Why This Song:
Many Americans are nostalgic about small town life, and music sociologists like the late Richard Peterson make compelling arguments that the Nashville country music industry maintains and reinforces this nostalgia by selling poor, rural, white Americans an overly-idealized façade of itself. However, country music is just one of many cultural (and also political) forces achieving nostalgia by celebrating small towns as “safe spaces” or the remnants of a bygone era; tight knit communities whose morality and traditions provide security against the increasingly ugly and rapidly changing world around them. Thus, Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round” is a unique pop country music song because it highlights many of the problems small towns face now that 30 years of de-industrialization turned many rural communities into depots of rural poverty. Bucking country music tradition, Musgraves sings of pressures to marry young and go to church not because of belief or faith, but because not doing either would be unthinkable. She also sings of the ways others “distract” themselves with drugs, booze, sexual promiscuity, and even cosmetics that metaphorically cover-up the ugliness. However, the main metaphor of the song is a “Merry Go ‘Round,” highlighting how because of the nostalgia covering up the challenges many small towns face in our post-industrial world, many young individuals hop on the ride without fully realizing where it goes, and what it entails.