaborator. Expert in creating music videos that shake expectations – he’s the man behind Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” and Troye Sivan’s “Easy” – Zeinali was a natural fit. Yet the partnership required trust. The couple got down to work on the film while the album was still in progress, with Musgraves sharing snippets and ideas as they came to him. “There was no album when we started talking, just voice memos and song files,” says Zeinali. “The intention was not to make a film. We were talking freely, discussing references and what we liked. What made her such a rewarding and rich experience was that she allowed me to participate in her process, shared her thoughts and her heart. It allowed me to understand where she was going and to have the full context of what she was writing.
In January, their back-and-forth took a turn for the worse after Musgraves had an illuminating therapy session. “It was a very spiritual experience,” she says. “A lot of pictures came to me after this session, and I saw Romeo + Juliet shortly thereafter and was newly inspired by the sentiment of the film. As I got back into the studio, all of these ideas started to take shape. The production design and costumes for Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film gave the Bard a brilliant update, but Musgraves was just as interested in the piece itself. “I became obsessed with the meaning of the word tragedy,” she says. “Tragedy has been at the heart of most popular artwork and storytelling since the dawn of time, and it has remained so popular because there is something cathartic about looking at a character, feeling for him, then to witness its fall. Either you relate their tragedy to your life, or the viewing lets you forget about yours. ”
The three-act structure of the tragedies became an organizing principle of the album and the film. “We have 15 songs, so it worked out perfectly,” says Musgraves. “They were written chronologically as I navigated my healing journey. You can feel the apprehension, fear, and desire.
Representing this on screen meant selecting which songs would become full videos and which would serve as transitions, then deciding how each track, and subsequently Musgraves, would be represented. “I thought a lot about who Kacey is as an artist and what she represents,” says Zeinali. “When it comes to pop culture, she’s unique. She’s able to sit at this intersection and reach out to so many different types of people. The other fanbases might look seamless, but you see everyone in the world when you go to a Kacey concert. [So] we had to represent all the different sides of who she is.
Accomplishing this meant multiple transformations. Musgraves transforms into a Moschino-clad bride for the title track, while “Simple Times” pays a stylish tribute to the model-filled Versace Fall / Winter 1994 campaign. “Good Wife,” which features cameos from DJ-designer Harley Viera Newton and musician Laura Love, uses custom shirt-dresses from Newton’s label HVN to emphasize its take on gender roles. “It was essential that we use designers and small brands everywhere,” says Cloud. “Being able to spotlight labels like Comme Is and Alison Lou, which are both used in the ‘Simple Times’ segment, or Darner Socks, which is an amazing LA label with a founder, was amazing. He connected so well with music. Even having someone like Harley, who creates such beautiful feminine dresses, not only helps the look, but also steps in and makes an appearance, was amazing. ”
The nod to the classic Versace seemed just as appropriate. “It’s such a memorable campaign,” Cloud says of the ads shot by Richard Avedon. “Kacey has that Stephanie Seymour, ’90s model aura in these scenes, and the soft colors and shiny miniskirts complimented that. We reached out to Versace and recreated these looks using [Donatella’s] recent collections. Pastels and socks look adorable, but the scene itself was so rebellious, and we used custom crystal masks to show off this change. The expressive looks imagined by Cloud were precisely what Musgraves and Zeinali had imagined. “[The costume design and beauty’s] versatility is crazy when you think about it, ”says Zeinali, who has so far experienced crystallized eyebrows and the bombastic wedding dress inspired by“ November Rain ”. “But they felt true to his identity.”
While she enjoyed switching between characters, Musgraves felt right at home in the stripped down look she wore for “Justified.” “In the midst of all the glam, we have a moment where I’m just in the car crying and singing and laughing. I was as defeated as I could be, ”she says. “For me, it was the most raw and human moment, and juxtaposing it with all the fantasy was awesome. I like to push things as far as I can and then figure out if I need to call it back. ”
One of the most impressive things about the movie was that it happened. Shot on location in California during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team complied with regulations, even if that meant Zeinali had to lead the first three days via FaceTime. “After so much time planning and preparing, it was devastating not to be there the first few days,” he says. “Because we had such an amazing cast and crew and had spent months lining up beforehand, we were able to move forward. But it was hard. Once that hurdle was cleared, Musgraves and Zeinali enjoyed the spontaneity of bouncing their ideas in person. “So many creative decisions on the set have to be made on the fly,” says Musgraves. “It was a huge business, and it was all done in pieces. So you have to constantly rearrange, it’s’ hey we’re gonna do a [scene with] a rash and a beautiful red lip, now it’s your decapitated head on a sidewalk.
The Dalí-esque segments were a challenge, but filming coincided with the anniversary of Musgraves’ relationship breakdown, inadvertently resulting in a loop moment. “We filmed the week of July 4th, and that was the day my life changed a year ago,” she says. “It was as if I was re-enacting the events of my life, but in this exhilarating and fantastical way a year to the day after what started this whole creative process. Before that moment I was [experienced] so many coincidences and synchronicities, signs that I was going exactly where I needed to be – I wrote them all in my journals! [Now] it’s incredibly moving and so satisfying to see the movie next and how everything i imagined came out the way i thought it would.