When this song came out, there were very few writers doing anything very interesting with the songs they were writing. This song turned heads because you can see the effort put into crafting this song. It feels purposeful, unlike some of the songs on country radio that brilliantly rhymed “you” with “to,” or God forbid, “you” with “you.” This song also sets the scene of the record. This is the kind of town Musgraves comes from and that many people who listen to country music come from. But the rest of the record elaborates on this town and encourages people to find more than this stagnant, mundane lifestyle. It’s a record about a small town, but she doesn’t celebrate and embrace the small-town life like many of her peers.
Other standouts on the record include “Blowin’ Smoke” and “My House.” “Blowin’ Smoke” was another single off the record and it stays with the small-town theme of “Merry Go Round,” but in a much more blunt and light-hearted way. “My House” doesn’t have the same lyrical depth of many of the tracks on the record, but it’s a little country romp that breaks up the heavier tracks.
How does this make any sense? Isn’t radio supposed to play what people want to hear? Obviously, Musgraves is an artist that people love and want to hear, but she’s not getting played on the radio. “Follow Your Arrow” explains this bizarre phenomenon. The song itself sounds like a country song. Maybe the chorus is a little pop-influenced, but no fan of traditional country can take a look at this song and accuse it of not being country. But the lyrical content of this song does not fit the kind of middle-of-the-road lyrics that country singers want to spit out. Musgraves encourages people to be out of line and follow their own arrow. It’s a type of “fuck establishment” song that no country station wants to be caught dead playing.
Country music’s traditional audience of conservative, rural people is not the “fuck establishment” type. While country music has produced a lot of interesting music throughout its history, it’s not a genre known for breaking the norm and creating something brand new. But this is exactly what Musgraves tries to do. She is trying to take traditional country but modernize it. She wants this kind of music to preach acceptance, whether that be in terms of culture, religion, or sexual orientation. That’s not what country music does. So even though this record was one of the most country records released in 2013, it was never a country music hit.
Originally published on VIBBIDI.com.