I don’t know about you, but sometimes I catch myself thinking, as I’m lying in bed, ready to go to sleep- ‘why does this world have to be so divided?’ And it’s not just ‘I follow baseball and you follow basketball and therefore there’s this division and rivalry’, or even ‘my team is the Sydney Sixers, and your team is the Brisbane Heat, and thus because of our support of different teams, we ought to act ‘hostile’ and ‘divided’ against each other’. No, it’s more than that. I’ve found out recently that this division the world is seeing right now across many sectors, is much more than a temporary rivalry that’s sport-related, that when we’re in this ‘sport bubble’ we’re ‘enemies’ but outside of that, we’re friends. It’s much more deep-rooted, and much more involuntarily ‘taken-on’ as our ‘identity’, than many of us would care to even admit. Let’s just take a look at the few rivalries that we know of, as we’ve been observing in the world over the past decade or so. There’s the Christians against…well, everyone else? There seems to be a rivalry right now that pits the Christians and the LGBTQAI+ people against each other, not to mention Christians and atheists that have been having discussions before the beginning of time, too. Here in Australia, there’s Labour V Liberal (and in America, there’s Republicans V Democrats), while since COVID-19 has started up in early 2020, there’s been the ‘other’ rivalry that people don’t like to talk about- those who are vaccinated, against those who are hard-line anti-vaxxers, for whatever reason. And these rivalries are not just for anything trivial.
When we see division in the world, we definitely see it, and it seems like whatever ‘camp’ you find yourself in, be it as a Christian, as someone who is vaccinated, as someone who maybe is a Liberal supporter; it’s not like a sports rivalry where when the game is in play, you and your best friend (who support different sports clubs) are ‘mortal enemies’ but once the game is over, your back to being friends again. No, seriously, a lot of these rivalries have costed people their friendships and their family in the process. And that is definitely not something we all should be striving towards. A world that seemingly preaches tolerance, acceptance, seeing things from different POV’s, and allowing devil’s advocate from time to time; it doesn’t seem like the world is actually practicing what it has seemingly preached for the time it has preached it. Because once you’re known for being ______, and once you believe into a certain stance on _______ (fill in the blank), you’re from camp X, and then anyone who is not as _______ as you, is placed into camp Y. Camp X and Camp Y would then be very firm in their views, that they wouldn’t want to hear what the other side has to say…and worse still, Camp X would assume a lot of things about what Camp Y believes (and vice versa), and will therefore make their own judgements based upon that, rather than actually sitting down and having a discussion with the person who thinks differently than you. Because chances are, what you believe about ____ and the stance you have on _____ is heavily biased. Even if you don’t change your view on whatever it is you plant your feet into, then surely listening to someone else with an opposing view, can allow yourself to see things from another perspective, and realise that there’s not necessarily one hard-and-fast rule for everything, right?
Regardless of how we want to live our lives; it’s much better to be known by what we’re for, instead of what we’re against. Because if all you’re known for is that you’re against porn, weed, LGBTQIA+ people, tattoos, speaking in tongues, people who aren’t as conservative as you, the government, black people, indigenous people, people who have received the vaccine, people who listen to mainstream music (the list can go on and on and on); then how are you going to interact with people who affiliate with one of the things I just mentioned? Because sometimes in life, we’re going to be in ‘fellowship’ with people who think differently than us, who act differently than us, who believe something totally opposite, who even work in a profession that we may even frown upon (it doesn’t have to be someone working in porn, it can be someone working in the government, or as a used car salesman!). What then?
Yes, we should have views and convictions. Yes, it can feel good to be part of camp X or Y. Yes, it can feel good to rally up people to support your cause. But, if everything that has been done to ‘separate’ me from you, is done with a void of love (and all, if not most, is without love for the other person), then we’re really not accomplishing anything. We’re just staying in our silos and echo chambers, parroting what we’ve been assumed to know, to each other. We’re navel gazing, and preaching the same things, over and over again, to each other. And the problem with an echo chamber, is that there’s no room for grown and maturity. Cut off from the rest of the world and left to our own devices, surrounded by people who believe exactly the same as you…well, you’ll just be surrounded by a million ‘yous’, and that probably wouldn’t be that healthy for us in an emotional, mental, and spiritual sense. For if we are not challenged in our own beliefs, we won’t be able to grow in them, and to really figure out deep down, what we truly, really believe, when we’re alone in our room and we’re free from people pleasing. And just because we believe ____ doesn’t mean that we don’t associate and fellowship with anyone else who believes something different.
For how we live our lives ought to be this. We have our own core beliefs and values that we ought not to deviate from. That every person deserves love, dignity, and respect, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, and expression, even people who are in any way, ‘different from us’, and that God made people in His own image, loving humanity without question, and sending Christ the Lord and Saviour to live the life we couldn’t live, die the death we should’ve died, and rise again for us to be reconciled with Him. But apart from that…well, everything ought not to be as black and white as we make it all out to be, right? Music artists around the world have been championing a world where, despite our own personal beliefs and convictions, people come together and share life with each other, that it’s ok to be friends with someone that believes different than yourself. That it’s ok to be in the presence of someone who is of a different race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation…full stop. That our preconceived ideas about ____ and our prejudices about ____ shouldn’t come in the way of having great conversation, stimulating discussions, and having the humility to say, ‘I don’t know’, and to be humble enough to apologise. It’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to not have all the answers. It’s ok to reconcile and acknowledge biases and underlying prejudices if and when they occur. And if an artist like Mickey Guyton has allowed us to search deep within ourselves and to apologise to people with different viewpoints than us, for our own stubbornness, and need within ourselves to always be right and correct; then that ought to be a good thing, right?
I don’t really need to speak about Mickey’s history- there’s always Wikipedia for that. But what I will say is this- that Mickey is one of a handful of successful black artists within the realms of country music (there are others, inclusive of Jimmie Allen, Charley Pride, Britney Spencer, Shy Carter, Kane Brown, Breland and Darius Rucker). Yes, it is a startling fact, that Mickey Guyton’s success in country reminds us of something that I’m sure not a lot of people know. Because by and large, country music is a white person’s game, dominated by artists like The Judds, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Alan Jackson, Rascal Flatts, Lady A, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Shania Twain, Florida Georgia Line, George Strait, Maddie & Tae, Hunter Hayes, Thomas Rhett, Sara Evans, Terri Clark, Lindsay Ell, Tenille Townes and Chris Stapleton (to name a few)…and guess what? They’re all white. I mean, I dunno why or how country music became a white person’s ‘game’, or how that presupposition and assumption even happened in the first place, but it did. Before long, we were in a genre of music that was primarily white. Nothing wrong with white people, but when you see a whole genre being populated by one group, it’s hard to feel as if you have anything to offer said group, especially if you’re not white. We live in a world of assumptions, and while stereotypes and general things that people assume about each other, exist for a reason; what assumptions carry along with it, is this perpetual self-fulfilling prophecy, that only certain groups of people are fit for certain tasks, certain industries, and certain things to accomplish in life. It brings with it, a very hierarchical system into play, and allows people to look down on others, because they assume and think that they don’t have the qualities and giftings to be within the area dominated by the other. And in country music’s case, Mickey Guyton being one of only a handful of black people in an industry dominated by white people, is a big, big deal.
Ignoring talent for a second (mind you, Mickey is tremendously talented!), the fact that she has made it and is creating country music full-time is a testament to the notion and understanding, that whole genres shouldn’t be ‘reserved’ for a certain group of people. Just like how there’s an assumption that black people take hold of the R&B/gospel/rap genres, there’s an exact ‘opposite’ assumption, that white people gravitate towards pop and country, and that that is the way that is goes. And while we know that people in a general sense, regardless of their skin colour, are more suited towards this profession and that (on the basis of genetic ability and environmental factors); what I’ve seen through Mickey’s rise in country music, is this- that skin colour shouldn’t be a factor in whether people enter into a music genre or not. People shouldn’t discount black people in country music, any more than people discount white people in R&B/rap. If one certain genre needs to be better and be rid of racial bias, then it needs to happen across the board. And yet, skin colour unfortunately does become, maybe even the deciding factor, in decisions that are made, that either promotes someone in an industry, or excludes them, because of their race.
I know that skin colour shouldn’t be a factor in any decision, but we live in a fallen broken world. There are people who see themselves as higher than others. There are people who don’t want to say that they’re racist, yet they are. Because of sin and the state of the world we live in now; people won’t have opportunities in life, not because they’re not good enough, but because of their skin colour. And that is wrong on all accounts. And maybe country music has a long way to go in terms of the racial issue, that not only divides America, but the whole world. But at least talks and discussions are happening. Mickey (and Jimmie Allen as well, and Darius, and Breland, and Kane) is reminding the world that the issue of race didn’t stop her from chasing her aspirations and dreams, that no amount of pushback and bias against you should make you quit. That our work and merit alone ought to be the driving factors, in anything. That if it’s not solely our work that is driving the conversation, then we need to stand firm in our convictions and help our fellow citizens of Earth (who may not have the opportunities in life, because of _____) accomplish their goals and ambitions.
‘…when I first got signed ten years ago, I wanted to make an album just like everyone else. But, ten years later, after seeing Nashville’s flaws, I’m instead making an album that I hope continues the conversation about people of color gaining equity and increases opportunities for other artists of color to succeed in country music. Because I don’t always see the change that is happening, I’m often wondering, “I’m pushing for change, but are people really wanting it?” But then, I have moments and see things evolving. That inspires me to continue to advocate for not just Black artists but all marginalized artists, to be able to have opportunities to make music in what is such a beautiful genre. A country music industry that embraces inclusion can be more beautiful — by being healthy and good — than it already is. Country music may have been slow to embracing inclusion, but I think that, as a whole, more people who work in and love this music want this evolution towards acceptance to happen…’
Mickey’s ability to create songs that travel into the hearts of listeners, as these tracks tackle the nuances of everyday life; is what has continued to make Mickey an impactful artist, not only in Country music, but also in music, full stop. The way that she has delivered songs like ‘Black Like Me’, ‘Heaven Down Here’, ‘Better Than You Left Me’, ‘What Are You Gonna Tell Her?’, ‘Remember Her Name’ and ‘All American’, with grace, poise, purpose, intentionality, and urgency; is one of the many reasons why I firmly believe the necessity of Mickey’s place, in not only country music, but a place here, within the ‘Top Influential Artists of the Next 5-10 Years’. Usually when you’re making any kind of list for anything, there’s always going to be a sense of a what if. What if this artist was in the list at the expense of that artist? What if another artist is in fact more influential than one of the artists already in the list? Whatever the thoughts that were running through my head as I wrote this blog, one thing remains is this- that Mickey’s place here in such a list needn’t to have been in question. Her role model status as a black woman in country music is something not to be taken lightly. Sure, we shouldn’t seek our representation for representation sake, but a certain genre of music (or any other profession sector) should, for all intents and purposes; reflect the general population in most ways.
It doesn’t always, but here lies the point. That if an industry of work (or in this case, a music genre category) does its best to mitigate the issues that are making said industry not reflective of the general populous and society; then the industry is on its way to becoming fair and equal, while also being reminded that at the end of it all, it is first and foremost, merit that makes up any industry, rather than skin colour and representation. Mickey has done her bit in moving the needle along, promoting the conversation of black people in music genres where white people (or people who aren’t black) are more prevalent. Sure, there’s a historical pattern of white people gravitating towards pop and country, and black people moving more towards rap, gospel, and R&B; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this trend needs to stay the same. People can move up the ranks of their preferred music genre (or any other service industry) if they wanted to, but only with the caveat that the people that do rise the ranks deserve to be there on a merit basis, irrespective of their skin colour. And Mickey’s music, in a roundabout way, touches on some of these topics I’ve discussed in these paragraphs above. Country music, and by extension music in general, has been discussing a more level-playing-field across the board for years, and what has resulted is a lot of songs from Mickey’s discography that has reflected this shift in topics and themes throughout the years. Sure, we like to listen to songs for a sense of an escape, and we enjoy songs that are inspirational and lift us up, but sometimes, we just need the song that challenges us- in a way that allows us to be woken up from our ignorance, so that we can undertake change and employ different things to allow other people more opportunities, opportunities that we received, and they didn’t, for whatever reason.
Mickey’s career started in 2014 with the release of her debut EP Unbreakable– consisting of four acoustic songs. This EP didn’t really get off the ground, and as of 2022, doesn’t have any singles from this acoustic release. That doesn’t mean that this EP isn’t any good, and this album will continue to be considered, by me at least, as Mickey’s first foray and step into the realms of country music. This was people’s first introduction to Mickey’s music, and that alone ought to bring some sort of nostalgia to people when they hear this acoustic EP, right? Maybe I’m just being sentimental and nostalgic myself. Or maybe I just see the value in acoustic music, where the singer isn’t hiding behind any electronic looping technology, and is just singing with their voice, and their acoustic guitar, thereby allowing the lyrics to shine through, all the more. Or maybe I just like to hear an EP that isn’t influenced by record deals and label ideas; before everything else influenced an artist more than the artist themselves. Standing at four tracks, we are met with songs like ‘Forever Love’, a track about trying to describe ‘new’ love and claiming that the feeling that your feeling when you meet someone new is more appropriately called ‘forever’ love; while ‘Pretty Little Mustang’ speaks about trying to feel and be as good as you can, with the things that you have, rather than with what you long to have. Sometimes you can want all these new things to make you feel good and better, when in reality, all you need is some confidence and a different perspective, and the clothes you wear and the way you carry yourself can in turn feel as though you’re ‘driving a mustang’, even if the ‘car’ you own is more of a ‘station wagon’ or an ‘SUV’. Mickey plays with this metaphor quite well, and we who hear this song, are reminded that this ‘mustang’ being talked about, is how you carry yourself when you’re out with others, and how you want people to see and view you, when you’re around people that you know (and even people that you don’t). ‘Safe’ is a powerful, inspirational track about admitting that your life isn’t in as much control as you want it to be and being vulnerable to the point where you ask for help and guidance; while the EP ender, ‘Unbreakable’, speaks about all the obstacles that the persona (maybe Mickey herself) has faced in her career, leading up to this point and time. It’s a song to hopefully unite people who have been told again and again that they couldn’t make it, and thus, a poignant chorus all but allows people to declare alongside Mickey, that when ‘…the road gets rough, we say bring it on, let it all crash in, let it all come down, take your shot world, what you got, we’ll just keep picking ourselves up off the ground, sometimes we gotta burn to learn that there’s a fire in us all, it’s gonna hurt but sometimes we gotta fall to find out we’re unbreakable…’
Mickey released her self-titled follow-up EP in 2015, also comprising of four songs, and having a more full-band instrumentation compared to the acoustic nature of her 2014 EP. Re-recording ‘Pretty Little Mustang’ on her self-titled EP with a full studio sound, the remaining three songs from the EP produced at least one radio single from said EP- ‘Better Than You Left Me’. Released as track #4 on the EP, Mickey’s first radio single speaks about moving on from a relationship when you realise that the person that you want to move on from, only sees you as a ‘prize’ or something material, rather than a person that has value. As we hear this song, it’s no secret that this track is based upon something that happened to Mickey in her own personal life, as we see the persona in the song (Mickey herself) realising that she is indeed better in her life, without the relationship and without this other person. As we get more insight behind the person who has indeed inspired said track, Mickey reminds us that ‘…I like to say he suffered from bigger, better syndrome where he always thought the grass was greener on the other side. One minute he wanted to be with me, and then he didn’t want to be with me, then he wanted to be with me, then he didn’t want to be with me. Then I sang for the President of the United States, then he wanted to be with me, and we were at this moment right here three years ago, and I was trying to let him know that I had moved on. He was not having it, and he says to me, ‘Don’t make me find someone else’. The whole time I thought he was the prize, and then I realized that I was the prize…I now realize why I had to go through that, and I’m happy I went through that, because through this whole process, so many people have reached out to me telling me how this song got them through their day. When I was laying on my best friend’s couch for an entire day sobbing my eyes out over this guy, I never thought that was worth this moment here, and I’m so thankful. I’m so grateful that I was able to go through that, so that I could write this song…’ ‘Better Than You Left Me’ shows us that bravery and courage in writing vulnerable songs, actually pays off. It may take hard work and being able to showcase vulnerabilities, but sometimes, in order to impact and influence other people, you need to go deep yourself and delve into parts of yourself that maybe you don’t even know that you had.
The EP is then rounded out with ‘Why Baby Why’ and ‘Somebody Else Will’- the first song is a prequel of sorts, to ‘Better Than You Left Me’, and is a track that, according to Mickey herself, ‘…epitomizes the phase of breaking up where you are just so sad and so heartbroken. And I went through that and felt that. That’s how I knew I had to record it…’ ‘Why Baby Why’ asks the question of why- why doesn’t the other person move on from the relationship, when both people know that the relationship isn’t going to work out anyway. It’s a reminder that in some toxic relationships, someone in it is possessive of the other, that if they can’t have the person, no one else would. That is toxic and abusive, and songs like ‘Better Than You Left Me’ and ‘Why Baby Why’ shed light on this topic that is seemingly under-discussed in country music, and music in general. ‘Somebody Else Will’ is the last song on the EP; and speaks about the aftermath of a relationship breakdown. Usually what happens to someone, in light of a relationship break, is that they become extra critical about themselves. They start to wonder if they could ever love someone again, and if they are even loveable in the first place. They maybe even blame themselves for said breakup. But as this song suggests, that if someone doesn’t love you, and the relationship doesn’t go the way that you think, then ultimately in the end, someone else will love you. It may look different to what you assumed it would be, but we need to be reminded that each and every person deserves love, respect, and affection. And if someone cannot give it to you, then someone else will. That can be a callous and insensitive way of looking at the aftermath of a breakup, but sometimes, what’s needed is a reality check to not wallow in self pity more than we have to. Sometimes when we’re down in that funk, questioning whether we’re even loveable in the first place, we miss the fact that just because the love that we assumed would last forever, didn’t; doesn’t mean that we can’t love again (and be loved again) in the future. ‘Somebody Else Will’ reminds us of this, as is arguably one of the lyrical standouts of that particular EP, and of the 2014/15 period and era of country music, full stop.
As of this moment now, Mickey’s greatest accomplishment would be her debut album Remember Her Name. Released in September 2021, Remember Her Name was created in the wake of the civil and racial unrest that was exacerbated and highlighted through the murder of George Floyd back in May 2020. Coupled with the start of COVID-19 around that time, and an already polarising time because of Donald Trump and everything that came with that, led to a perfect storm of impetus and anticipation for such an album as this. People were ready for an album that stood tall and addressed some of the things that were happening in society that were unfortunately being trivialised and ‘swept under the rug’…because they were. Swept. And while some could say that Mickey’s debut album didn’t create enough stir in the country music industry, what I say is this- that the debut album did enough for the conversation about race, women in country music, and black women in positions of influence, to continue, and for the discussion about these things, to happen in a respectful, civilised manner.
Because in all honesty, and what I’ve said in previous paragraphs in this blog, people move into their camps that they become so entrenched in, and if people only surround themselves with people who continuously agree with them all the time, then the elusive progress people so desperately want, is in fact just that…an illusion. Because to surround yourself with people who always agree with you 100%, means to not really address what is going on at a deep root level, which is this- that some people feel threatened by Mickey and her music, because she is doing something with it, that can, may, and even have the potential to change the landscape of country music, music, and society today, and that is a good thing. These sensitive issues need to be discussed. There’s no shying from it, and maybe, just maybe, and album like Remember Her Name is what is needed in today’s polarising climate, for us to sit up and take notice, that if a black female country artist can have their debut full-length album chart at #1, then maybe, just maybe, the content and subject matter in these selections of songs ought to be something we need to take a look at, right?
But before we delve into one of 2021’s standout country albums and discuss pivotal themes in various songs, let us visit a few singles along the way, that brought Mickey from her 2015 self-titled EP to her 2021 full length debut- namely the singles ‘Heartbreak Song’, ‘Nice Things’ and ‘Sister’. Released in 2016, 2017 and 2019 respectively, Mickey’s three songs still have an independent/joyous feel, while still maintaining her message of hope through the heartbreak: and being the support for people also going through heartbreak too. And while there are a few more singles Mickey unveiled to us around that time as well (songs like ‘Crazy’, ‘Without a Net’, ‘Hold On’, ‘Heaven Down Here’, ‘Boys’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’, of which all will be discussed about later in the blog), it is the three of ‘Sister’, ‘Heartbreak Song’ and ‘Nice Things’ that really solidify Mickey as a powerful artist throughout the years of 2015 – 2020, and remind us of her place within an industry that is still predominately white, but also on the road to change, hope, reconciliation and healing, as we see that black people (and other minorities) have just as much of a place within industries as anyone else.
‘Heartbreak Song’ released in 2016; and features a more buoyant Mickey in her approach to singing and how she states in the track that she’s done with singing heartbreak songs, and that she finally knows that she’s better off without this person, and that she’s ok about it too. With this song and it’s personal meaning carrying on from the subject matter and person described in the track ‘Better Than You Left Me’, Mickey’s ability to draw from personal experiences makes her music all the more appealing, and this is no different in this 2016 single. Mickey reminds us that often after a breakup, there’s a time period that happens where you know in your head that you’re better off without this person, but it doesn’t necessarily travel down to your heart…yet. ‘Heartbreak Song’ is when both the head and the heart compute together, and you realise that being without this person isn’t the end of the world. That there’s a bit of a lag between knowing something in your head, and knowing it in your heart, and that that’s ok. As Mickey herself expresses the story behind ‘Heartbreak Song’, we see that ‘…this song came about when I was on the road with Brad Paisley. I was in Chicago, and that’s where my ex is from, and I ended up running into a family member of his. She says to me that apparently, he’s going around bragging that you wrote ‘Better Than You Left Me’ about him. So, I’m thinking, oh really? Is that right? So, I’m going to write another song about you, about how I actually feel about you now. I’m not bitter about him anymore. I guess you could say he’s my muse now…’ Yes, breakups are hard, and yes, breakups aren’t planned. But you can learn and grow from them, and over time, it won’t even be heartbreak songs that are written, but rather, it’ll be songs of remembrance- remembering the good times spent, and being mindful that every circumstance in said relationship, good and bad, is being used to make us into people of more resilience and empathy, of compassion and forgiveness of others. And if a breakup can do that and help other people in their own grief in the process, then I guess who am I to judge the process of what and who God uses, to bring about such a change as this?
‘Nice Things’ released in 2017, and carries along with the heartbreak-theme, this time, delivering a situation and scenario in the track, where the persona is willing to give their heart to the other person, but the other isn’t willing to share their heart, because ‘…momma always said, you can’t have nice things…’ It’s a sign that sometimes, childhood trauma and things of the past can affect you more than you should, and if you’ve been told for forever long, that you are not worthy of love- to give it and to receive it; then no matter how much you want to connect with and to another person later on in life, it would usually go pear shaped, because of the unresolved hurt and bitterness that may come from being told you weren’t worthy when you were young. Yes, breakups are hard, but it’s always harder when said breakup is underlined with all these expectations placed upon the people involved in the relationship breakup, especially the unsaid expectations that people assume of each other. ‘Nice Things’ peels back the layer, and reminds us that behind every breakup, there’s people that have spoken into the lives of the people that have broken up, and more often than not, it’s not great things being said.
The final ‘single’ by Mickey before Remember Her Name that I’m to discuss in depth is ‘Sister’, that released in 2019, and delivers a more upbeat and refreshing sound compared to a lot of Mickey’s emotive and compelling music of the past. Instead of singing about her own heartbreak and delivering messages related to her own recovery relationally, this song has Mickey declaring that she’s going to be the help for someone else who may be going through things that Mickey could be equipped with helping. Appropriately titling the song ‘Sister’, Mickey showcases this song for all her ‘sisters’- people who share the common experience of a black woman, or just for people who are struggling to be a woman; and reminds them, that ‘…sister, I got your back on the long drunk stumble home, sister, I’ll be your “Hell yeah!” when all you ever heard was “No”, I’m your speed-dial call, I’m your late-night cry, I’m your shotgun seat, yeah, I’m your ride or die, sister, you’re gonna hurt but you ain’t gotta hurt alone…’ The song is your ultimate support-track for women, reminding us all, that there’re people in life that are going through difficult times, and then there are people in life that are supporting the people that are going through such times. And oftentimes, the people that rush to support others are those who have lived these experiences themselves. As Mickey relays herself about the song, ‘…sisterhood is truly what gets me through every day. I have two sisters, but anyone who knows me knows I call all the women in my life sister. I wrote this song during a time when I challenged myself to write more honestly, be more open about my feelings, and reflect on how I’ve been uplifted by so many women in my life. ‘Sister’ is about my love relationship with all my sisters, and how we lean on each other through highs and lows…’ ‘Sister’, ‘Heartbreak Song’ and ‘Nice Things’ show us just a slither of the calibre of Mickey’s music (that is further expounded in Remember Her Name), and even back then, her ability was starting to be recognised as something that country music hadn’t seen at that time. Now with her ability full on display with her debut full-length album, we see that Mickey’s presence in country is as much needed, as it is also an honour for the country genre to even get to ‘have’ Mickey in that space. Because Mickey could’ve gone to any other music genre if she wanted to. Maybe in another multiverse or alternate earth (if those actually exist!), Mickey chose rap, R&B, blues or even jazz ahead of country. But here on Earth right now, she’s in the country genre. For a great reason. To push the envelope and speak about issues deep to her heart. Her work on Remember Her Name alone ought to be enough to even be considered as someone impactful and influential, and with songs like ‘Black Like Me’ and ‘What Are You Gonna Tell Her?’, Mickey’s relevance in country music, and to a wider spectrum of music in general, ought not to be questioned. She is impactful and influential in her own right, and her debut album is evidence of this.
Remember Her Name dropped digitally last year in September. A review of that said album is coming here on this site, very soon, but till that time, what we all can settle for is this- reviews for Remember Her Name from other publications online- Saving Country Music, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Slant Magazine, Variety, EW, Metacritic, and Taste of Country; have all given their two-cents worth on the album. I will too in the not too distant future, but as of right now, I figured I’d let other people have the reins and speak highly about Mickey’s debut album, as we see from these reviews, of the unanimous support the public (and critics) have for this musician that is shaking up country music in a way that hasn’t really been done before in the past. Sure, there’s been black artists within the realms of country in the past, like Darius Rucker, Charley Pride and Aaron Neville; but in terms of current country artists that are changing perceptions about the genre by and large, I firmly believe Mickey is leading the charge, and succeeding at it as well. Remember Her Name is not only an album that has changed the life of Mickey forever, but has also been etched within the minds and memory of country music as a whole- Mickey’s song ‘Black Like Me’, originally from her preceding EP Bridges, is as emotive as it is compelling, and would probably to date, be Mickey’s magnum opus, a work that stands the test of time to remind us of a certain point in time (current modern day times) where black lives mattered all the more, because of the disproportionate nature of how they have been treated for some time yet.
‘Black Like Me’ the song shares the same title from the 1961 book Black Like Me– Mickey herself has even stated that the song’s inspiration comes from said book, and how in the book, journalist John Howard Griffin underwent radiation and treatment to darken his skin and pass off as a black man, in the deep heated redneck south during the segregation period…why do it anyway? Maybe it’s because John himself wanted to see how black people lived so that that maybe he could empathise with them. Sure, in the book he took it way to the extreme (altering his own physique to that of a black man), but what is still said in the book remains the same today- that in order to really relate to someone else who is different than you, you need to see the world through their eyes, however you believed it could be done for you so that you can gain a better perspective on life and people who believed and looked different than you. Maybe John Howard Griffin thought that the only way for him to empathise with the black man is to ‘become’ one himself. Surely nowadays it ought not to come to ‘that’ in order for people of different race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic status, to come together and try to understand each other from another’s POV, even if you don’t fully understand right now. I guess that’s essentially what ‘Black Like Me’ is about. To view life through a lens that isn’t really your own to begin with, and to hopefully gain a perspective on things that you may not have had to begin with. And it’s ok to admit that you are a little biased to your camp of _____, we all are, to some certain degree. The person who is willing to admit that they don’t know what they don’t know, and to judge not, based on whatever group you’re in, is who’ll be the bigger man (and the better man) in the end.
‘Black Like Me’ has really changed the game for country music in general, but there’s also a lot more other songs to discuss and delve into in this blog post that are maybe equally as important as ‘Black Like Me’, but won’t necessarily have the same traction as it (for obvious reasons), like ‘Heaven Down Here’, a plea from Mickey to God directly, prayerfully asking Him to bring a little more ‘heaven’ down here on earth, longing for help to come in…well any form that the Lord knows how; or even ‘What Are You Gonna Tell Her?’, a song that poses the question of talking and discussing the topic of race to young people, and what to tell someone who’s believed the best in people, only for them to realise and find out, either the easy or the hard way, that life is much more nuanced, and less black and white than this young person initially thought. There’s even songs on Remember Her Name like the title track, that divulges this notion and understanding that we as people and basic humans, need to continually remember the trailblazers and pioneers of a certain cause/community, and in the song’s case, remembering Breonna Taylor, and understanding that police brutality is a thing, and not something made-up, fictitious, or even, a ‘thing of the past’; while ‘Love My Hair’ really speaks to how a black woman’s hair is deeply connected and rooted into their personal identity, that when someone speaks ill of their hair and makes fleeting or passing comments about their appearance, they’re unintentionally speaking ill about them as people (or maybe, the people making said comments do so intentionally as well…which is very sick if that’s the case).
‘All American’ challenges listeners, that the people who you so hatefully despise, are just as much as an American as you- or as Mickey states it herself, ‘…this song embodies everything that makes America special. From a Texas sky to New York City lights and Daisy Dukes to dookie braids, despite all our differences, we are all American…no matter where you’re from, your race, your creed, who you love. You’re all American. Remember that…’; and ‘Different’ tries to give people permission to be just that- different, and remember that being different isn’t necessarily wrong, that what we have that is uniquely ours ought to be expressed outwardly with boldness and confidence so that the world can see and know that what we have to offer and give the world, our ‘differences’, is something that makes us stronger, both individually and as a collective group of ____ (Australians, Americans, people from the U.K., etc.). Mickey also delves into songs like ‘Lay it on Me’, a gospel-tinged melody that is an ode and an honouring to Mickey’s own husband who has sacrificed a fair amount so that Mickey could pursue her dreams, while ‘Higher’ continues Mickey’s ode to people in her life that have sacrificed so that she could have the opportunities that she’s had- giving thanks to people and acknowledging that ‘…when I’m down, when I’m low, when my wings feel broke, when the stars feel too far to touch, you lift me up…when I’m lost in the dark, I just look for your spark, you light me up like the Fourth of July, like a firework in the sky…’
‘Do You Really Want to Know’ highlights the massive problem with superficial culture right now, and Mickey tries to allow us to get to the root of the issue…which is this- when we ask, ‘how are you’, we have to mean what we say. We’d actually want to care about the person if we ask the question. But most people don’t really care. Yes, they ask ‘how are you’, but they don’t really want a real genuine answer. They just want people to say ‘fine, you?’, and then they now have permission to speak about themselves, which is what they really wanted to do in the first place. Or as Mickey plainly puts it through the lyrics of the song, ‘…really, I been living in survival mode, really, I’m just doing my best to be intentional, and don’t say, “Hello, how you doing?” if you don’t really care to know, cause really, I’ll just say I’m good to keep you comfortable, but if I tell you the truth, will your heart be big enough to hold it? Let my guard down and let you in, will you believe it, or see it as weakness? ‘Cause I got a lot on my mind tonight, so don’t ask me why if you don’t really wanna know…’ Hopefully through this song we can become more intentional about our pursuits about other people, and that if we really ask a question, then that really means we want to know about them, rather than asking to soothe our own conscience, from time to time. Sort of like the overused phrase ‘I’ll pray for you’, when in reality, that phrase itself was the prayer…and then you go on about your day. These are the things that are discussed heavily in Remember Her Name, and while much of the subject matter is indeed uncomfortable for the casual country music listener, it is nevertheless indeed important for us to hear and think about. Because if these songs don’t become vessels of truth and change, then what would they be instead?
‘Words’ showcase just how much words really impact and affect a person and their self-esteem (especially a young black woman and them hearing the damaging words they do hear), as this under-the-radar track reminds me thematically like the Hawk Nelson song ‘Words’ that speaks about this similar issue; while ‘Slow Dancing in the Living Room’ allows a different side of Mickey to shine- one that shows her to know the importance of slowing down and shutting the world off in order to prioritise the mental, physical and spiritual health of the person, ahead of the endless pressures that life and society challenge us to keep up with. Remember Her Name then ends with a re-recorded version of ‘Better Than You Left Me’, alongside a cover of Beyonce’s ‘If I Was a Boy’, a song that somehow fits on the album, even though that song was written in the 2000s, long before any of Mickey’s songs here. In that track, we see the persona stating, that if she were a boy, she’d get treatment far different from what she was seeing. Adding to another deeper layer is this- that if she were a boy, she’d know how to treat a girl, because she’s seen girls (and women) be treated so wrongly before, that she’s know how to do it right. Then there’s the understanding that if maybe the boys stood up and treated women right, then maybe the women won’t feel as if it is their responsibility to speak up and treat people right, because it would’ve been already done anyway. ‘If I Were a Boy’ really speaks to the heart of roles in society, and whether the roles we’ve understood to be much more ‘nurturing’ that has historically been tasked to women to undertake, can easily be done by men, and what that’ll look like in the end.
So, there you have it…Mickey Guyton’s album Remember Her Name, for lack of a better term and phrase. Sure, that’s not all of the songs on the album that I just discussed (more in the review, coming soon), but that’s most of them. And while Remember Her Name and these songs on the album will be remembered within the realms of country music for months and maybe even years to come, I sometimes feel that it’s the songs by artists that aren’t attached to any album that seem to still deliver emotionally; but may not necessarily be as popular on a mainstream level, because they’re not attached to any album. Funny logic, I know, but that could totally be true…and in Mickey’s case, there’re a plethora of other songs unveiled by Mickey aren’t attached to either Remember Her Name or her two EPs of her past, songs that are still objectively good in their own right, but won’t necessarily become as big as ‘Black Like Me’, or as big as any song on her album, because…well, it’s not on any full-length album, right? ‘Bridges’ is the title track to Mickey’s EP Bridges that was unveiled shortly before her full-length debut album, and in ‘Bridges’ the song, we see Mickey longing for metaphorical bridges to be built between two people seemingly on the opposite sides of a chasm. Can bridges be built and people see from different sides of the same issue, or has that ship sailed forever, never to be reconstructed and reconciled again? As Mickey states it herself, ‘…when I wrote “Bridges,” that was the song that connects everything, because at the end of the day, the reason why I’m here is, I’m fighting for equality and love. That’s literally all I want, is equality and love, and that song “Bridges” is that. It’s like; when you think of bridges: What do bridges do? It connects land, it connects people, and so, that’s where that song came from, and that’s kind of the hope that I was feeling, because, I live in downtown Los Angeles, and I was seeing a lot of the protests that were happening [following the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis] — that were so peaceful, by the way, and [featured] people coming together and standing together, and all races out there loving each other and wanting equality. That’s what I saw…’ ‘Without a Net’, a song from the Documentary Film ‘Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story’, reminds us all to keep pushing forward ‘without a net’, to often go through life boldly, and that may mean not having plan b’s, c’s or d’s, because when you truly know what you want to do and accomplish in life, you don’t have a plan b outside of that. That doesn’t mean you’re cocky or you’re full of yourself, so high on your abilities that you don’t have a back up plan. It just means that you know what God has placed on your heart to do and accomplish, and that when God lights a fire and a spark in our lives, He will bring about the completion of what we’ve been longing to bring about into this world through a way of us being obedient to the Father’s leading.
‘Hold On’, a song Mickey performed for the soundtrack of the inspirational movie Breakthrough, encourages us to hold onto Christ during the times that we’re afraid, with this song, in some places being sung from God’s POV, and in other places the song sung from the POV of a friend, lending their support to the persona who’s going through literal hell. We hear the powerful words of how we ought to ‘…hold on, hold on, I’ll be your hope I’ll be your lifeline, I’ll never stop fighting, so hold on, hold on, hold on to me…’, while the Mickey duet ‘Boys’ hits hard with the theme of boys and what they think, about girls, themselves, and life. Then the song in the chorus flips it all on its head, and just when you’re thinking that the song is comparing what boys and girls believe about life, it’s then really about what boys believe, v what men do. It’s a comparison between boys and men, and realising that sometimes, you just ought to grow up, man up, and evolve your values and beliefs, from what boys deem to be ‘important’, to what ought to be a priority according to men. Mickey Guyton then tries her hand at Metallica with her cover of ‘Nothing Else Matters’, a song that places things in perspective and states that nothing else matters except what we believe about ourselves and our own values and ethics (and whether we stand by them in times of difficulty, or whether we cave, follow the crowd, and lose our beliefs for the sake of the world), while ‘Crazy’, the other lone non-single ‘single’, is a cover- the original by Patsy Cline, and a reminder that a pioneering song from long ago can still be remade and reimagined into a track that really still has meaning and impact, even in today’s day and age. Originally written by Willie Nelson, the song was Patsy’s biggest hit- it speaks about being so in love with someone that people immediately think and assume that they are indeed crazy for even loving the person in the first place.
So, there you go. Mickey Guyton and her music. Though she’s been making music since 2014 with the release of her acoustic album way back then, it’s only been recently with the unveiling of Remember Her Name that we’ve realised the importance of Mickey and her music. She’s been making the same music all along though. It’s just that listeners have caught on to her music at a much later date. And that’s ok though. Usually when we ‘discover’ a ‘new’ artist, we think they’re relatively new. And they are, in the sense that they were relatively unknown before, and now they’re a ‘household name’. But usually, they’ve been working at their craft for quite some time. They’ve been grinding; at it for years upon years, and hopefully when we’ve discovered an artist and their music, who they were before they were ‘discovered’ is the same as who they are after. It’s an authenticity issue, and even a self-control one too. More often than not, when people are ‘discovered’ after years of independent music, their tone and style shifts, to not of themselves, but rather, of their management’s. Not really the artist’s fault though, they’re just following the recommendations of their label of what to create and what is popular, but the influential and impactful artists know who they are as artists and as people, and are bold with their music and style, in spite of label pressure and public opinion. Sure, artists and bands are allowed to change their style throughout their career if they want to. But it takes true character and determination to know what your style is and stick with it as long as you can, in spite of everything else. And Mickey Guyton has done that. At least Mickey has done that in her career thus far- her 2014 acoustic work is just as enthusiastic and passionate as her work on Remember Her Name, as it should be. Her ability to craft a personal story is evident on her earlier work alongside her most recent body of music. And that, in and of itself, is something worth celebrating.
Mickey’s presence in country music is needed. It’s crucial. It challenges an industry going through positive change; and reminds us that being different is ok. But in order to be different, you have to know what the ‘norm’ is; and know who you are as a person in relation to the norms of society. For when you know who you are, you will know what needs to change (and what needs to stay the same), both in you and in others. Mickey’s done that. She knows she’s a black woman in an industry that’s predominately white. She knows that the cards are stacked against her. But she also knows that her message of encouragement and hope is too important to lay down and let other people tell her things for her. For her music is one of boldness, one of compassion, and one of empathy, something that is much respected for, especially during a time where people are lacking in all three. To speak truth takes guts for doing it, and a strong belief for sticking by it. And Mickey’s music does that, especially songs like ‘Black Like Me’, ‘Heaven Down Here’, ‘What are you Going to Tell Her?’ and ‘Sister’, that remind us that changing the culture through conversation and discussion is going to be hard, but nevertheless worth it in the end. It may take some time, and it could feel as though it’s a ‘3 steps forward, 2 steps back’, but ultimately in the end, if the Lord is leading, then nothing is going to stop it, even if the people that are opposing it, are Christians themselves. Because there is something beautiful and wonderful when God uses things, people, and events that you may not expect, to further what He wants for the world and humanity. Mickey’s music is such music that falls into this category, of music used by the Lord, and we don’t even know it.
Because the most beautiful moments arise in the music that isn’t even trying to be anything but honest, and allowing the song itself, through God Himself and His love & mercy, work in people’s hearts slowly but surely, etching away at people’s stone hearts, and changing the heart of stone to a heart of flesh, thereby allowing the heart to beat for the things that He longs for in this world. What a beautiful sight it is; and will be. And Mickey is being a part of this joyous process. So are The Shires, Riley Clemmons, First To Eleven, Sofia Carson, Concrete Castles, Amy Shark, Ava Max, & Apollo Ltd. And that is a wonderous thing to witness in this day and age where the concept of Christian and mainstream music isn’t being as segregated as it once was before. If God can use Balaam’s donkey to speak to Balaam, then who are we, mere humans, to say what we believe God can and cannot use for His glory and our good? Let’s just be on the ride and watch in amazement to see how God brings certain artists into our lives when we don’t expect it; and uses them to speak about things that are on His heart to discuss. Like justice, mercy, nostalgia, things of the past, the songs of yesteryear, homegrown music, the Christian music of now, the Christian music of our youth, music from other countries…you get the picture. Mickey’s inclusion in such an inaugural list of artists, is nothing less than a privilege, and something to be considered an honour, to even be part of such a list. Mickey’s music is moving, compelling and heartfelt. She may not be the most popular artist within country music now, and that’s ok. She’s speaking truth in her music, and maybe, just maybe, that’s all that matters. We’ll just have to wait and see. Well done Mickey for the discography of music released thus far, looking forward to the continual impact of Remember Her Name in the upcoming months and years ahead.
Does Mickey Guyton make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Black Like Me’, ‘Remember Her Name’, ‘Better Than You Left Me’ and ‘Heaven Down Here’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!
‘…It wasn’t something I was intentionally trying to do [speak about systemic sexism and racism]. There was no media strategy to get me to this point. It’s like God aligned all of this; he put this music on my heart. I hope it encourages everybody else to really start singing their truth. To be frank, I was inspired by pop music and how honest they have been (recently) in their music. I had forgotten that feeling, because that’s what made me love country music — because they sang real songs — and was why I wanted to be a part of this genre. Then something happened where everybody only wanted light and fluffy party songs, and it was really difficult for me to find my footing in that. So I just made my own footing…the response [the ‘Black Like Me’] has been quite shockingly big for me. That song was so close to my heart with the things I had been dealing with within the industry, and that I’ve dealt with through my life. There is a lot of pain that I’ve been feeling for a long time, and that I’ve felt unable to talk about because people don’t like uncomfortable conversations. I thrive in uncomfortable conversations, because out of those comes healing, and we can get better. The idea came from a book that I read, “Black Like Me,” that was written by a white man in the 1960s, John Howard Griffin, who darkened his skin through radiation and went to the deep South to see what it was like to be a Black man in America. And this song is just saying: step outside of your shoes for a second and see what it is like to be someone else and then you’d understand. Before I wrote “Black Like Me,” I was already feeling these feelings of sadness, of being within an industry that frowns upon you speaking about injustice happening in society. I’ve felt silenced for a very long time…part of it was my doing. And part of it was seeing the cancel culture, which started within country music during the Dixie Chicks. When you’re already a woman and already not getting played on radio, the last thing you want to do is say one more thing to stop them from wanting to play you altogether. I felt like I was walking on eggshells a lot. But if you’re speaking the truth in love. I’m not here to shame anybody. I’m just begging people in my industry to want to stand with me and figure this out…’