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Released: 2016

Features: Leon Bridges

The frosty, heart-tugging ballad “Present Without a Bow” sees Kacey Musgraves and Leon Bridges batting lyrical snowballs over the loneliness that envelops the festive season when love is absent. It’s a melancholic Christmas track with a sweet through-line: the notion that presents are not as special without the figurative bow – the loved one – to tie it all together.

Right off the bat, the song sets the scene with themes of haste and detachment, which become the song’s central thread. The lyrics, “We’ve been moving too fast, and we should slow down / Come and sit by the fire, stop rushing around,” paint a picture of modern society’s frenetic pace, even during ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ And here’s where the regret kicks in with the line, “So don’t leave me lonely if I don’t have you.”

The chorus takes an interesting dig at holiday symbols and traditions, using them as metaphors for the emptiness felt when one is alone. “The holiday’s just another day that’s cold / Standing all alone under the mistletoe,” the artists croon, illustrating their melancholy with the image of being by yourself under the mistletoe – a place where kisses are typically exchanged during the holidays – and feeling the cold of a relationship that’s missing in action.

Musgraves and Bridges further this sentiment with references to how the absence of loved one can strip away the joy and color from holiday symbols, as they intonate, “There’s no red and white stripes on a candy cane. Silent Night just wouldn’t sound the same.” To them, the festive air feels punctured, the holiday magic has evaporated.

They encapsulate this whole painful saga with the punchline – “All I know is me without you is like a present without a bow.” They’re expressing a thought we’ve all felt at one time or another: love and companionship are like the pretty bow on a gift box, making everything complete and more special.

The second verse envisages the end of the festive season and the start of the New Year but with a tone of dread, rather than joy. The lyrics, “Before we know it, the wreath will come down / The New Year will come and bring lots of change, baby / And if I’m not with you girl, sippin’ on champagne,” reveal a desolation that’s intensified with the advent of a new year, hinting that change isn’t always welcome, especially if it leads us away from the people we love.

And to wrap things up, the repeated chorus and the trailing lines, “Me without you is like a present without a bow, girl. Yeah, yeah. Come sit by the fire. We’ve been moving too fast,” insists on the need to slow down, to savor moments with loved ones, and to remember that the greatest gifts during the holidays aren’t material but emotional. The ultimate message, it’s clear, is one of longing and an urgent desire for togetherness in an often too-speedy world.

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