Mickey Guyton talks sexism, racism in country music

Country star Mickey Guyton performs Dec. 1 at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in New York City. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Country star Mickey Guyton performs Dec. 1 at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in New York City. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Mickey Guyton — the first Black woman to be nominated for a Grammy for a solo performance, for her song “Black Like Me” — remembers thinking once she’d connected with a producer, that mainstream success would come to her within a couple of years. It didn’t.

“It was extremely difficult. And not only is it difficult for a Black woman, but it’s difficult for women, period, in country music,” Guyton said Tuesday on Facebook Watch’s Face to Face With Becky G. “Like, the data is there. Women are majorly discriminated against in country music, and that is wrong. You know, girls like me and girls like you are put into these boxes, and that’s where we belong. And I had people trying to tell me who I am.”

Guyton says her handlers didn’t want her to bring attention to her race.

“Imagine someone telling you that and what that does to you mentally,” she told Becky G. “You lose yourself, and I lost myself for a very long time. And that was really hard.”

The Texas native said it was only the inspiration of an earlier Black woman — Rissi Palmer, who was able to crack the country music chart in 2007 — that gave her the courage to try and make it in the genre she loves. She released her debut song “Better Than You Left Me,” in 2015, which has led to a booming career… that’s not without its challenges. 

Related: Mickey Guyton admits to not loving her skin at the beginning of her career: ‘I wished I had lighter skin and blue eyes’

For one thing, Guyton noted that something as simple as dressing up for an event or photo shoot was trickier than it needed to be.

“Like, imagine getting ready to do a music video and you have all of these people that don’t look like you discussing your hair. And being like, ‘Well, it’s nappy over there,'” Guyton said. “Glam was always an issue. I would ask them, I kept saying, ‘Does this photographer know how to shoot a Black person?’ They’d be like, ‘Well, yeah. They say they do.’ And then I’d be like, ‘OK. Well, does this makeup artist know how to do a Black person’s face?’ And they were like, ‘Well, yeah. She says she does.’ And then I would turn around in the makeup chair, and I would look dusty and crusty and ashy and gray… That was mentally debilitating for me, for you to have to walk on a red carpet or to shoot a music video knowing you don’t feel your best. And that happened to me for years, like, up until, like, 2020, I dealt with that. “

By then, Guyton had taken to doing her own research.

“I started looking on, like, social media. And I started looking,” the singer said. “I’m like, ‘OK, do they say they know how to do Black hair and makeup?’ And I’m looking and I’m like, ‘I don’t see any Black people on their page.'”

Guyton said the racial reckoning of the last few years has changed things for the better.

When Becky G noted that, “Representation matters,” in country music or elsewhere, she agreed.

“For so long I think we were just used to it,” Guyton said. “We’re used to being unseen. We’re used to the microaggressions. We’re used to the constant battles of just trying to just be who you are. And finally the veil has been lifted, and we’re like, ‘Oh, my God. How did we survive for so long?’ And that’s the point, we were just surviving. And now we’re thriving.”

Guyton released the album Remember Her Name — the name was inspired by Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was shot in her apartment by police in 2020 during a raid on the wrong residence — in September. The title track earned her two more Grammy nods, while the entire album scored a nomination for “Best Country Album.”