This piece is part of Rolling Stone’s second annual Grammy Preview special issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting. We spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a nomination — or even a statue come January — and delved into the challenges facing the Recording Academy, providing a 360-degree view of what to watch for in the lead-up to the 2022 awards.
Artist: Mickey Guyton
Eligible for: Remember Her Name
Mickey Guyton can hardly recall everything that’s happened to her since she released her trailblazing single “Black Like Me” last June. In that year-plus, the 38-year-old country singer issued a stopgap EP (2020’s Bridges), received a gift from Beyoncé, scored a Grammy nomination, performed at the awards show weeks after giving birth to her first child, and has generally cemented her role as a leading voice for the necessary and overdue conversations about the structural racism embedded into the very fabric of country music.
All the while, Guyton was putting the finishing touches on her 10-years-in-the-making debut LP, Remember Her Name, released in September. The album’s 16 tracks document the uniquely challenging road the singer has faced during her decade in Nashville, from the poignant, truth-telling “Do You Really Wanna Know” to the moving rerecording of her debut 2015 single, “Better Than You Left Me.”
“There’s a potential to really change the industry for the better,” Guyton tells Rolling Stone. “I hope I can just show everyone, no matter their age, or sexual orientation, or if they’re a mother, that you can 100 percent do it, and that’s really important. It’s so easy to write off our dreams, but you have to fight for them.”
How does it feel to finally be sharing Remember Her Name with the world?
I really do think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with this album. The songs that have gotten people’s attention [in the past year] were very, very polarizing. You either loved them or you hated them, and I guess that’s a good thing. … I’ve learned that in order to make waves, you’re going to have to disrupt some things. And you have to be prepared for that.
In order to unify, in other words, you have to risk being seen as someone who is dividing?
It’s absolutely that. In order to fix a problem, you have to address it. You can’t just sweep it under the rug and expect it to go away; you actually have to face it. That’s what this project is. But there are palate cleansers in there, too. It’s not just me singing about injustice.
There are so many layers of meaning in songs like “Lay It on Me” and “Words.”
I had a lot of these songs written even before I released “Black Like Me” — I just didn’t know the angle of them. Some, like “Higher,” I wrote in 2021. I wrote “Lay It on Me” right before the pandemic, in February . But I am such a multilayered person. When I write songs, I’m just writing about what I’m feeling, and all of these songs were written because I was feeling something. They just so happened to have brought me to this moment. I wrote “Black Like Me” a year and a half before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
I wrote “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” because I was frustrated at this industry. So often you just feel oppressed and you’re told, “Write a song for radio.” And then you think to yourself, “What does that mean?” Because all I’m hearing on the radio is either a drinking song or a breakup song. That song was all of the frustration from that.
There’s so much wisdom and perspective in “Do You Really Wanna Know.” Did you write that recently?
That’s another song I wrote right before the pandemic. When I tell you I was drinking 365 days out of the year, I was drinking 365 days out of the year. I was literally just existing. You go to those events that Nashville puts on, these little galas, and you’re sitting there, and everybody’s drinking and smiling and asking you how everything is going. Inside, I was dying. But I would always say, “I’m good. How are you?” When you’re asking someone how they’re doing, what would happen if they really told you? That song was that moment, to let people know what was really going on in my life: “I’m telling you the truth now. Here’s my truth.”
When I was being silent, and when I was doing all these fake interviews pretending like everything was good in Nashville and it wasn’t, and it still isn’t, what are you to do when I let you in that world? Are you going to accept me? Love me? Are you going to throw stones at me for telling that truth? And I have been … I was called a fucking n—er on Twitter. People said horrible things about my child, all because I’m telling my truth. People were mad about that, so that song was just me asking, “Do you really want to know?” Hopefully it inspires other people to just be honest with how they feel.
That song really challenges the idea of the country-music cliché “three chords and the truth.”
That’s what I’m trying to do. Even in the last year, I have seen other country artists being honest. The fact that TJ from Brothers Osborne came out that he was gay. The fact that another artist, Brooke Eden, had been hiding her relationship with her fiancée, a woman, finally saying, “This is me.” That’s my kind of country music. That’s what I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of country music where people can be 100 percent themselves and be accepted for it.
What was it like to perform “Black Like Me” at the Grammys this past March?
I was still surviving at that point. I had just had my baby, and then three weeks later, I was performing at the Grammys. It was truly such a special moment, having an all-Black choir and a Black cellist. On the [Grammy] stage [that night], you had three different types of country music: You had my country, you had Miranda Lambert’s country, and you had Maren Morris’ country. We all stood up there and shined in our own right. That was a moment of hopefully putting the world on notice that things are changing, that country music will never be the same after that. And it won’t. Even since then, the number of Black country singers who are getting a shot in Nashville is insane. There are some really, really good artists out there coming to this town that I think are going to make the genre that much more inclusive and expand it that much more.
You have to hope there’s a whole generation of aspiring teenage country singers seeing themselves represented in country music for the first time.
Hopefully one day I’ll be able to start a record label and sign them all. That is a huge goal of mine. It never used to be something I even thought of, but after discovering the artists I’ve discovered, I’m so inspired to give them a space to be able to release their music.
If you had to sum up the past year of your life in one word, what would you choose?