Kacey Musgraves - Deeper Well Album Cover
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‘Cardinal’ by Kacey Musgraves - Lyrics & Meaning

March 14, 2024 4:47 pm GMT
Last Edited March 15, 2024 9:24 am GMT

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Kacey Musgraves - ‘Cardinal’

Label: Interscope Records/MCA Nashville

Release Date: March 15th, 2024

Album: Deeper Well

Producers: Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk & Kacey Musgraves

Songwriters: Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk & Kacey Musgraves

The Background:

‘Cardinal’ kicks off Kacey Musgraves’ keenly awaited 2024 album, Deeper Well, with the wistful, spiritually-minded track capturing the introspection that pervades the project.

Little was known about ‘Cardinal’ ahead of its arrival on March 15th, 2024, with only the album's title-track and the sweet, rose-tinted ‘Too Good To Be True’ released ahead of time.

It's safe to say it was worth the wait for Kacey's loyal fanbase, however, with the ‘Slow Burn’ hitmaker showing listeners another side to her eclectic range of stylistic influences.

Although straying from the sonic blueprint of ‘Deeper Well’, ‘Cardinal‘ sets the tone thematically for the rest of the album, touching on themes of grief, healing and symbolism.

The Sound:

‘Cardinal’ explores fascinating new territory for Kacey Musgraves, with the Texas singer-songwriter transporting fans into a sepia-tinged, ‘70s pop-rock-inspired ambience.

It's underpinned by the psychedelic feel that pervaded portions of Golden Hour, which ensures the accompaniment aligns perfectly with the ethereal, otherworldly subject matter.

The Meaning:

“I saw a sign
Or an omen
On the branches
In the morning
It was right after I lost a friend
Without warning”

Musgraves begins by recalling how she was walking past a tree and noticed something that caught her eye, hinting that it was some form of "sign" or "omen".

She implies that the symbol has a connection to her friend, who recently passed away.

“Words unsaid
Scarlet red”

She begins to fill in the blanks about the occurrence, explaining that the message she received from the omen was wordless, but nonetheless meaningful, as well as describing the sign's "scarlet red" appearance.

This lays the foundation for the chorus, when we find out that on the branch there was in fact a beautiful...

“Cardinal
Are you bringing me a message from the other side?
Cardinal
Are you telling me I’m on somebody’s mind?
Don’t leave me behind”

Northern cardinals are songbirds that can be found across regions of the US, including Musgraves' home-state, Texas. They're generally seen as having spiritual connotations, with cardinals viewed by many as messengers from departed loved ones – much in the same way as Robins are portrayed in the UK, for instance.

Musgraves questions what this cardinal is attempting to convey to her, as she wonders whether it's there on behalf of her deceased friend, perhaps letting her know she's on their mind in Heaven, despite not being able to be together in person.

“I took a walk
In the city
To clear my head
For a moment
Turned my collar to the wind
On the street
It was blowing
And there he was
Above my head”

Musgraves walks on, emphasising that she is trying to clear her mind as she seemingly dismisses the cardinal's presence as a coincidence.

However, the wind picks up and as she turns her collar up to shelter herself from the gusts, she glances up and notices the cardinal there once more, forcing her to embrace the omen.

It's not 100% clear what the exact message is, but it appears to be more a case of the cardinal hopefully offering Kacey some peace and closure, letting her know that her lost friend is still with her.

“Are you just watching and waiting for spring
Or do you have some kind of magic to bring
(pretty bird)
Are you just watching and waiting for spring
Or do you have some kind of magic to bring
(watching, waiting)
(pretty bird)
Are you just watching and waiting for spring
Or do you have some kind of magic?”

As ‘Cardinal’ draws to its rousing conclusion, Musgraves cleverly steps into the shoes of someone who might've experienced a similar encounter, but that was riddled with doubts, obscuring the omen's potential healing powers.

She shows both perspectives, on the one hand framing the cardinal as simply a regular bird counting down the days until spring, and on the other, as a mystically empowered being.

Underpinning this is Kacey's hope that it turns out to be the latter.

For the full lyrics to Kacey Musgraves' ‘Cardinal', see below:

“I saw a sign
Or an omen
On the branches
In the morning
It was right after I lost a friend
Without warning

Words unsaid
Scarlet red

Cardinal
Are you bringing me a message from the other side?
Cardinal
Are you telling me I’m on somebody’s mind?
Don’t leave me behind

I took a walk
In the city
To clear my head
For a moment
Turned my collar to the wind
On the street
It was blowing
And there he was
Above my head

Cardinal
Are you bringing me a message from the other side?
Cardinal
Are you telling me I’m on somebody’s mind?
Don’t leave me behind

Are you just watching and waiting for spring
Or do you have some kind of magic to bring
(pretty bird)
Are you just watching and waiting for spring
Or do you have some kind of magic to bring
(watching, waiting)
(pretty bird)
Are you just watching and waiting for spring
Or do you have some kind of magic?

Cardinal
Are you bringing me a message from the other side?
Cardinal
Are you telling me I’m on somebody’s mind?

Cardinal
Are you bringing me a message from the other side?
Cardinal
Are you telling me I’m on somebody’s mind?

Are you bringing me a message from the other side?
Cardinal”

––

For more on Kacey Musgraves, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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