At the most recent Grammy Awards ceremony in March, the country singer Mickey Guyton performed “Black Like Me,” a song that had made her the first Black woman ever nominated for solo country performance and ultimately changed the course of her career. Still, the trophy went to Vince Gill.
This time around, Guyton is back, and she has increased her odds.
When the nominations for the 64th annual Grammys, to be held on Jan. 31 in Los Angeles, were announced on Tuesday, the Texas-born singer and songwriter was recognized in three categories — best country album, best country song and best country solo performance — for her debut full-length, “Remember Her Name,” and its title track. That puts an album with largely unprecedented tracks like “Different” and “Love My Hair” alongside some of the genre’s heaviest hitters, including Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton.
Fresh off a flight on Tuesday evening, Guyton, who has also made a name for herself as an outspoken activist in notoriously insular Nashville, discussed by phone how her second batch of nominations differed from her first and what exactly makes something country. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How are you feeling?
Of course I found out on a plane. I’ve been dealing with a sick child, so I haven’t been able to process anything. I didn’t even know the nominations were coming out until this morning. I was on the plane and I was texting my husband, like, “Hear anything?” “Nope.” Then all of a sudden I got all these text messages.
I just feel very — what’s the word? Grateful. Relieved? Because I followed my instincts. This whole album came from me and what I thought I should release, and that’s something I’ve never done. I’ve always leaned on everybody else to make these decisions for me. This time, it was my decisions. It goes to show: I was right.
That must feel validating.
That’s the word — I feel validated. Like, ugh, thank God. Because there was doubt cast upon this project before I released it. So now to see the response, I just feel relieved.
Last Grammys you became the first Black woman nominated for best solo country performance and played “Black Like Me” on the show. This time, you’re back in the same category, plus two other nominations in the country field. Does it feel different the second time around?
It does. All my songs are pretty socially conscious, and this one was that, too, but it was actually my own story. The other song [“Black Like Me”] was my story, but it was so many other people’s story. This time it’s all on me. It’s so personal. “Remember Her Name” — people tried to talk me out of even titling my album that. Normally I would have acquiesced. But I said no, it’s called “Remember Her Name” for a reason.
You’ve also put yourself at the forefront of this growing movement in Nashville regarding equality and respect for Black artists, female artists and Black female artists. Do you think there’s been progress?
I do. I really, truly do. I get messages from not only Black women but women, period, feeling encouraged — and men! Feeling encouraged to just be 100 percent who they are. For so long there’s just been this formula, this box that we’re all supposed to fit in. And the reality is that the box never existed. You don’t have to bend the knee to the system in order to succeed.
How do you balance the idea of personal progress — the successes you’ve found — and broader, institutional progress? Is it ever tough to try to disentangle the two?
Sometimes it is and I suffer because I’ve got two different feet in both areas. But from looking at the way things have been done in the past, I’ve realized that it’s not enough for one country artist, one person of color, to make it every now and again — every 25 years, every 5 years, every 10 years. That’s not going to sustain itself. There’s power in numbers.
In addition to the Grammys, you’ve performed at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, co-hosted and been nominated at the ACMs, been nominated at the CMAs, you’re performing at the Thanksgiving parade and the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Sometimes it feels like you’re everywhere except country radio. Why haven’t they caught up?
You know, you should ask them. You should go ahead and call them. It’s truly unfortunate, but I can’t spend my nights fretting over that. That’s their decision. I’m just going to keep pressing forward. There are other avenues for people to listen to me, and they’re finding me — and thank God for that.
Is that something you, your team and your label are still pushing for — a breakthrough there?
No. It would be beautiful. I would absolutely accept if they did choose to want to support me. But I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Absolutely not.
There was some slight controversy regarding the country album category this year when it was decided by the Recording Academy’s genre screening committees that Kacey Musgraves’s new album, “Star-Crossed,” did not qualify and belonged in pop. As someone whose validity in the genre has been questioned, do you have feelings about what makes an album country enough?
I don’t think it’s our job to define what is and what isn’t in a genre. If the artist is telling you that it is, I feel like that’s enough and we should accept it. Music is relative and art is art. Country music has expanded so much. The lines are blurred. Hopefully in the future we’re not made to have to make those decisions. If an artist is telling you, “I’m country,” you should take that at face value.
Morgan Wallen was totally shut out of Grammy nominations, even with one of the best-selling releases of the year and after an album of the year nod from the CMAs. You were one of the first people to take a stand after he was seen using a racial slur, asking, “What exactly are y’all going to do about it. Crickets won’t work this time.” Do you think this sends a message, or has the industry’s response been too mixed?
The industry has been very mixed, to me. But that’s all on them. I hope that Morgan is on the path to healing and doing the work. I don’t find satisfaction in any artist suffering. I hope people feel the weight of their actions, but I don’t ever want to see anybody fail.
Do you have favorite albums among the nominees, outside of country music? Who are you excited to see at the show, either onstage or backstage?
I really enjoyed Olivia Rodrigo’s album. I was in the air when all the nominees came in, so I don’t even know everybody yet. But I’m just assuming Olivia Rodrigo.
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