Capitol Records Nashville / UMG Recordings
Release Date: September 24th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Remember Her Name
- All American
- Love My Hair
- Lay It On Me
- Dancing in the Living Room
- Do You Really Wanna Know
- Black Like Me
- What Are You Gonna Tell Her?
- If I Were a Boy
- Better Than You Left Me (Fly Higher Version)
Mickey Guyton has been in and around the music industry for quite some time. Since entering into country music in the mid-2010s and unveiling a slew of EP’s, she gained fame and popularity with this unveiling of Remember Her Name in September 2021- to date, it’s been one of the country albums of last year that’s been unanimously enjoyed and loved across the board (the others being Carly Pearce’s 29: Written in Stone, Thomas Rhett’s Country Again: Side A, Lainey Wilson’s Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ and Cassadee Pope’s Thrive). Now here in 2022, around 10 months later, and after a while of just thinking and pondering about Mickey and her music, I’ve since decided to write about my thoughts on the album as a whole. It’s not a ‘review’ per se (there’s plenty of other review sites for that), but it is me writing some of my own thoughts about some standout songs on this album as a whole. Since Remember Her Name released, I’ve since written about Mickey Guyton the artist, in a blog post about her impact and influence in not just country music, but in music in general, now and into the future. And with songs like ‘Black Like Me’ and ‘Heaven Down Here’, it was a no brainer for me to write about her and her music, to include her in a list where I’ve also written about artists like Riley Clemmons, First To Eleven (and Concrete Castles), Cory Asbury, Ava Max, The Shires, Lucy Thomas and Apollo LTD, to name a few. While I maybe would’ve liked to have written this ‘review’ in a more timely fashion, what I will write still remains true and still holds, after 10 months, which is this- Mickey’s music is relevant and unique, timeless and challenging, and if this album is any indication of where her country music trajectory is going to go, then perhaps, Mickey Guyton’s music and her impact on country music, music as a whole, and black performers of music, is sure to continue to rise exponentially in the future as we see one of today’s most needed artists in the industry in quite some time. Mickey’s music may not necessarily be the music that is the most popular or even noticed, but that’s ok. Songs like ‘Black Like Me’ will be noticed, and maybe, just maybe, it can still be good if the song is known and impactful in people’s lives, even if people may not know the artist who’s singing it? Maybe.
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.
Remember Her Name dropped digitally last year in September, and there’s been a plethora of reviews for this album between the release date of September last year, and now- 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, and as we see from these reviews, there’s a sense of unanimous support 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 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 on Remember Her Name that are maybe equally as important as ‘Black Like Me’, but won’t necessarily have the same traction as it (for obvious reasons), like ‘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 (I don’t think I really need to delve into all the songs when I’m ‘reviewing’ this album 10 months later) but that’s most of them. And so, as we reflect on this album as a whole, we can see that many of these songs are delivered with such poignancy and emotion, heart, and passion, as we are reminded that topics and issues like these ones discussed in the album, are much needed to hear in society right now. I don’t know if people are ready for a ‘controversial’ or even a ‘political’ album, but nevertheless, Mickey has delivered one that succeeds in doing both, and the result is this- an album that is unanimously championed across the board, an album that allows us to have these conversations, an album that can hopefully bridge the gap between people of differing opinions and beliefs about…well, just about everything. Remember Her Name is an album full of hope, but it also paints a painful picture of what the world looks like now, thereby allowing people to hopefully spur them on to undertake something that can change what is happening now, to what they want to see happen in the future. An album that’ll be a catalyst for change, in the months and maybe even years to come; this is a must, if you love artists like Maren Morris or Carly Pearce, if you love black country artists like Jimmie Allen or Darius Rucker, or both. Well done Mickey for such a powerful and emotional album. Can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for this project, in years to come.
4 songs to listen to: Remember Her Name, Black Like Me, What Are You Gonna Tell Her?, Better Than You Left Me
RIYL: Jimmie Allen, Maren Morris, Darius Rucker, Carly Pearce, Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett