Mickey Guyton Wants to Keep Good Momentum Going

Country star Mickey Guyton doesn’t want the moment to pass. In fact, she doesn’t want it to be a moment, at all. Equality and representation—these aren’t fads. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be. And Guyton is focused on—and is watching—how the country world, specifically, approaches the dearth of Black and brown faces in the genre. With the social progress made in 2020 and subsequent years in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd, there has been an increased awareness from mainstream music gatekeepers to ensure equal opportunity for those who traditionally have not been afforded those opportunities that many white male artists have enjoyed in the past. But as 2020 becomes 2022 and beyond, it might be easy to fall back into old norms. Guyton prays this won’t be the case. In a way, she’s the Patron Saint of Representation in today’s country world. Guyton, who had doors slammed in her face, jokes made at her expense in her budding career has, more recently, had the last laugh. But breaking through wasn’t easy. It’s an emotional, powerful story, which she details on the new Audible Original series, Origins.

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“It’s exhausting having to talk about these things that should just be normal,” Guyton tells American Songwriter. “I want to celebrate when we don’t have to say that anymore, when we’re just—where it’s equal.” 

Guyton is quick to note that many good things have happened for people who look like her in the industry. But it hasn’t come without intense pressure and constant battling, from the micro to the macro. Guyton is a product of both newly opened doors and immense talent, from her drive to her warm and welcoming singing voice. On the one hand, she recognizes the need for gratitude. On the other, she recognizes the burden she and other artists carry. It’s one, she says, that’s also accompanied by sorrow. She acknowledges that it can be hard to “have faith in people” when you’ve been “disappointed” so often. 

“I’m already seeing people become disinterested,” she says of the recent opportunities for people of color. “It was a moment and people are like ‘back to your regularly scheduled program.’ You’re getting me at a time when I’m seeing that. And I hope it’s a reminder that we must continue on the fight for equality.”

Nuance, complexity. These are words that come to mind when you hear Guyton talk about her position in the country world. She just wants to sing, write and work. But because she is one of the few prominent Black faces, she bears the burden of talking about these subjects, of pounding on doors and trying to bring others up. She doesn’t want to be “negative” about these things. Yet, implicitly, they are part of her big bag of responsibilities. Thankfully, she says, there are more artists of color on major labels than there were just a few years ago. That’s a plus. And Guyton hopes the trend continues equitably. Music, at the end of the day, is for all. It’s a lesson she learned early on, in church. That’s where, as a child, she had a choice: join the choir or be an usher. 

“My dad and my mom are very involved in the Southern Baptist Church,” she says. “So, I was either going to be an usher or in the choir. And I didn’t want to stay up the whole time in church. So, I said I wanted to be in choir.” 

Her father soon recognized she had talent as a vocalist. But it wasn’t until she went to a Texas Rangers baseball game as a kid with her church group that she found her calling. It was there she heard a young LeAnn Rimes sing the National Anthem. That’s when, Guyton says, “music really imprinted on my brain.” Seeing the young Rimes made her realize that she, too, could be a performer. It wasn’t so far out of reach. The event was so remarkable for Guyton that she can remember what Rimes, who is just a year older, was wearing that day. She remembers the bus ride home after the game, thinking about the performance. It changed her life. The other major influence on her was her grandmother, who kept Dolly Parton tapes hung up on a door, from her duets with Kenny Rogers to the 1989 Parton movie, Steel Magnolias. Later in life, Guyton met Rimes, and today they have a strong bond—a “sisterhood.” 

“She’s someone I really, really care about,” Guyton says. “People don’t realize what a genuine, salt of the earth person that she is.”

Guyton says Rimes, in her own way, experienced moments when the business “wasn’t kind to her.” As a result, Guyton even feels a “protective” sensibility when it comes to the country star. Adoration forged from hardship, and mutual understanding. As a young person, Guyton says, she listened a lot. She took in what everyone else said. She even let it shape her, an act that harmed her as she grew up. Everyone seemed to know better, or at least pretended to, so, Guyton says, she became a “yes woman.” This motif—like a wave—brought her to the shores of country music and its templates for more-often-than-not white male songs and lifestyles. How could she fit in? Even though she lived country in Texas, there was no room for her stories and her ideas. 

“It’s debilitating,” she says. “I found myself trying so, so hard to do everything they said to do. I realized I can’t do it that way. It’s not going to work for me.”

At some point along her journey, before Nashville, Guyton found herself in California, going to school. She was contemplating a career in acting. She calls what happened next “a fate thing.” After she went through a rough breakup, she knew she still wanted to sing and to sing country music. But she thought she’d never get a chance or be taken seriously because she’s Black. But fate, she says, brought her to a room with music producer Julian Raymond, who had produced a Glen Campbell record. Guyton met Raymond through a hip-hop DJ she’d met as a backup performer working with comedian-actor Nick Cannon. Next thing she knew, she was working with the country producer, who was then introducing her to her future manager (who had clients like Keith Urban and others). Guyton went to Nashville and began to work. But even then, it was hard. Maybe too hard. 

“When I moved to Nashville, I was super excited,” Guyton says. “I was writing with these dope producers… and we were writing dope music. It was so cool.” 

But when she played the songs for executives, she just got blank stares. She was told her stuff had to be more country—not new or fresh or even challenging—so that people would take her seriously. But she didn’t want to sound like the “bro country” that was already everywhere. She became disillusioned, “confused.” It felt like she was “aiming in the dark.” Trying to fit in killed her spirit “completely.” She says now that she should have “stood up for myself so much sooner and I didn’t.” She was really hard on herself, instead. 

“I literally almost quit,” Guyton says. 

In her Audible Origins work, Guyton talks about lying in bed one day, cursing God. Cursing the fact that He put her here with this desire and this absence of choice. But, in the audio story, Guyton says she realized—wait a minute, she’s also at least somewhat privileged. Maybe, instead, a change of perspective was important. So, she paused. She considered her next steps. A new Mickey Guyton was born. Her detailing of the story—of the transformative time—is powerful. She weeps as she talks. It’s emotional, emotive, and chilling. Honest, brutal, and intimate. (Other subjects in the series include Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Flying Lotus, and more.)

“It was a cathartic moment for me,” she says. 

Recording the work, Guyton says she was still postpartum. She had just had a baby and her “emotions were all over the place.” Having a baby makes everything more emotional, she notes. Memories were flooding back. Futures were unfolding in her mind. But now, a Grammy-nominated artist who recently sang the National Anthem for the 2022 Super Bowl, music was there as much as it’s ever been for her. To aid, safeguard, and propel. Music is the stuff that keeps it all together. Which is yet another reason it should be available to all. In fact, this thought is summed up perfectly in Guyton’s stirring hit, “Black Like Me,” a song that recently cemented her superstar status. 

“Music puts words to your feelings,” says Guyton. “Puts emotions to your feelings. And that’s what I love about music. You have so many emotions and feelings growing up and then someone writes a song that says exactly how you feel. That’s what I love.” 

Cover photo from Mickey Guyton’s Album How You Love Someone

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