Mickey Guyton is changing the country music world. On Wednesday, she became the first Black woman to ever perform solo at the Academy of Country Music Awards, which is in its 55th year. Guyton took this opportunity to sing her recently released song, "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?," live from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
The song questions the listener about what they will tell their daughters in the face of harassment, abuse, and oppression. In the chorus, Guyton sings, “Will you just shrug and say it’s been that way all along? What are you gonna tell her when she figures out that all this time you built her up just so the world could let her down?” When Guyton, who is signed to Capitol Records Nashville, first performed the song in February for an audience of Country Radio Seminar members, she got a standing ovation. However, she got little traction on country radio.
The content of Guyton’s song isn’t exactly the same as Kacey Musgraves’ peppy “High Horse,” and the racism in country music means she is kept from the same level of success as people like Carrie Underwood, who she is relentlessly compared to. At the virtual press conference directly after her CMAs performance, she shared what brought her to the genre and what motivates her to stay. “The only reason why I felt that I could pursue country music is because I saw another Black woman singing country named Rissi Palmer. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Off the album Bridges, which also contains “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?,” Guyton released another single, “Black Like Me.” This single was released on June 2 just days after George Floyd’s murder. One of the most poignant lines in the song, directed at the country music elite and their fans, says, “If you think we live in the land of the free, you should try to be Black like me.” Much like Black athletes, Guyton is often told to just focus on the singing and leave her life experiences out of it.
But Guyton’s experiences are integral to who she is as an artist and as a person. Speaking to the Washington Post in August, she said, “In the country music industry, we’re about peace, love and harmony, and we don’t want to ruffle any feathers. We want everybody to feel comfortable. I’ve been in a lot of rooms where everybody else is comfortable and I’m very uncomfortable.”
Guyton’s performance on Wednesday definitely ruffled some feathers, with some Twitter commenters incorrectly asserting that women don’t experience oppression in America or that they’re done listening to her music. But the overwhelming response was positive; country music stars like Kelsea Ballerini tweeted their support and Guyton surely earned some new fans, myself included.
Watch the video here:
Photo credit: "What Are You Gonna Tell Her," via Youtube
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Madeleine Janz is a journalism student at the New School. She lives in New York City and enjoys film, as long as film means rewatching the same five rom-com's from the 90's every week. You can follow her @madilonglegs24 on Instagram and Twitter.