Musgraves worked with many of the same songwriters on Pageant Material that she did on her debut album, 2013's Same Trailer Different Park; she, Laird and McAnally co-produced both records. This time around, however, she recorded live.
“Most of the records I know and love were recorded in a live manner. When you go hear a band play a live show, you’re experiencing live energy, and I wanted to capture that spirit. It comes across differently," Musgraves explains. "We recorded most everything in a big circle in one of my favorite old studios on the planet — historic RCA Studio A in Nashville. That lent itself to the record having that concise feel that we wanted. Then we added a 10-piece string section later."
Keep reading as we dive into the songs on Pageant Material and rank the tracks against each other.
"Fine" is a delicate song about missing the person you love. Throughout the slow track, Musgraves openly shares how she feels trying to pass the time until she is reunited with the man she loves; it takes its title from the only response the singer can muster when people ask how she is doing on her own.
"And I'll try to sleep, but just lie here awake / I've stopped counting sheep, now I just count the days / 'Til you're back in this bed that I remake every time," Musgraves sings. "And if they ask, I'll say, 'I'm fine.'"
Musgraves wrote "Fine" with Shane McAnally and Ashley Arrison.
If you've ever lived in a small town, "This Town" will bring back a flood of memories. Throughout the song, Musgraves rattles off the quirks of small-town life: Friday night football games, the excitement of getting a new traffic light ... and everybody knowing everyone else's business.
"Oh, but don't you forget it / As big as we're gettin' / This town's too small to be mean," Musgraves cautions.
The introduction of the song is a personal slice of Musgraves' life: It opens with the singer's grandmother talking about something that happened at the hospital at which she was working. "It was complete serendipity that I got to use a recording of my late grandmother’s voice that I found for the intro of that song," Musgraves shares.
"This Town" was written by Musgraves along with Laird and Clark.
Instead of worrying about when death will come knocking, Musgraves throws caution to the wind in "Die Fun," urging others to do the same.
"We can't do it over / They say it's now or never, and all we're ever gettin' is older / Before we get to Heaven, baby, let's give 'em hell / We might as well / 'Cause we don't know when we're done," she sings. "So let's love hard / Let's stay young / Let's love hard, live fast, die fun ..."
"Die Fun" was penned by Musgraves with Laird and McAnally.
Musgraves takes no s--t and stands up for what she believes in. "Good Ol' Boys Club" find her taking at the corruption and nepotism that often help get people further than others in life.
"Favors for friends will get you in and get you far," she sings. "Shouldn't be about who it is you know / But about how good you are."
Natalie Hemby and Laird joined Musgraves in writing this track.
Musgraves' "Miserable" is a song about being fed up with someone's negativity. Throughout the song, she sings directly to that person who's constantly bringing her spirit down, calling them out for only finding happiness in misery and explaining that she has had enough.
"Can't liven up for the both of us / We have enough for the whole of us," Musgraves sings. "If misery loves company / Then I can't keep you company no more."
"Miserable" was penned by Musgraves along with Clark and Josh Osborne.
Sometimes it's hard to accept that not everyone is going to like you. In "Cup of Tea," Musgraves reassures listeners that you simply can't be liked by everyone; in fact, that's totally okay.
"You can't be everybody's cup of tea / Some like it bitter, some like it sweet," Musgraves sings. "Nobody's everybody's favorite / So you might as well just make it how you please."
Musgraves wrote "Cup of Tea" with McAnally and Osborne.
"Somebody to Love" holds a surprise in its writing credits: The charming song was written by Musgraves, Osborne and none other than Sam Hunt. The songs tells a sweet reality of life: Although we're all very different, we all have at least one thing in common with everyone on earth.
"Just tryin' to hold it all together / We all wish our best was better / Just hopin' that forever's really real," Musgraves sings. "We'll miss a dime to grab a nickel / Over-complicate the simple / We're all little kids just looking for love / Yeah, don't we all just want somebody to love?"
Throughout "Somebody to Love," Musgraves muses about how everyone is dealing with their own flaws while trying to find meaningful love and understand life and what happens when you leave it.
In "High Time," Musgraves sings about needing a break from the pressures of life and a little time to just relax. In the dreamy song, which is something of a precursor to Golden Hour's "Slow Burn," she sings about pressing pause, at least for a night, and melting away: "Been missing my roots / I'm getting rid of the flash / Nobody needs a thousand-dollar suit just to take out the trash / Ain't gotta be alone to feel lonely / I'm gonna turn off my phone, start catching up with the old me."
"High Time" was written by Musgraves with Laird and McAnally.
"Family is Family" is an ode to the people we're brought up with: the people we love because they're blood, even if they're ... well, a little much. Musgraves admits that our families may not always be perfect, but they will always show up for you.
"Family is family, in church or in prison / You get what you get, and you don't get to pick 'em," Musgraves sings. "They might smoke like chimneys, but give you their kidneys / Yeah, friends come in handy, but family is family."
McAnally and Osborne once again joined Musgraves to write this song.
"Are You Sure" (feat. Willie Nelson)
In "Are You Sure," Musgraves is joined by country legend Willie Nelson, exchanging verses and asking each other, "So look around you, and take a good look / At all the local used-to-bes / Are you sure that this is where you want to be?" It's a hidden track on Pageant Material, written by Nelson and Buddy Emmons and originally performed by Nelson on 1965's Country Willie: His Own Songs.
"Pageant Material" contains the same self-confidence and -assurance as many of the other songs on the album of the same name. Musgraves isn't afraid to say that she doesn't fit into the stereotypical idea of southern women; instead of claiming to belong in the world of southern belles and pageant girls, Musgraves proclaims:
"I ain't pageant material / I'm always higher than my hair / And it ain't that I don't care about world peace / But I don't see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage / I ain't exactly Ms. Congenial / Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it, but I can't / I'd rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain't."
""Pageant Material" is a satirical song poking fun of myself for being a real human," Musgraves explains of the song to Entertainment Weekly. “After writing [it], I could instantly see this hazy, slightly off-kilter, retro pageant world. I’m a super visual person, and I thought not only that it was a great song but that it would make for great aesthetic, especially because I come from the South."
When you find your partner in life, you want to spend the majority of your time with them. In "Late to the Party," Musgraves proclaims that she doesn't care if her and her partner show up late to (or leave early from) their social obligations, because she's more than happy just the two of them.
"Who needs confetti? / We're already falling into the groove / And who needs a crowd when you're happy at a party for two?," Musgraves sings. "The world can wait / 'Cause I'm never late to the party if I'm late to the party with you."
Musgraves wrote "Late to the Party" with Clark and Osborne.
Musgraves gives props to her Texas upbringing and western aesthetic in "Dime Store Cowgirl." She's been able to a do plenty of cool things throughout her life thanks to her music career -- meet Willie Nelson and travel the globe, for example -- but throughout all of her adventures, Musgraves remains true to what she learned growing up in Golden, Texas.
"I'm just a dime store cowgirl / That's all I'm ever gonna be / You can take me out of the country / But you can't take the country out of me, no," she sings. "'Cause I'm still the girl from Golden / Had to get away so I could grow / But it don't matter where I'm goin' / I'll still call my hometown home."
Musgraves, Laird and McAnally co-wrote "Dime Store Cowgirl."
Musgraves released "Biscuits" as the first single from Pageant Material. "The sound of this song represents so many of the things I love about country music. And be warned — it may inspire a square dance," she explained at the time.
Musgraves teamed up with two of her powerhouse co-writers, Clark and McAnally, with whom she penned the award-winning Same Trailer Different Park song "Follow Your Arrow." Whereas that song is about doing your own thing and not caving to what others think, "Biscuits" is about keeping your nose out of others' business and, again, staying true to yourself.
"Just hoe your own row and raise your own babies / Smoke your own smoke and grow your own daisies," Musgraves sings. "Mend your own fences and own your own crazy / Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy."
"Biscuits" peaked at No. 28 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.