Release Date: September 11th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Heaven Down Here
- What Are You Gonna Tell Her?
- Black Like Me
Here we are in September 2020, around about 6 months from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all a bit stir crazy, we’re all feeling a little bit restless, and we’re all wondering how long this thing will last for. Not that we all want to break the rules and mingle with the community without any thought of social distancing. It’s not like that at all. It’s just that with every passing day we’re still inside, the level of despair and despondence increases. Not by much, but still by a little bit. So it’s probably fair to say that right now some of us are at breaking point. Yet with COVID-19 still hanging around, what can we do to keep ourselves occupied at home, to keep ourselves sane, and to keep ourselves encouraged and inspired as we do throughout our day to day activities via the ‘new normal’ of zoom and facetime? Well one thing that I personally have found to be a great help in my own life while I have been at home for an extended period of time (back in April), and then also into the future; has been actively listening to music. Seeing what God says through Christian and mainstream music- and I am positive that if any of you listen to a song, God will move you and inspire you and bring you hope and comfort. For me, albums from artists like Lindsay Ell, Colony House, Matthew West, Echosmith, Kelsea Ballerini, Selena Gomez, Charles Billingsley, Needtobreathe, Carly Pearce, Elevation Worship, Passion, Chris Tomlin, We The Kingdom, Caylee Hammack, Gabby Barrett and Cory Asbury have all comforted and encouraged and inspired me in my own life, as well as give me another much-needed perspective- as I see the world through a lens different to my own. The year isn’t over yet though, and with this next new artist, I am pleased to say that Bridges EP by country artist Mickey Guyton is one of the year’s most surprising EP’s in a good way, as well as one of the year’s most hopeful and thought-provoking projects! Mickey isn’t known to the world, but after many hear this release, I’m positive she will be! And that’s definitely a good thing!
I had never seen myself as an activist-artist. I was just trying to be like every other woman in country music: I just can write and sing cool songs and get recognized for it and move forward. Seeing that it’s still so hard for women in country music—you can look at the charts now—it’s just been that much more important for me to write with women, push for women, push for what is right, and to sing about what is right.
I was on my way to putting out this material, but the crazy thing is, with the turn of events and the social unrest and the pandemic, it actually inspired me that much more. I was already writing on social issues and life issues, and this just helped continue that conversation.
To tell you the honest truth, Mickey Guyton’s Bridges EP shouldn’t even be a project that resonates with me. I’m a while male who has grown up on Christian music, and with Mickey being a black woman singing country music… well that’s like oil and water, right? However I have found myself connected to many songs on Bridges EP– and it seems as if God indeed has mysterious ways of working. Because from the first note of “Heaven Down Here” to the last on “Black Like Me”, I was captivated and transfixed by one of the most honest and vulnerable releases of the entire year thus far! I first found out about Mickey’s songs through a ‘review’ of “Heaven Down Here” from country reviewer Grady Smith on Youtube– and immediately I was drawn to the relatability of the track to each and every one of us. I’ve since explored Mickey’s discography starting from latest track to earliest- and now when coming into Bridges EP and hearing how powerful and compelling Mickey’s songs are and her vocals are as well; I’ve come to the conclusion that Mickey is going to be a staple in music within the next year or so. Yep, that’s my bold prediction! Don’t believe me? Have a listen to Bridges and be amazed!
About “Heaven Down Here”: I had watched the video of George Floyd. Then I saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery running in the streets and these men hunting him down. Just treating them so inhumanely and like they don’t matter, like they’re disposable. And Breonna Taylor. I’m a very empathetic person. I didn’t even want to write that day because I was so emotional. I was writing with some of the most amazing songwriters in Nashville—Josh Kear, Gordie Sampson, and Hillary Lindsey. We wrote the song on Zoom. I looked at these sweet faces that were taking the time to write with me, and I just started sobbing. Being in country music, I didn’t feel like I mattered. We were like, “How do we write this in a way that’s not just devastating? How do we make this to where people can hear it and receive it?” We were like, “What if we’re asking God, ‘If you’re listening, if you hear anything we’re saying, can you help us out?”
About “Bridges”: That is Karen Kosowski and Emma-Lee and Victoria Banks, the magic of those women. I came up with the concept: “Y’all, instead of tearing everything down, what if we built bridges and started reaching out for the other side?” Oh my god, it gets so frustrating watching the news. I can’t even. But that was the motivation for me, because I was watching all of this. I wanted to sing a song like “Build That Bridge.” I said, “It needs to be tempo, and there needs to be angst.”
About “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?”: I had a conversation on Instagram with a girl from the Philippines. She was trying to decide if she wanted to actually sing or if she wanted to work in the music industry. She asked me, “Is there anything I have to look forward to? Do you think I have a shot?” I just had to be honest. I didn’t have anything really to great to tell her about the industry. Then she told me that her musical director in one of the school plays that she was in told her that she needed to get whiter makeup so she would look whiter on stage. How do you tell that to somebody, to a girl with hopes? It reminded me of myself, what I’ve gone through and how I’ve tried to alter myself to make other people comfortable with me being present and making sure I can fit in and they can see me. It was like PTSD. I’m being dramatic, but I felt that I instantly wanted to fight for her.
About “Rosé”: I wrote that song two and a half years ago because I was like, “Women don’t really have drinking country songs. Well then, why don’t we have our own?” I cannot believe that nobody had ever written a drinking country song called, “Rosé All Day.”
About “Salt”: There’s always male-bashing songs, but I wanted it to be like a cautionary tale to men. Like, “Look, there’s a lot of pretty women out there, but you got to remember what you got at home.” I think that’s something that so many women relate to. We’re sitting at home, and I trust my man, but I can’t imagine being a wife of a lot of these producers that are around all these cute women all the time. That would drive me nuts.
About “Black Like Me”: I had been in this town for a long time. I’ve felt overlooked for a long time. I felt unconsidered for a long time. I was showing up for other artists, but nobody would ever show up for me. It was really hard. That reminded me of my life growing up. I was always the only Black girl in spaces. I always felt a little like I didn’t fit in. I was called the N-word, as a child. I wanted to save that song for last, because that is the song that is most important to me. Telling my experience through country storytelling, I think, was one of the most beautiful things. Country music started with Black people, and this song, to me, bridged that gap.
This may be an unfounded generalisation, but for the better part of my life when I wasn’t listening to country, I assumed that country artist sang about girls and trucks and cars and beers and having parties… and then about more trucks and beers and cars. And also about having a good time. I’ve since had that preconception debunked by a number of artists in the country music industry as they speak about heartfelt issues that mean the most to them; but it seems as if Mickey’s Bridges is on another level. The EP opener “Heaven Down Here” is a heartfelt prayer to God, asking Him to actively do something about the calamity we face in the world today (or if He is doing something, to show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is!); and this isn’t like a song that doubts God, but rather a cry of desperation because we all need reassurance time and time again. The title track invites us all to stand together united and disregard all of the things that divide us, because when we stand united we will truly make a difference in this world; while “Rosé” and “Salt” are fun, sassy and energetic tracks- the former a song about Mickey’s favourite alcoholic beverage, and the latter a warning sign of sorts to all of the men out there who may be tempted by a ‘siren’, with Mickey relaying that she’s going to give out ‘salt’ instead of ‘sugar’. Yet it is the two singles of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” and “Black Like Me” that strike a chord with me the most- and if you don’t weep or cry or get emotional, or get deep and reflective by the end of these tracks… well then you’re obviously not human! “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” is directed to a girl from the Philippines with hopes and dreams similar to Mickey, and Mickey relaying to her the facts of life yet also trying to reassure her that things will get better, while “Black Like Me” speaks about racial injustice and discrimination- and is THE song to listen to if you only listen to one from this EP! A song similar in theme to John Legend’s “Preach”; no doubt we all need to commit to start making an active change in the lives of those around us once we hear “Black Like Me”; and once we start living out this change, then we can say that we’re truly impacted by this song. And so should we be! Just read the lyrics of the chorus of “Black Like Me”, detailing the hard life of a black person… and then you can realise that if we are white, we all are definitely better off than what we probably could ever think!
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
[Black Like Me] 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.
I would get frustrated when people would post and then add a Bible verse to it. It felt to me that they were trying to cushion the blow, or maybe get people not to say as mean things to them. And in my view, like, Jesus didn’t have anything to do with this! Jesus wasn’t mistreating Black people. Don’t add Him into your narrative! That was frustrating for me. But at the same time, I appreciate it — whether the responses were great or not, I was thankful. I needed to see people say something. Because if no one said anything, I don’t know how I could be within the industry and be okay. I needed them to say that Black lives matter because I am Black. I have experienced discrimination. I have been called the N-word within this industry. And if they didn’t say anything — and there are still people that have not said anything, and I know their names and I’m sure you know them too; we all do. We’ve all been watching… If you don’t say something, it’s saying that you don’t care about me. That I don’t belong here is what that says to me. It’s not saying that blue lives don’t matter. It’s not saying that white lives don’t matter. It’s specifically saying that I don’t matter — that’s how it feels, when they say nothing, whether that’s their intention or not.
As I’ve said before, Mickey Guyton isn’t a household name. But I hope through this EP that people won’t continue to sleep on her; and she will finally get the recognition that she deserves. Mickey has had a hard slog over the years- she’s been signed to Universal Music Group for a long while now… yet this release at this time seems right. Considering COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter and everything else that has happened in 2020, Bridges EP could not have come at a better time. And let me just say that the entire EP is one of the few shining lights amongst a sea of sameness (Chritsian, country and otherwise!)… and believe you me, an album like this is just what we need during a pandemic that looks like it won’t end any time soon! So if you’re feeling down and miserable, and feeling like the world is against you; just listen to Mickey Guyton’s latest release. It’ll definitely put things in perspective, and have you sobbing and actively wanting to change the world!
3 songs to listen to: Heaven Down Here, What Are You Gonna Tell Her?, Black Like Me
RIYL: Hunter Hayes, Jimmie Allen, Lindsay Ell, Cassadee Pope, Carly Pearce, Maddie & Tae, Maren Morris