|This week, we caught up with Mickey Guyton to talk about her recent success with songs like “Black Like Me” and her first EP in 5 years Bridges
, which is out today. See the highlights from our conversation below.
TNB – First of all, you have one of the purest voices in country music right now. How did you learn how to sing?
Guyton – Everything started in the church. My dad was actually the one who discovered I could sing. He would make me sing gospel songs at 8:00 at night when I was little, which I hated at the time. From there, I took lessons from Seth Riggs who actually taught Michael Jackson. It felt like a big deal at the time – ha ha – although I am unsure if we should celebrate that now.
TNB – When you finished writing “Black Like Me,” do you remember what the reaction was in the room? Did you know it was going to have such an impact?
Guyton – After the song was finished, we all looked at each other and were like “What the hell did we just write?” We actually wrote it at a writers retreat, of all things. When we finished it, Nathan Chapman, who wrote the song with us, said “I think we may have written one of the most important songs of your career, and it might make people angry”. I think we knew it was something special.
What’s so beautiful about this song is that it was inspired by a book of the same title, written by a man named John Howard Griffin. He darkened his skin to look like a black man in the 1960s and went into the deep south, to see what it was like being black in America. That was the true definition of walking in someone else’s shoes. That fact that I was inspired by that book, and wrote the song with two black women, myself and Emma DD, along with two white guys – Nathan Chapman and Fraser Churchill – it was truly two races coming together to write a song that expresses such strong emotions about being a black person in America.
TNB – What has the success of this song felt like for you? Has is felt validating or that your moment has finally come?
Guyton – We always knew we were going to release it this year, but we were unsure about the best way to do it. When it came out, it came out during such a time of social unrest, so it was not the kind of validating feeling I was expecting. It was not about me at all at that point. There are people at ground zero, that have been fighting for social justice since before I was even a thought, that are not getting any of the recognition they deserve. When I released this song, I just didn’t want to let anyone down, because I am not some hero. I was not thinking “Oh, this is my moment.” I was just writing something that was my pain, and it turned out to be a lot of people’s pain.
TNB – Was it hard picking the songs for this new project, or did they jump out at you?
Guyton – They kind of jumped out at me. Every song on the EP has some kind of message, where I was in a space looking for some kind of change. For example, my song “Rosé”. Yes it’s a fun song, but I wrote that song 2 years ago because I was looking around, and I always saw men having drinking country songs about whiskey and beer. I was like, why don’t women have one and what would that song that be? I couldn’t believe that no one had written a song called “Rosé All Day” because if there is a drink that is a woman’s, I would say that it is Rosé right? Every song, I am trying to get a message across.
TNB – In a Washington Post article this week, you mentioned that you recently asked your husband “Why do you think country music isn’t working for me?” and his response was “Because you’re running away from everything that makes you different.” What has your response been to that?
Guyton – When my husband called me out, I was really taken aback. He said, “You need to show other black women and women of color that they can sing country music too, and quit making it about yourself. Country music is three cords and the truth, so sing about that.” That’s when all these songs started happening like “Black Like Me”, “Salt”, and “What Are You Gonna Tell Her.” There are so many amazing artists in other genres, like Lizzo and Cardi B, that are like “This is me, bitches, and you can either except it or not, but I am going to live my most authentic self.” In country music you are expected to be polite and sweet. That does not get you anywhere. Being truthful and honest and saying “This is me.Take it or get off the train” is something that has been so freeing for me.
You know there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. There are still very few women on the charts. Yes, more women have been having #1s recently, but there are still very few. It’s not just country radio’s fault; it’s an entire industry’s fault. It’s going to take a long time to fix, but I hope I see it in my lifetime. What I tell young girls, is to live unapologetically and that the only way you are going to get through is to 100% be you and not let anyone tell you who you are. I fell into that category and allowed people to tell me what I should do, and wear, and think, and I am done with that. I would tell girls to say “This is who I am and you are not going to change me. I will take your advice, but I will not change who I am.”