Over the last decade, singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton has been trying to convince the country music industry that she is country. NPR's Noel King talks her about the highs and lows she's experienced.



Singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton spent 10 years in Nashville trying to convince the country music industry that she was and is country.

MICKEY GUYTON: And I'm, like, well, I'm from the South, you know? My - like, the subdivision that I lived in in Crawford, Texas, was right next to, at the time, Gov. George Bush's ranch. (Laughter) So, I mean, I don't - it doesn't get that much countrier than that.

KING: It hasn't been easy. Still...


GUYTON: (Singing) And my mama always said, everybody's got their own kind of rhythm. And you better celebrate what you is. Never mind what you isn’t.

KING: So Guyton decided to focus her music on what she is.


GUYTON: (Singing) ‘Cause that’s what makes you different - one in a billion. Go ahead and just own it. It kind of feels good, don’t it? ‘Cause that’s what makes you different.

KING: Mickey Guyton's debut album, "Remember Her Name," is just out. We talked about the highs and lows she's experienced in the country music industry and why she's experienced them.

GUYTON: When I moved to Nashville, I tried to write the beer-truck songs that seemed to work at country radio. And it just didn't work for me because I was definitely not your usual country singer.

KING: Yeah. Let's talk about the (laughter) reason. What was going on?

GUYTON: Well, the reason I had to prove that I was country is 'cause I'm Black. It's that simple. There there's no way to sugarcoat it. And when I tried to fit in, I had completely lost myself as an artist. Like, I would turn in songs like what you were hearing on the radio. And it was met with instant noes - instant.

KING: And you're getting these messages from, I presume, executives and your contemporaries. How, Mickey, do you come to the realization that this is not what you want?

GUYTON: I didn't have any other choice. At a certain point, the phone stopped ringing. There were no more doors or windows opening. And I was alone. And I was frustrated. And I drank. And it wasn't until my husband - we were having a conversation, and I asked him why country music wasn't working for me. And he said because you're running away from everything that makes you different.


GUYTON: (Singing) Little kid in a small town - I did my best just to fit in - broke my heart on the playground when they said I was different.

I just started looking through my life. And I first started looking at books that hadn't really affected me. And the first book that I remember, I - really affected me was "Black Like Me." So I wrote that title down in my phone.

KING: OK. For listeners who may be unfamiliar, can you tell us what "Black Like Me" is about?

GUYTON: So "Black Like Me" is a book written by a white man named John Howard Griffin who darkened his skin to look like a Black man in the 1960s, traveled to the Deep South in order to walk in the shoes of a Black person. And it stuck with me.


GUYTON: (Singing) It's a hard life on easy street - just white painted picket fences far as you can see. If you think we live in the land of the free, you should try to be Black like me.

KING: It's a hard life on easy street. Talk about what that means.

GUYTON: Well, it means the American dream. The American dream is so attainable, right? You just wake up. You go to school. You go to college. You get that job. You get that promotion. It's so easy. But it's not that simple. The cards that some people were dealt is different. And we can't ignore that.

KING: I want to ask you about some of those people. The first song on the record, the name of the record, "Remember Her Name" - who is the her that you're asking us to remember in this song?

GUYTON: Well, when I first wrote down the title, I'd been watching all of this Breonna Taylor footage. Breonna Taylor is the young health care professional that was murdered inside of her home by law enforcement. And the one thing I would notice online is people would say, say her name; remember her name. And I was remembering Breonna, but then it also turned into my story - because as children, we have these dreams, right? And then life happens. And then you lose faith in yourself. And this song is about me remembering that bright-eyed girl that was in you, she's still there. And so that "Remember Her Name" is Breonna Taylor, but it's also me, and it's also all women pursuing their careers and their dreams in life.


GUYTON: (Singing) Remember the fire. Remember her face. She felt the storm and danced out in the pouring rain. Remember her laughing through all the pain. Remember the girl that didn't let anything get in her way.

KING: Do you think the window of what country artists can sing about is expanding? And do you think you're helping open it a little bit?

GUYTON: I would hope that the window is opening. I'm not sure. I'm not on country radio, so I wouldn't even know what that means (laughter).

KING: Is it really true that you're not on country radio? I'm sorry, my jaw just, like, hit the floor.

GUYTON: Yes. Yes, it is true.

KING: Country radio stations do not play Mickey Guyton?

GUYTON: Nope. I've seen tweets from program directors, actually, that said that their boss didn't want to play my songs because they didn't like what I had to say politically.

KING: So just a quick note - we looked a little deeper into this. And Mickey is not wrong. Her music gets play on digital platforms, like Spotify and Sirius radio. On traditional radio stations, though, we did not find much. And that's where most country artists have found their audience.

GUYTON: I love country music. I don't see myself singing any other genre. I just hope I can bring a different perspective of country music to expand it.

KING: You love country music. Do you think country music loves you back?

GUYTON: You know, I don't know. That's a hard question. (Laughter) I'm not sure, to be honest.


GUYTON: (Singing) Don’t want to fit in. I want to fit out - don’t want no cookie cutter watering me down. I'm just me.

KING: Mickey Guyton - her debut album is "Remember Her Name." Mickey, thank you so much for being with us. This was great.

GUYTON: Thank you so much - no problem


GUYTON: (Singing) 'Cause that's what makes you different. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.