“Merry Go ‘Round”

Written by Kaki Miller November 3, 2015

“Merry Go ‘Round,” a popular song released by Kacey Musgraves in 2013, is a perfect example of the artist’s type of sound and music. Her “tell it like it is” style in this song won over the hearts of the Grammy association, winning the Grammy for “Best Country Song” at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in January of 2014. “Merry Go ‘Round” was the single that really put Musgraves on the map, not only on the Nashville scene, but on a world-wide level. The ideas in this song go against typical American standards and ethics, but it makes sense for the community Musgraves is singing about and it reaches to audiences who apply the same scenario to their own lives, even if they aren’t necessarily small-town, trailer park people.

Musgraves’ music career began in her adolescent years in Minneola, Texas. In 1988, at only eight years old, she wrote her first song.  After she got 7th place in the Nashville version of American Idol, her career started to take off. She self-released three albums before her breakthrough on Nashville Star then was picked up by Mercury Records in Nashville where she released her debut single “Merry Go ‘Round.” Her album Same Trailer Different Park had a tremendous amount of success, and got her nominated for three ACM’s, including Female Vocalist of the Year, and she won and ACM for Album of the year.

“Merry Go ‘Round” was written by Musgraves after she became intrigued by something her friend’s mom’s said about a neighbor back in Texas. “Shane McAnally, he’s one of the guys I wrote it with. His mom was talking about one of her neighbors down the street down in Texas and was saying, ‘Well, I don’t know if she’s selling Mary K or Mary Jane, or something down there. I don’t know what she’s doing.’ So it just made us laugh and as songwriters, we were like, ‘There’s definitely a song in there somewhere,” said Musgrave in an interview with Radio.com.

After she, McAnally, and Josh Osborne wrote the song, she really pushed for it to be the song to be her debut “welcome to fame” single because she saw first hand the connection that people have with the lyrics and the meaning. Surprisingly to Musgraves, her song reached to people outside of the “trailer-park community” and her audience discovered a personal meaning to their own lives, even if they weren’t from the setting that she talks about in her song. As she recognized how significant the song was for so many people, she knew it needed to be her first single.

Although Musgraves was able to positively connect with a large audience, some people were unamused by her depiction of a small-town poor community. Her lyrics depict a small town in a very negative light, saying that the traditions of the town are problematic and boring. To people that are from small-towns, this is very offensive.

Let’s look at the community in “Merry Go ‘Round.” You have a poorer community filled with trailer park residents, living in an endless cycle of repetitive behavior and activities. Musgraves grew up in small-town East Texas where life was simple. She didn’t grow up in a trailer park, but she relates to the simpler life-style that the setting in the song is depicting. In an interview with American Songwriter Magazine on songfacts.com, Musgraves said the setting that she grew up in made making the song more realistic easier and more personal. “Just from being from a tiny little Bible-belt town, I’m just observing. I don’t want anyone to think with this song that I’m pointing a finger or being cynical,” Musgraves said.

In a community where not much is going on, it makes sense for people to be misbehaving. “Mama’s hooked on Mary K, Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane, and Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down,” are all of the outlets of excitement that the characters take to get away from the monotonous lifestyle they are living. But these events do not necessarily only adhere to people from small towns.

Musgraves said she was shocked at the reaction that audiences had to “Merry Go ‘Round.” “I had people all over, it didn’t matter if I was in Texas or if I was in Scotland or New York, people were coming up to me and just saying, ‘That is my life.’ I’ve realized it’s not a small town thing, it’s a life thing. We follow in our parent’s footsteps because that’s what we feel like we should do until we can figure out our own thing,” said Musgraves in an interview with Radio.com.

Lyrically, Kacey Musgraves takes serious risks by pushing boundaries of comfort for many listeners. For this song, the meaning and sound is generally un-optomistic and defeated. It seems like all of the characters are in a rut in an endless cycle of events. Musgraves’ lyrics embody her sassy persona and true attitude. Her words are blunt, direct, and often have a shock-factor because she isn’t afraid to say things that are controversial. She starts the song “If you ain’t got two kids by twenty-one you’re probably gonna die alone,” and if that doesn’t grab the listeners attention I don’t know what will.

For my personal upbringing, having two kids by 21 is not necessarily a goal, but for the community she is talking about in her song, those events in life are typical. Another example of her being blunt in her language is “Jack and Jill went up a hill and Jack burned out on booze and pills and Mary had a little lamb Mary just don’t give a damn no more.”

The playful trill at the beginning of the song, however, creates a “fairy-tale” feeling. Throughout the song she alludes to nursery rhymes and child-hood phrases that also contribute to the idea of adolescence. The song is also titles “Merry Go ‘Round,” a child’s ride that almost every child in the world has been on. I think this is because she is singing this song as an inspiration to young people to not follow the monotonous patterns of life, but to instead channel their inner-child where adventure and dreams are stored to break out of the endless “merry go round” of life. Instead of “settling like dust” for a life that just keeps going, she is encouraging the listener to get out and do something with their lives.

She recognizes the global perspective in an interview with The Boot when she says “I feel like — especially in small towns, but it happens everywhere — when you’re scared to leave what you know or are comfortable with, people tend to settle and stay in their comfort zone.” By doing so, it is essentially giving up, and anyone can go through these kinds of feelings. This explains how this song can relate to a world-wide audience of people from all walks of life.

Musgraves unintentionally surprised herself by creating a country hit that related to people in all kinds of scenarios of life. The song hit home with so many people it reached the top 50 in all music when it was released, which says a lot about its ability to be accepted. “Merry Go ‘Round” launched Kacey Musgraves into her career, and ever since she has been able to maintain her own authentic country sound while reaching to a larger audience.


Time                          Form                     Listening Cues          Discussion

0:00-0:10 Intro Instrumental Same kind of sound over and over, sounds like banjo
0:11-0:36 Verse 1 “If you ain’t got…

Like youre s’posed to”

Almost sounds like she is talking, her tone is defeated
0:37-0:42 Pre-chorus 1 “same hurt in every heart, same trailer different park” Also defeated, makes you believe this is a sad song
0:43-1:02 chorus “Mama’s hooked on…

we settle in this town”

Talks about all the problems in their community, all have to do with some form of the word Mary, merry, mary, etc.
1:03-1:22 chorus “On this broken merry go round…. This merry go round” By using round over and over again you understand the circular motion she feels she is going through, the monotonous way of life
1:23-1:51 Verse 2 “we think the first time’s good enough…. In the shoes your wearing” More problems, same sound as first verse, talking from the perspective of the kids
1:51-1:58 Pre-chorus 2 “Same checks wer’re… to buy a little more distraction” Similar to the (0:37-0:42) part but a little different tune
1:58-2:20 Chorus “Mama’s hooked on…

we settle in this town”

Again talking about the problems, endless cycle
2:21-2:38 Chorus “On this broken… This merry go round” Same as before but she elongates the last round by flipping the sound
2:39-2:45 Musical Break Instrumental More banjo and other instruments. Pretty but sad sound
2:46-2:55 Bridge (I think that’s what this is) “Mary, mary quite contrary….settle in this town.” This is a nursery rhyme I believe, but it changes to a morbid
2:56-3:07 Some of the chorus “On this broken… merry go round” Not as many rounds in this one, she sounds the most defeated in this one
3:08-3:27 Final line Jack and Jill went up a hill… Mary just don’t give a damn no more” Another nursery rhyme, the conclusion of the song

Works Cited

Betts, Stephen L. “Kacey Musgraves, ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ — Story Behind the Song.” The Boot. N.p., 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

“Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go ‘Round.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Leggett, Steve. “Artist Biography.” Allmusic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

“Merry Go ‘Round by Kacey Musgraves Songfacts.” Merry Go ‘Round by Kacey Musgraves Songfacts. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Reuter, Annie. “Behind The Song: Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Merry Go ‘Round'” Radiocom. N.p., 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 Nov.       2015.