In 2019, the sun set on Kacey Musgraves’s pop-country opus Golden Hour when it won Album of the Year at the Grammys, becoming the first country album to earn the top prize since Taylor Swift’s Fearless in 2010. Now, when she returns to the Grammys this year for her equally genre-blurring follow-up album star-crossed, Musgraves will find herself in unfamiliar territory: the pop categories. A representative for Musgraves confirmed to Vulture that star-crossed will be in contention for Best Pop Vocal Album, following reports from Rolling Stone and Billboard that the project would not be eligible for Best Country Album. Musgraves’s label, Universal Music Group Nashville, first submitted star-crossed for Best Country Album (an award three of Musgraves’s previous albums have been nominated for, with two winning), per an email from Cynthia Mabe, the label’s president, obtained by the outlets. “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 reportedly wrote to the Recording Academy.
To be eligible in a genre category at the Grammys, at least 51 percent of the songs on an album must fall into it. That judgment is made by a genre-screening committee — different from the nomination-review committees, which the Recording Academy recently got rid of in most categories. The “Rules and Guidelines” packet for the upcoming 64th Grammy Awards says entries in the country field “utilize a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical presentation to create a sensibility that reflects the broad spectrum of country music style and culture.” But as it goes on to note, “The Field includes recordings and songs that are country in content as opposed to those that may have a ‘country flavor,’ but are aimed at the contemporary or pop audience.” Country awards bodies like the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music, meanwhile, define eligibility by whether music charted on the Billboard country charts; star-crossed debuted at No. 1 on Top Country Albums upon its release.
The Academy still reportedly considered some star-crossed songs to be country, with a source telling Rolling Stone that “camera roll” will be eligible for Best Country Song. (It’s not uncommon for an album in one genre category to submit songs in others.) Yet Mabe, in her email to the Academy, wrote, “Sonically, [star-crossed has] got more country instrumentation than Golden Hour which won Country Album of the Year in 2019. … There is no departure in sound from these two projects.” She went on to emphasize Musgraves’s importance to the country genre as a progressive woman. “Taking her out of the country category actually does harm to a format struggling with change and inclusivity overall,” Mabe wrote. Grammy nominations will be announced November 23.