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The Meaning of Kacey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy”

Kacey Musgraves live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in March 2018. Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS.

Kacey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy” is a cosmic country breakup song from her 2018 masterpiece album Golden Hour. The album was a massive success and won Kacey the GRAMMY award for Album of the Year in 2019. Containing hits like “Slow Burn”, “Rainbow”, and of course, “Space Cowboy”, the record is an exercise in applying psychedelic and atmospheric themes to country music, and it slaps.

The lyrics to “Space Cowboy” detail the end of a relationship with a “bad boy”, so to speak, who drives a Silverado and doesn’t want to be tied down. Kacey makes a play on the term “space cowboy”, which first came about in the 1960s to describe a person who is stoned all the time. It was also used as a song title by the Steve Miller Band in 1969.

The first verse depicts the moment when Kacey realizes that the relationship had reached its end, with a scene that shows the couple having a moment of disconnect. She recognizes that her cowboy is dreaming of greener pastures, and says that it’s as obvious to her as the sky is blue that he doesn’t want to stay anymore.

You look out the window
While I look at you
Sayin’ I don’t know
Would be like saying that the sky ain’t blue
And boots weren’t made for sitting by the door
Since you don’t wanna stay anymore

First verse to “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves.

Rather than using “space cowboy” as a name for her ex-boyfriend, she breaks the phrase up, singing instead, “you can have your space, cowboy”. This is her way of tying the song in with the counterculture, with a subtle nod to the hippies as she otherwise sings of self-empowerment and the end of a relationship due to somebody else’s attitudes and actions. Rather than hoping for a chance to tie down her cowboy, she instead decides to let him run.

We can hear this in the chorus, which is repeated three times throughout the song:

You can have your space, cowboy
I ain’t gonna fence you in
Go on ride away, in your Silverado
Guess I’ll see you ’round again
I know my place, and it ain’t with you
Well, sunsets fade, and love does too
Yeah, we had our day in the sun
When a horse wants to run
There ain’t no sense in closing the gate
You can have your space, cowboy

Chorus to “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves.

The second and final verse brings a Neil Young reference into the mix, with the lyric “after the gold rush, there ain’t no reason to stay” connecting the song to Neil’s song and album, After The Gold Rush. This further ties Kacey in with the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s, which is certainly what she was going for with this album. Golden Hour is like a smashing together of the mainstream with some more thoughtful genres of music, making it an album that just about anybody can enjoy.

In the second verse, Kacey also comes to terms with the end of the relationship, suggesting that she should have known from the start that this guy was no good for her. However, she doesn’t regret it, because she took the path and learned from it. It’s simply time to move on, and she’s at peace with it.

After the gold rush, there ain’t no reason to stay
Shoulda learned from the movies that good guys don’t run away
But roads weren’t made to not go down
And there ain’t room for both of us in this town

Second verse to “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves.

As a song about self-empowerment through a breakup, “Space Cowboy” does a wonderful job. The song’s production adds many layers of atmospheric vibes that accent the music, and help Kacey’s subtle hints at the counterculture land with precision. She does this at many points throughout Golden Hour, an album which I can’t say enough good things about.

Watch the music video for “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves below.