Country star Mickey Guyton on trying to fit in: 'I ran away from my Blackness. I ran away from everything that makes me different.'

Country star Mickey Guyton, at age 37, is having the best and biggest year of her career, after struggling in Nashville for a decade. She recently became the first Black female artist to be nominated in the Grammys’ country category, the first Black female artist to perform at the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the first Black woman to host the ACM Awards ceremony. And now, she’s finally releasing her debut full-length album, Remember Her Name. But the “Black Like Me” singer she admits that as recently as two years ago, she seriously considered quitting music for good.

“It has been a long time coming. Like, the fact that I'm here is a miracle,” says Guyton. “Like in 2019, I was ready to stop it all. Really, 100 percent, sometimes on a daily, I was like, ‘Why did I choose to do this? Like, this makes no sense.’ I remember crying to my husband, mad at him because he would never let me quit. … And he kept saying, ‘Because you need to be here. If you're not out there, then for every Black girl that wants to sing country music, that dream has gone if you're not there.’ Then I was like, ‘OK, fine.’ And I'm so glad I didn't stop.”

Guyton recalls one specific “extremely honest conversation” with her husband, attorney Grant Savoy, that made “fireworks and light bulbs” go off in her head and set her on the career path leading to Remember Her Name. “I just asked him, ‘Why do you think country music isn't working for me?’ And he said, ‘Because you're running away from everything that makes you different. Why aren't you singing country songs from your perspective? Why are you trying to write somebody else's perspective of country music?’ … And I was like, ‘Wow. Why am I not doing that?’ And so I really started writing my honest-to-God's truth, whether it was going to make someone feel uncomfortable or not. I was just going to write about that, because I felt like it was important. It was kind of cathartic and therapy for me.”

Guyton admits that when she first moved to Nashville in 2011, “I ran away from my Blackness. I ran away from everything that makes me different. Because I was trying so hard to fit into this tiny box that I just did not fit. I just didn’t. And in doing all the events in Nashville and me trying to prove that I'm this girl-next-door, great-time kind of a person, that was a very toxic environment. … And what do you do when you cope with things? For me, it was drinking. It was me drinking wine. That was definitely something that helped cope with where I was. And for a long time, I was in a pretty dark space, in that sense.” Guyton realizes now that if her mainstream success had happened sooner, she would not have handled it well. “I might be strung out somewhere unwell, to be honest. … I think I could have been under a lot of influences.”

But once Guyton started writing and singing from a place of her own truth, her career finally took off, at just the right time. She recalls one breakthrough was when she performed her gut-wrenching Remember Her Name ballad “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” at Nashville's Country Radio Seminar for an audience of industry heavyweights. “It was a song about the oppression of women, and I sang it in front of a bunch of country radio program directors — the majority men,” she says. “And to sing that song in that moment, that was a moment where I was either going to make my career or kill my career. And I was prepared to kill my career, knowing that. And the fact that it didn't, and that it elevated it — that was a moment.”

Another deeply personal Remember Her Name track is “I Love My Hair,” which Guyton says “was inspired by two different situations. There was one situation where I saw a video on YouTube of this little girl, this little Black girl, being sent home from school because the school said that her hair was ‘distracting.’ And for me, that was just so triggering within my own world and how I felt about my own hair. … There's so many complex [feelings] that [Black women] have, growing up self-hating because society has made us feel like we don't belong. And that was something that I really wanted to write about: a love song to our hair, no matter what it looks like, and no matter what you choose to do with your hair, that you love it. And I think it's really touched a lot of people so far and it speaks to a lot of women, and I'm just so glad that I stuck with my guns.”

As a woman of color in an almost entirely white industry, Guyton has had her share of hair and styling issues in Nashville. “There were so many times that I was on a red carpet that I didn't like the way I looked, because I would ask people, ‘I need to make sure someone knows how to do Black hair, or how to do a Black person's makeup.’” Guyton recalls being so desperate to find someone who could properly style her hair for the 2019 ACMs that she actually made an eight-hour round trip. “Literally the day before the ACM Awards, I had to get in my car at 5 a.m., drive all the way to Atlanta for my hair appointment, get my hair done and get my lacefront wig, put on the whole thing, then get in my car and drive all the way back to Nashville to pack my bag and get on a flight to go to Vegas — because I didn't have anybody that could do my hair,” she says incredulously. “That was the only way that I could even get someone to do my hair and feel confident.”

Mickey Guyton attends the 2019 Academy 0f Country Music Awards. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/ACMA2019/Getty Images for ACM)
Mickey Guyton attends the 2019 Academy 0f Country Music Awards. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/ACMA2019/Getty Images for ACM) (Frazer Harrison/ACMA2019 via Getty Images)

Guyton does believe that Nashville is changing, albeit slowly, and that “there are a lot of people in the music industry that do really want to see the change” and “are making conscious efforts.” But, she says, “In order for country music to truly work for Black people, it is not enough for a Black country star to come up every 50 years, or just a couple here and there. There has to be a plethora of extremely talented Black country artists to walk in the door with me. And I realized that with the little platform I have, I started just looking for every Black country artist that I could find and posting about it, because I knew a lot of people in my industry follow me. So, I thought I would just start putting them out there and just showing them on my page,” she says, citing Madeline Edwards, Brittany Spencer, Reyna Roberts, and RVSHVD as rising Black country artists to watch. But Guyton knows there are many closed-minded country fans out there; the cruelty she often faces in the darker recesses of social media is sad proof of that.

“I've had plenty of those conversations in my DMs, of people saying, ‘Why don't you go take your black a** out of country music?” she reveals. “It is really, really hard. There are ‘fans’ that have been not so kind. You just go on any of the platforms like CMT, CMA, whatever, and they post a picture of me and just look at the comments — that'll tell you all that you need. … And I’d be lying if I was like, ‘Oh, you brush it off and everything's OK.’ The cyberbullying is on a whole different level. I've never seen anything like it. So, I've started to make it a conscious effort to really not be on social media as much. … Antidepressants have helped me tremendously. I was in a really bad space when I’d gotten a lot of that hate. I was nine months pregnant when I got a lot of that hate [specifically when she received backlash after calling out Morgan Wallen for using a racial slur], so put on top of that the hormones that you're dealing with, on top of a new baby, and it is a lot. That was difficult for me, and it took me some time to heal from that.”

But despite all her career struggles, Guyton is glad she stuck with country music and didn’t consider quitting or even trying another musical genre like pop or R&B. “I don't really see myself in any other genre. Like, I feel that I am country music,” she says, “I've been doing this so long, I don't even know how to change my voice to sound like something else.” She’s also not only grateful that her true voice is now being heard, but that she’s hitting her career stride in her late thirties, an age when so many women in music are already considered over-the-hill.

“There's a lot of stigmas and things that we have been fed that are wrong,” Guyton attests. “Your career is not over at 25. Your career is not over at 35. Your career is not over at 38. Your career is not over at 45. Your career is not over if you have a baby. Ageism and age-shaming is wrong. Our perspective is just as important as anybody else's perspective. And I hope that this type of success can be a precursor for the future of artists, and that it gives people still that drive to still want to pursue their dreams like that.

“Two years ago I was thinking, ‘Why would anybody want to hear from me? I don't have anything to say.’ And I realized I have so much to say, and I have so much more to say because of the things that I've learned,” Guyton continues. “I think with a lot of women's stories, when we start off our careers and start out in life, we're so certain about what we want to do, for the most part. We're so certain that this is our path. And then life gets in the way and so often can shatter everything that we knew about ourselves. But it's important to remember that that girl is still there. The girl I am now, the woman I am now, I was on my way to that when I first moved to Nashville. I was writing really progressive, really cool songs — and they were stopped at the door because nobody wanted that. I should have stayed with that person. And now she's back. And that's what Remember Her Name is about.”

Watch Mickey Guyton's full, extended Yahoo Entertainment interview below, in which she discusses her new album, her brief and bittersweet time on American Idol in 2009, and much more:

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