Is country music finally ready for Mickey Guyton?
8 min read
Mickey Guyton is an outlier in Nashville: black, female and, at age 36, about to release her long-awaited debut album. "I started speaking my truth," she says.
Arriving for a writing appointment on a late February afternoon, Mickey Guyton is barely through the door of collaborator Karen Kosowski's small studio, situated in the back of a converted cottage in the Berry Hill neighborhood, when she asks, "What happened yesterday?" in more colorful language. It's not an accusatory question; she's trying to make sense of an unexpected triumph.

The day before, Guyton, a polished country-pop singer who's largely been ignored by radio and, as an African American woman, falls into a demographic vastly underrepresented in the format — though not, it should be noted, in country music's historical, pre-commercial lineage — had performed at her label's showcase at the hallowed Ryman Auditorium during an annual convention for the country radio industry. All but the final act, Keith Urban, had sung one song each while radio decision-makers munched on sandwiches.

Guyton used her slot to debut a ballad called "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" that Kosowski, Victoria Banks and a third songwriter, Emma-Lee, had helped her write. Its lyrics demand reflection on the intimate effects of gender inequality. Guyton delivered them with grieved urgency, accompanied by Kosowski on piano: "She thinks that love is love / and if you work hard, that's enough / skin's just skin and it doesn't matter / and that her friend's older brother's / gonna keep his hands to himself / and that somebody's gon' believe her when she tells." The chorus spun the focus around: "But what are you gonna tell her when she's wrong?"

The room stayed silent for a beat when Guyton finished singing, then everyone rose to their feet applauding. A militant protest song this was not, but introducing it in front of an audience that's displayed considerable indifference to women's concerns was something of a radical act, and also a glimpse of Guyton's new approach.


"I literally just started speaking my truth," she says.

At today's studio session, Guyton and Banks…
Jewly Hight
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