The Meaning Behind Kacey Musgraves’ Anthem for Acceptance “Follow Your Arrow”

A decade has passed since Kacey Musgraves evolved from a burgeoning Nashville songwriter to one of country music’s most celebrated new singer/songwriters. Her style and sound have gone through many shifts over the years, but many of the tracks from her major label debut still reflect the Texas native’s core values.

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“Follow Your Arrow,” one of Musgraves’ earliest singles, relays a message of inclusion and self-acceptance that won the hearts of many music fans while ruffling a few feathers along the way. Take a deep dive into the origins and meaning behind the song, which has become one of her most career-defining tracks.

The Inspiration

The concept for “Follow Your Arrow” initially began as a poem written for a close friend as a parting gift before they headed overseas to study abroad. It didn’t evolve into a full song until one of Musgraves’ final songwriting sessions scheduled to craft songs for her debut record, Same Trailer Different Park.

Co-writers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally helped evolve the track into a joyful celebration of self-acceptance. A few months after Same Trailer Different Park was released in 2013, “Follow Your Arrow” was sent to radio stations as the record’s third single. 

The Reception

Although the track eventually made it to No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, “Follow Your Arrow” was never fully embraced by many within the world of country radio. Some within the industry thought that the lyrics’ laid-back approach to topics like homosexuality and marijuana usage was too controversial for the genre’s target audience.

So, make lots of noise (hey!)
Kiss lots of boys (yup!)
Or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow wherever it points

McAnally says the track wasn’t written to push some ideological agenda. He, Clark, and Musgraves wanted to celebrate those who aren’t trying to shift themselves into whatever society thinks they should be.

“It’s not a gay song. We were just trying to list people that might have felt like underdogs at some point in their lives,” he explains in a 2013 interview with Billboard. “Sure, gay people have felt that way, but also fat people, or people who get outcasted at their churches for teenage pregnancy, or people who might smoke weed. Also, Brandy and I quickly realized the only word we could rhyme with ‘point’ was ‘joint.'”

[RELATED: 5 Kacey Musgraves Collaborations That Defy Genre Lines]

Fans of country music, pop, and beyond connected with the song’s message, fresh instrumentation, and Musgraves’ matter-of-fact delivery. The overwhelming response from listeners caught the attention of the industry, too. “Follow Your Arrow” earned a nomination for Song of the Year at the 2014 CMA Awards, and Musgraves was invited to perform the song at the Grammy Awards that same year.

The Impact

The mix of critical success and industry backlash that “Follow Your Arrow” earned offers insight into Musgraves’ eventual pivot into pop music. Although she’s never entirely left her country influences behind, the song cemented her mission to keep creating music that’s true to her, even if the genre isn’t fully ready to embrace it.

“It’s not groundbreaking heathen ideas I’m writing about – but also not surprised because I know that country is the last bastion of the music industry that has a problem with things that other genres don’t,” Musgraves tells The Guardian in a 2021 interview. “So I went into it knowing I was pushing some buttons, but also thinking that was ridiculous at the same time. I was told that ‘Follow Your Arrow’ would tank on country radio, and they weren’t wrong. It did. But it brought a whole legion of fans my way, so it was worth it.”

Photo by Kelly Christine Sutton / Courtesy of Mercury Records

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