Mickey Guyton’s recent CMA nomination for New Artist of the Year is just one highlight in what has been, by the book, a breakthrough era for the artist. The 37-year-old’s name was also tossed in the hat for Best New Female Artist at the ACM Awards this past spring—which she hosted with Keith Urban. This type of recognition is exactly what an aspiring country artist needs to properly navigate the industry, but there is a glaring issue with this pattern that has dubbed Guyton a “newcomer” in news media.
“I’m not new at all,” Guyton tells American Songwriter over the phone. While flattered, some of the poorly-worded praise seems to dismiss the years of grit and grind that led to an undoubted arrival point, Guyton’s first full-length album, Remember Her Name— released September 24 via Capitol Record Nashville. “I receive it, and I appreciate it, but it’s also like I’ve been doing this for a while,” she continues. “It means a lot that people are now coming to the table, but I’ve been here.”
In fact, the Arlington, Texas native has been in Nashville since 2011. Before then, and after her American Idol audition, she was living in Los Angeles where she caught the attention of pop producer Julian Raymond. Through Raymond, Guyton met Gary Borman and Steve Moir, who helped launch the careers of country icons Faith Hill and Keith Urban. Under their advisement, she made the bold move to Music City. A cover of a Patty Loveless song landed her a record deal with her current label home, Capitol Music Nashville—where she became the first and only Black female signed to a major country music record label. Here, she released a pair of EPs in 2014 and 2015 with a few noteworthy singles, including her radio breakthrough “Better Than You Left Me” in 2016.
A few things had to change before Guyton could shine the way she has in recent months. For years, she expended unnecessary energy attempting to fit the square peg of her underrepresented experience into the round hole of Nashville co-writing sessions. Guyton points to the community of collaborators she has built around her as a critical component of this project.
“I just found a group of people that consistently wanted to write and work with me,” she explains. “That was important because I’d been in town for a long time, so a lot of those doors that were opened with all the ‘big’ songwriters had kind of closed for me. But this is Nashville; this is the songwriting capital of the world and there are other hit songwriters in this town if you look for them.”
Part of the beauty in Guyton’s selection of songwriters was the camaraderie of misfits. The tracklist presents re-occurring names like Victoria Banks, Nathan Chapman, and Karen Kosowski, to name just a few. “They felt like they were on the outside too. We were just a bunch of outsiders getting together without a common goal or theme. We were just writing truth and honesty.”
She credits her collaborators, whom she considers some of her dearest friends, for helping her tell the story of the album. Each song began while they sat around sharing stories of their own before they wrote about any of it. “There was no formula,” says Guyton. “We just created what was in our hearts.”
Some of the songwriting dates back several years. To put this project together, Guyton would diligently listen through her catalog, some nights until the wee hours of the morning. “For years. I’ve been listening to the same song over and over and over again trying to understand what they all meant,” she says. “And the common denominator is they all have a message.
“I looked through all the songs and they kind of came together themselves, I tapped into something. And it was just, like messages and lessons and songs about my life and that just seemed to work. I have no idea how I did that.”
At first, Guyton thought the project would be about her marriage. “We had been going through so much, and almost didn’t make it a few times, so I thought that’s what the project was about,” she says. “And then the project literally turned into me finding myself.”
On the heels of a huge year of “firsts” as a new mother, a female artist, and a Black woman in the country music industry, the 16-track collection sets the standard for an enduring legacy. Steeped in honest emotion, she will pass this landmark record on to her children and like-minded successors to ensure they will Remember Her Name.
“Whether it’s about love, whether it’s about self-love, or what’s going on in the world, I just write about it,” says Guyton. “They say country music is three chords in the truth. So this is my version of three chords and the truth.”
This truth-telling has stood as a pillar of her artistry since her acoustic debut EP Unbreakable in 2014. But something had to change within her artistry to allow for the type of growth she’s experienced this year, and Guyton believes it’s her perspective. “I was always spilling my guts in these writing sessions,” she says. “Bu then we would go on and write something else to try to fit into the mold of what we thought country music was. And then this new group of songwriters, we didn’t try to fit into any mold, we didn’t try to fit into any box because there is no box. We have created this imaginary box that literally does not exist.”
Following the release of her third EP Bridges (2020), Guyton finally began to garner the response she had anticipated for so long. And now, it was nearly overwhelming. The EP included her hit single “Black Like Me,” which yielded a historic moment at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards as the first Black female solo artist nominated in a country music category. Wielding the hallowed stage, Guyton performed the timely track for a captivated audience.
She first shared a snippet of the song on Instagram in response to the very public murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis Police Department that spawned a summer of racial protests across the country. She previewed the piece with a poignant line: Now I’m all grown up and nothing has changed. The chorus expands on this with a gut punch: If you think we live in the land of the free / You should try to be black like me.
Watching her career take off from the depths of a devastating era of American history feels complicated. And Guyton insists that the timing is not coincidental. Amidst a merciless pandemic and racial unrest, a platform emerged for the artist. “It’s almost like it took something awful happening to someone like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery for people to finally see me,” says Guyton. “That’s how it kind of feels, and that’s me being really, really honest. It’s definitely something that I’ve struggled with. I really, truly do appreciate it,” she says. “But there’s always that underlying thought.”
Guyton’s personal perception that she has benefited from the painful events of the past 18 months is a heavy mantle to bear. But Remember Her Name fulfills a promise to love with truth and shed light on overshadowed stories.
“I think part of the reason why I’ve received this attention is that I’m just being honest,” says Guyton. “I’m not using this platform to condemn the world and what’s been happening. I’ve been trying to use my platform to the very best of my abilities to hopefully uplift marginalized groups of people. That’s something that I’ve been passionate about.”
Intentionality bleeds through each element of the album, pushing thoughts and ideas through unexpected angles. “Rosé”—which could easily be overlooked as a classic country drinking tune—flips the script from the status-quo with a clever dig on the genre’s exhaustion of motifs involving men drinking beer. “It’s a low-key protest song for women,” she says. “Guys can sing about beer all day long. And if we have to hear it all day long, then we can have a drink too. And of course, it’s pink wine.”
“All American” portrays the face of a diverse nation, diminishing our difference during a period of unprecedented division. In a similar vein, “Different” and “I Love My Hair” celebrate singular attributes that are often sidelined by cultural norms. “Do You Really Wanna Know” details her hesitance to share her experience with therapy, recovering from alcoholism. As suggested through “Black Like Me,” she has grown to resent the niceties for the sake of making others feel comfortable. Throughout the track, she asks, If I tell you the truth, will your heart be big enough to hold it?
Coming up on a decade in Nashville, Guyton suggests this album is a culmination of her experience here and the implications of pursuing this career. For many, this album serves as an introduction to a promising new artist. But for Guyton, Remember Her Name is the closing of a chapter. “I spent the last year and a half telling the story of my journey and country music — how hard it was trying to arrive and receive the same opportunities that were given to other people,” says Guyton. “And I talked about it in my songs.”
“Words,” she says, was written from “a painful place.” Spurred by a race-based comment online after hosting the 56th annual ACM Awards, where she performed “Hold On,” the track captures the turbulence she felt in that moment. Lyrically, she details the pressure of having to smile and let it go—a previous standard she held as someone quietly trying to break down generational barriers.
Now liberated by a strong sense of self, Guyton presents a cohesive collection with veteran poise. Her brazen vocals bolster her unrestrained storytelling for an honest portrait of where we are as a country music community today. “There’s a part of me that’s ready to close that chapter and make space for who I am now as an artist,” says Guyton. “I’ve addressed things that I thought were wrong and country music, that we’re still working to try to make better. Fighting for equality will always be a part of who I am. But now I would like to talk about something else.”
Guyton clarifies that though she is tired of talking about these issues in the media, she will continue to support people that are trying to fight for their careers and opportunities in Nashville. She tells organizations like the ACM to use her as a representative when talking about country music at historically black colleges.
“That is the future, the work is not done,” says Guyton. “The chapter is closed but equality is something that is still so important for me. And my hopes are that we talk about this problem and it’s opened enough people’s eyes that they see people that may look different, but still love country music, and give them equal opportunities. And not because we need an even playing field.”
Her goal is that it will become second nature to sign Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or LGBTQ+ artists not because of who they are, but just because of their talent. “When we put all of that aside, country music is truth and honesty in lyrics. It’s life in a song. And that’s the kind of country music I want to listen to. That’s the kind of country music I grew up loving and the music I want to continue making.”
Listen to Mickey Guyton’s Remember Her Name LP, here.