Credit: Phylicia J.L. Munn
Mickey Guyton On Her 10-Year Journey To Debut Album 'Remember Her Name' & Paving The Way For Black Women In Country
The GRAMMY-nominated country singer Mickey Guyton details the hardships and revelations that helped her speak her truth and become the artist she's always wanted to be
At 38 years old, Mickey Guyton is feeling on top of the world. In 2021 alone, she had her first child, hosted the ACM Awards alongside Keith Urban, and was nominated for a GRAMMY for her poignant stunner "Black Like Me," making her the first Black female solo artist to be nominated in a country category.
On Sept. 24, the country singer added her debut album, Remember Her Name, to her already stellar year. One listen of the sparkling set will have fans realizing two things: Guyton is more confident than ever, but it hasn't come easy.
As a Black woman in a predominately white-washed genre, Guyton has faced several hardships and setbacks since signing with Capitol Records in 2011. She found herself driving four hours to Atlanta to get her hair done for red carpets because there was no one in Nashville who knew how to style her hair. She received hateful messages that led her to drinking too much and into intensive therapy. And though she was signed to a record label, Guyton mostly fell under the radar, hardly getting recognition by country radio or industry players—at least not in the way she'd hoped.
"[Industry people] would always describe me as the 'girl next door,'" Guyton remembers. "I'm like, 'What if the girl next door is Black? Does that make her any less 'girl next door'?'"
After Guyton's husband (Los Angeles-based attorney Grant Savoy) advised her to speak about those experiences in her songs, things started to look up. Soon, she had impactful and super-personal songs like "Black Like Me," "Love My Hair," and "Words." Most importantly, she had the confidence to be herself.
Guyton takes listeners through her journey to happiness on Remember Her Name, which both addresses the oppression she's faced in poetic anthems such as "All American," and also reminds fans that, like she has, you can conquer any adversity you face.
Overall, the 16-track LP presents a slew of important sentiments—from the confidence-boosting title track to the thought-provoking ballad "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" It's sprinkled with upbeat moments of positivity (a drinking song for the girls titled "Rosé"; a hip-shaking ode to uniqueness called "Different") and stamped with the ultimate statement at the album's finish: a dynamic re-recording of her debut single, "Better Than You Left Me."
Below, Guyton chats with GRAMMY.com about her road to Remember Her Name, and how finding peace with her differences led to the music she's been wanting to make from the start.
I was completely blown away. I was in the nosebleed section, but I even remember what she was wearing. It wasn't that it was even about the twang, it was more about the voice. I just loved the voice.
When I was in junior high, I went to cheerleading camp. I got up there and sang [LeAnn Rimes'] "Blue." Like, yodeling "Blue." You would think people were going to be singing Mariah Carey.
Yeah, you're probably the only person in the world who can say you yodeled at cheerleading camp.
At the time when everybody was playing Spice Girls, I was listening to Shania Twain. I think it was the diva facade of country singers that I loved—and, granted, there was also the diva side of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. But Shania was so much larger than life. I also loved The Chicks, like when they covered "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac, there was just something beautiful about it. I didn't think about it as a genre thing, I just liked it.
It was genreless before the idea of genreless really became a thing.
Exactly! I would watch BET, and I would learn to do the dances in front of the TV. I listened to Aaliyah and all of that, but where I saw myself being able to be myself and be comfortable with that was in country music. That felt the most like me.
I also heard the story about how a hip-hop producer ended up introducing you to Nashville producer Julian Raymond.
I was on an episode of Wild 'N Out, just in the audience, and I became friends with this DJ [DJ D-Wrek]. At that time, I was really frustrated in my career. I wanted to sing country music, but I had no ties or any way to get [to Nashville]. I ran into the DJ at a mall, and he was like, "You sing don't you? I know a producer, and he's been looking for a Black female country singer." I'm like, "Well, I'm your girl."
I wish I had some more glamorous, hard-working story. I mean, there was a lot of work that went into that time—having three jobs, going to school, [being] broke, trying to figure out how to get to Nashville and having no ties. To meet a hip-hop DJ who had a connection with a producer that produces country, it's crazy. That just really goes to show that, whatever your destiny, it's going to happen.
So Julian was sort of your ticket to Nashville then?
Yeah, we wrote a couple of songs together, and one of them was good enough to get me a record deal. He also introduced me to my management, who managed Keith Urban, and the next thing I know I'm in Capitol Records, sitting in front of them, singing my songs and a cover of Patty Loveless' "Blame It On Your Heart."
By the time I left that meeting and got to the Riverfront Stage at CMA Fest in 2010, I was offered a record deal. [Universal Music Group Nashville Chairman and CEO] Mike Dungan called me, and he said, "Just so you know, it is really, really, really hard for women." He didn't even say Black women. He just said, "It's really hard for women. But with hard work, we can make this happen." And I thought, "Man, I got a record deal, this is going to happen for me tomorrow!" And it didn't go that way at all. Not even close. It was very hard, if not harder than Mike Dungan said.
You've talked about the conversation you had with your husband a few years ago where he suggested that you write from your perspective as a Black woman. Where do you think you'd be if that conversation hadn't happened?
I would not be here if that conversation had never happened, I can tell you that much. I would've packed up my stuff and moved back to California with my husband and figured out a job there.
Once you had that conversation with him, did it feel like these songs just started pouring out of you and things started changing? Or was it not necessarily an instant switch?
It was an instant switch. We had that conversation in 2018, and maybe two weeks later, I wrote "Black Like Me" and "Love My Hair."
It completely changed my perspective. I was like, "Wow, I can write country music based on what I've gone through. I don't have to write a song about someone's blue eyes." And that would happen—I'd be in songwriting sessions, and they would throw out blue eyes and I'm like, "Well, the person I'm dating doesn't have blue eyes, he's got brown eyes."
"I found everything wrong with myself because I didn't fit in this box. The box is imaginary, by the way."
When you announced Remember Her Name on Instagram, you wrote "I set out to create music that would make people feel self-empowered, loved, and comfortable with being themselves." Do you feel like part of the initial struggle with your music stemmed from the fact that you weren't feeling empowered yourself?
Oh, 1,000 percent. I was definitely not self-empowered. If anything, I wanted to change everything about myself. I found everything wrong with myself because I didn't fit in this box. The box is imaginary, by the way. There is no box you can put yourself in, because it doesn't even exist. But I allowed it, and it caused me to hate myself.
Once I had the realization that I was running away from everything that makes me different, I started looking at my social media. It was, like, floppy hats and [this image that] everything is awesome. And it wasn't. It was embarrassing. I cleansed my social media page of anything that reminded me remotely of that person.
Was "Black Like Me" the sonic turning point for you in writing your truth?
Yeah. I wrote "Black Like Me" at a writer's retreat. I'd never met two of these writers before, and I said, "Y'all, I have a crazy idea. I'm even scared to even say it out loud. I want to write a song called 'Black Like Me.'" Everybody's ears perked up and eyes widened. They were so excited to write something different.
When we finished recording it, I'll never forget [co-writer/producer] Nathan Chapman saying, "I think we wrote the most powerful song of your career." And he was right.
It was such a genuine moment. We wrote that song in 2018, so none of this [current] social unrest was even happening. After we wrote it, I sent it around to people in the industry and nobody really gave it any attention.
Do you think you maybe would have never put it out if the Black Lives Matter movement hadn't reignited last year?
Well, before the shutdown in 2020, I had a meeting with directors for music videos—we were going to do a sort of music video movie with "Black Like Me" and "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" The thing kind of derailed itself. But [once we did release the song], I 100 percent believe that people heard it differently.
I feel like a lot of the features I've read have focused on the oppression you've faced in the industry. I don't want to overlook that, but I did want to give you the chance to talk about the positive things you've seen come out of being so honest and really standing for something in your music.
Ah, yes, thank you! Of course, you get the negative horrific fans that say such terrible f—ing things. But I think the industry as a whole has really appreciated the change that is happening. I truly believe the industry has wanted this for a long time. I just think that we were in a hamster wheel that you just kind of go with what works.
I truly believe that this is giving people, not only hope for equality, but hope in the freedom that they can be themselves and still be accepted. That they can still push the envelope and still be accepted. I get messages like that all the time from songwriter and artist friends of mine.
I also have the support from Black female artists that are getting their shots. They constantly send me messages saying thank you. And I'm not saying it to get thanks, but it does make me happy to see them getting their much-deserved opportunities to sing country music.
The reality of it is, the only way we're going to see change is by us all walking through the door together. We've been complaining about country radio and how they don't support women. Okay, we know that now, but how do we create opportunities for ourselves, and keep pushing the needle forward?
Whether some radio station wants to support us or not, we will continue moving forward. And that's the positive spin on all of this, is that we're all moving forward. These conversations have forced all of us to look within ourselves, and to see where we're not being our authentic selves and knowing that our authentic selves are enough. We are enough.
The line "I'll never justify my skin again" in "Love My Hair" is so powerful. Since you released that song before the album came out, what kind of reaction did you receive to its message?
I've actually been trying to stay off social media. I'll go on there a little bit, but I'm trying not to look at comments, because they have been negative in the past, and that has been really bad for my mental health.
I saw that Selena Gomez said she doesn't really go on her social media and does not have it on her phone. And I'm like, "Does she miss anything? She probably doesn't miss a single thing." After reading that, I was just like, "I'm a grown-ass woman, I have sh to do. I've got a baby. I don't need to be on here."
You've called this album "the closing of a chapter." What makes you feel that way?
At the very end of the album, I put "Better Than You Left Me," the song that started it all for me. I re-recorded it, because it means something completely different to me [now]. I'm talking about the industry, I'm talking about myself and self-rediscovery, and I'm closing that chapter. I've talked about race, I've talked about things that I felt were wrong in this world and this industry. I put them in songs, and I'm putting that to bed.
I will still continue my advocacy behind closed doors, because I absolutely walk the walk, I don't just talk about it. I actually actively help artists, whether it's with mental health, or whatever, I do that. But I'm closing the chapter to this part of my life.
Do you feel like the next chapter has already started?
Absolutely, that next chapter has started. I already have a concept for the next album, and I have a lot of the songs, honestly. I've been writing these songs for years. It's just cool to finally be heard.
Now that you have a child of your own, has that changed the way that you think about your career and what you stand for?
It changes everything. There's so many amazing things happening in my career right now, but nothing tops my son. Nothing. I could win six GRAMMYs, and it still wouldn't even touch my son.
I saw that Carrie Underwood bought your son a piano. Is he a musician in the making already?
Oh my God, he is. He loves music. He was there through every recording I did for this album, so he really notices. It's so cool to watch. He was with me the whole time!
Even though it's been a long road with lots of hardships, and you're just now releasing your debut album despite being an artist for 10 years, do you feel like everything sort of worked out the way it was supposed to?
I do. Obviously I wish it would have happened sooner, but everything is God's timing. I don't regret any lessons, and I'm extremely grateful for how things are going.
The last 10 years, me getting to this point of putting this album out, I have arrived now. I am here. And now I can be free to be an artist.
Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images
'Her Country' Author Marissa R. Moss Reckons With Country Music's Gender Inequalities Through Three Of Its Biggest Female Stars
The journalist offers an in-depth look at her new book, 'Her Country' — which features Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Mickey Guyton — and details why it's more important than ever to give women artists a voice.
After a decade immersed in Nashville's country music scene, Marissa R. Moss has seen firsthand how pervasive gender inequalities affect female artists from all corners of the genre. Now, she's helping take control of the narrative — literally — with her new book, Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be.
Moss follows the trajectories of Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Mickey Guyton as touch points for country's current climate, as all three have navigated the choppy waters of radio bias and helped broaden the genre's limitations. Looking back at the '90s — an era where, at least from the outside, country radio seemed dominated by women like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire — provides context to the narrative, but Her Country is powerfully of-the-moment.
As Moss suggests, country music is, and always has been, a lens through which to examine broader cultural narratives in the U.S. at large. "To be able to weave in some cultural and political narratives — which, in my opinion, you always should, because you can't remove them from these conversations — that made [the book] extra timely," she tells GRAMMY.com.
Guyton saw her star rise after she released 2020's "Black Like Me," which chronicles her experience as a Black woman in America and in country music. Later that year, Morris delivered "Better Than We Found It," her reflection on the importance of making the world a more equal, welcoming place. (Both songs earned GRAMMY nominations, Guyton in 2021 and Morris in 2022.) Musgraves has long weaved advocacy for equality and acceptance into her musical narrative, with her 2013 hit "Follow Your Arrow" and Golden Hour single "Rainbow" becoming unofficial LGBTQ anthems.
While the Her Country women are at the forefront of purveying change in the genre, they're not alone. Countless artists spoke out against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd in May 2020; a month later, the Chicks dropped "Dixie" from their name as a move toward equality. The women of country have publicly supported each other, too, from Carrie Underwood's all-female roster on her 2019 Cry Pretty 360 Tour to Jennifer Nettles' 2019 CMA cape that read "Play Our F*@#!N Records, Please & Thank You."
Still, the lack of women representation within the format remains. As Moss highlights in Her Country, women make up only 16% of country radio airplay — a far cry from the heyday of the '90s. But that percentage doesn't square with the crowds they've commanded, or the diverse (and fiercely loyal) fan bases they've amassed.
To help understand the genre's complicated, often divisive trajectory toward equality and change — and to offer a look towards where it's going next — Moss discusses the themes and discoveries behind Her Country.
Moss will be moderating An Evening With LeAnn Rimes, the opening program of GRAMMY Museum’s The Power Of Women In Country Music exhibit, on May 31. The event will be held at the Clive Davis Theater in Los Angeles starting at 7:30 p.m. PT. For tickets and more information, click here.
Thinking about the current state of country music, or the broader cultural climate of the U.S., what made the topic of this book a pressing conversation for right now?
It was one of those things that was so obvious to me that I hadn't even quite necessarily thought, "I should write this book." And that's how so many really important things are. You think everyone knows these big stories, but basically, that wasn't the case. The radio charts show one story of the genre, but I knew that wasn't gonna be the story that I know, or the story I wanted to tell — [the story] that felt important to document.
If you view country music as a microcosm of what's going on in our country at any given moment right now, in so many ways, that made it extra interesting. To be able to weave in some cultural and political narratives — which, in my opinion, you always should, because you can't remove them from these conversations. To look at country music and our country's narrative at the same time — that made it extra timely.
The three focal points in Her Country are Kacey Musgraves, Mickey Guyton and Maren Morris — three artists whose careers are still relatively young, compared to '90s-era female country stars, or even current veterans Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. What did it feel like writing about these women in real time, as important moments in their careers were unfolding?
You can read entire books about Miranda and Carrie, and that could have been one route. Or you could have chosen Shania or Reba — really, whoever — but I wanted women who were a couple of albums in each, but had been following this career since they were teeny tiny kids.
Obviously, Carrie and Miranda are still very much of the moment, and make modern albums, but to some degree they've moved into a little bit of a legacy status, at this point. I wanted to look at women who were right in that moment of everything exploding and unfolding. That was the best way to tell the story that I thought was important to tell.
Did you ever write a section and then have to later revisit it because a major development had happened in an artist's career?
Yeah, especially for Mickey. That was really challenging. I chose to end the book as their current albums were coming out, and leave the next phase up in the air, a little bit. Otherwise you could keep writing forever and the book would never end!
So much of what was happening was happening in real time. And at the same time, it was COVID, so I couldn't be out on the road. I was at my house giving virtual school to my two kids under seven. It was a very interesting period, because history was happening as I was writing it. But I was also writing in a very different way than I thought I would be before COVID, because I was stuck at home and I couldn't, like, pick up and move to Texas for a month. So it was all very different than I imagined, but for the best in some ways — just not the COVID part.
Did the research you did for this book shift your perspective on your subject matter?
It never stopped amazing me — as I dug back into the story of Mickey and Kacey and Maren — how truly, they were on this path from so early. People say "I've wanted to do this since I was a kid," but, you know, Maren was playing in honky tonks at, like, 11. And then on the flip side, reading back about the Chicks, and even old Kacey stuff, I found so many new things to make me mad, make me angry. Early coverage of Mickey, and the way she was written about. There was never a shortage of that, either.
There's no shortage of things to get angry about in country music's recent history, either. Maren talking about her feelings on the Morgan Wallen scandal in early 2021 is a particularly powerful passage.
I even feel that, and I'm just a regular person, not a famous musician. I had times where I just felt so discouraged, and disappointed and angry. But, you know, as Maren said, you're not going to make a difference by leaving.
I think that applies to so many things. It's a powerful idea in politics, even here in Tennessee, where politically, it feels unsafe for a lot of people — more so than before. Sometimes I wake up and I'm like, "Okay, I can't stay here." But then I understand that that's a huge privilege, and there's a lot more that can be done by staying and making a better place for people who don't have the privileges you do.
One thing that makes me hopeful about the genre is how tirelessly Mickey has worked to help carve out a space for Black artists in the genre, and how artists like Breland, Brittney Spencer, Blanco Brown, Amethyst Kiah and so many others are finding a home in the genre over the past couple of years. What makes you hopeful about country music right now?
That's so true. And those artists were always there, but they either were not supported or not heard. There's a lot of inspiring things going on with Black Opry, and amazing coalitions of artists creating their own spaces.
At the same time, I go back and forth. I see-saw between inspiration and desolation. Both of those things exist. It's hopeful and it's inspiring, but it's not candy-coated — and it couldn't be, because that's not the truth.
What grounds me is just listening to music. I know it sounds so simple. And being reminded of how much I love it and how much good music is out there, and how much more good music is going to have an opportunity to get to your ears now.
What music have you found most grounding recently?
I've spent a lot of time with the new Leyla McCalla album, which I think is really brilliant. Miranda [Lambert]'s new album is great. I love Maren's new record — not to shill the women I'm writing about! [Laughs.]
I love Morgan Wade. A lot of times I go back to the favorites: Tyler Childers' Purgatory, [Sturgill Simpson]'s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and [Margo Price]'s Midwestern Farmer's Daughter. Kelsey Waldon. I listen to [her album, White Noise/White Lines] in my car, in the CD player. I never took it out because it never got old.
In the dedication for your book, you write "For anyone who needs to be reminded that it's your country music, too." Did you have any particular type of reader in mind when you were writing Her Country?
Over the years, as someone who you wouldn't think would be a country fan on paper, I guess — a Jewish kid growing up in New York — I've met a lot of people who fall into the category of being a country fan who you wouldn't stereotypically assume is a country fan. And then you realize that person doesn't exist. There's not just one [kind of] person who has a right to listen to country music.
I feel weird saying that, because the artists are really the ones doing the work — it goes an especially long way with Mickey, Kacey or Maren, with their fans saying they had never felt welcomed in the genre until they started listening to Kacey Musgraves. And then that opened up a different world to them. Or Black artists who hadn't seen a Black woman country artist at an awards show in modern times — until they saw Mickey, and that opened up a new world to them. Those are the fans that I hope will feel welcomed back in, or welcomed in for the first time, through a lot of these stories.
You describe yourself as the country fan who people might not assume is a country fan — who made you feel that country music was your genre?
I got into country music in a funny way. I was listening to the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, but my dad lived in Texas for a while and loved country radio. At the time I was a young kid with, you know, opinions — anything that your parents did was not cool. I didn't appreciate the '90s country thing, in the back of the car. But it must've gotten through there somehow.
I moved to Nashville in 2011, 2012. I was listening to country music before then, obviously, but I really fell in love with what was going on at the time. Caitlin Rose, Nikki Lane and Andrew Combs — all of their first records were hitting around that time. And I really fell in love with Jason Isbell. The way that they were interpreting country music and celebrating it in this different way — that still felt very traditional, but spoke to me directly — is part of the reason that I fell so hard for Nashville when I moved here. That was the soundtrack to what was happening back then. And I just loved it.
Photo: John Shearer/MTV VMAs 2021/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS
2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Country Music
Powerful narratives fueled country music in 2021, between vulnerable heartbreak-driven albums, Nashville veterans getting their spotlight, and Black voices finally being heard
The genre known for three chords and the truth reached new heights of authenticity and storytelling in 2021. After a year of doubt, confusion and isolation in 2020, many country artists returned to the road and their careers with rejuvenated passion, releasing some of their most ambitious projects to date.
Grassroots ways of finding success emerged, with several artists — both established and up-and-coming — unlocking whole new fan bases thanks to social media. The result? Some unlikely hits made it up to the very top of the country radio charts, artists were able to release more music than ever before, and unprecedented cross-genre collaborations came out of quarantine connections.
Read on to learn more about some of the trends, both musical and cultural, that dominated country music in 2021.
Double and Triple Albums
During their pandemic-induced time off the road, many artists found that the one thing they could still do was write songs. By 2021, the plethora of music created in those sessions was recorded and ready for release, resulting in longer track lists and beefier projects.
One such trendsetter was Eric Church, who released a massive, 24-track Heart & Soul album spread out over three discs. Morgan Wallen dropped his 30-track — or 33-track, if you're counting the Target-exclusive and bonus editions — Dangerous: The Double Album in January. The latter made history, becoming the first country album to spend its first 10 weeks at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200; it also spent 43 weeks in the chart's top 10, more than any other album in 2021. (Amid the album’s success, Wallen sparked major controversy when a video surfaced of the singer using a racial slur. He issued an apology and claimed to make donations to Black-led groups, but was promptly shut out from country radio and streaming services, as well as several events and awards shows.)
Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean also created multiple albums worth of music in 2021. Rhett released Country Again: Side A in April, announcing in November that Side B will arrive in fall 2022 following another album, titled Where We Started, which the star revealed will be out in "early 2022." Aldean had a similar release strategy, dropping Macon, the first half of his double album Macon, Georgia, in November and setting Georgia for April 22, 2022.
Success Stories Years in the Making
Longtime B-Listers finally got their country radio propers in 2021, due to ever-increasing opportunities for artists to create grassroots hits on social media. Walker Hayes' ubiquitous "Fancy Like" went viral on TikTok (particularly thanks to a family-friendly dance craze) and became a No. 1 hit on both Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts. The song gave the singer — who moved to Nashville in 2005 — his first crossover hit, getting airplay on pop radio and climbing all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Parmalee also took country radio by surprise this year. The band hadn't had a No. 1 since 2013, and their two most recent singles fizzled without ever cracking the charts. But "Just the Way," an unlikely team-up with "The Git Up" star Blanco Brown, saw them cruising back into the top spot.
One more success story came from Lainey Wilson, another Nashville veteran who got her big break with the insightful hit "Things a Man Oughta Know." The song became her first No. 1 on country radio after nearly 10 years of releasing music. Her latest single, a collaboration with resident chart-topper Cole Swindell titled "Never Say Never," is currently climbing the charts.
Classic Hits Found New Life on TikTok
While TikTok was instrumental in creating new hits such as "Fancy Like" in 2021, it was also responsible for revitalizing a few old ones. Reba McEntire's 2001 hit, "I'm a Survivor" went viral thanks to a TikTok spoof trend, with users setting the song to video footage of themselves melodramatically doing everyday chores. McEntire herself got in on the fun, posting a clip of her attempt to feed a pair of ungrateful donkeys.
Shania Twain also reached brand-new audiences with her TikTok presence. She posts snippets of iconic selections from her discography, as well as her hilarious commentary on French fries, sneak peeks at her Las Vegas residency, and the occasional trend trade-off with Taylor Swift.
Career-Defining Divorce Albums
Breakups aren't exactly a new topic for country, but some country artists have gone through very public heartbreaks over the past couple of years. Carly Pearce split from fellow artist Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage, and Kacey Musgraves called it quits with her husband of two years, singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly.
But rather than go through these difficult times privately, both Pearce and Musgraves spun their heartache into gold, with each singer putting out her most revealing, personal and intricately-crafted record to date. Pearce leaned heavily into her country roots to make 29: Written in Stone, while Musgraves expertly defied genre boundaries to release star-crossed, a project so vulnerable that she performed one of its songs on Saturday Night Live wearing nothing but a strategically placed acoustic guitar.
Black Country Stars Broke Through
After the country world said goodbye to the legendary Charley Pride in December 2020, his trailblazing legacy lived on in 2021. Black country stars made waves in several ways this year, from winning awards, to launching business ventures, to making statements on stage and in song.
Hitmakers Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen — the latter of whom is the only country artist up for Best New Artist at the 2022 GRAMMYS — made history with their wins at the ACM Awards (Brown was the first Black artist to win Video of the Year; Allen was the first Black solo artist to win the New Male Artist of the Year). Both of them started their own businesses in 2021 as well: Brown started his own label, 1021 Entertainment (in partnership with his home label, Sony Music Nashville), and Allen launched both a publishing company, Bettie James Music Publishing, and a full-service management and production company, JAB Entertainment.
Mickey Guyton, who first caught attention outside of the genre for her GRAMMY-nominated single "Black Like Me" last year, continued making an impact with her powerful album, Remember Her Name. The album features several vignettes of her experience as a Black woman, including a bouncy anthem "Different" and a poignant ballad "Love My Hair." She delivered a moving performance of the latter track at the 2021 CMA Awards alongside rising stars Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards, two of the many promising Black voices in the genre, which also includes Yola, Breland, Willie Jones, and Shy Carter, among others.
Artists Lived Their Truth
Amid the challenges country music faced this year, there were also moments of personal authenticity and joy. Brothers Osborne's TJ Osborne came out as gay in a Time feature, and the sibling duo subsequently released "Younger Me," a compassionate, timely ode to the obstacles they overcame to become who they are today.
Osborne was one of two country acts signed to a major label to come out as gay: The other was Brooke Eden, who came out in January, and later in the year got engaged to her partner Hilary Hoover. She put out the first new songs she’d released in years, and in a Grand Ole Opry performance, she and Trisha Yearwood duetted on Yearwood's classic "She's in Love With the Boy," changing the lyrics to "She’s in love with the girl."
Dolly Parton Retained Her Reign as Country Queen
Dolly Parton was a major bright spot in the dark year that was 2020. Not only did she lift spirits by releasing her third Christmas album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, but she also made a $1 million donation to fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s hard to top that, but this year, Parton continued to trend for her uplifting acts of kindness and legendary musical feats. She sent social media into a frenzy when she celebrated "hot girl summer" — and the birthday of her husband of 57 years, Carl Dean — by recreating the iconic outfit she wore for her Playboy cover shoot back in 1978. She also duetted with Reba McEntire for the first time, landed on the list of Forbes' richest self-made women, and capped off 2021 by setting two brand-new Guinness World Records (and breaking a third record that she already held) for her long-standing chart accomplishments.
Full-Length Collaborations Albums
What’s better than one duet? An album full of them, apparently. Collaborations were hot in country music in 2021, but lots of artists took that one step further, putting out full-length projects featuring a cast of duet partners.
The Hardy-curated Hixtape Vol. 2 dug deep into country lifestyle and party songs, courtesy of some of the biggest names from every corner of the genre. Brantley Gilbert, Brothers Osborne, Jon Pardi, Dierks Bentley and Jake Owen are just a few of the acts who lent their voices to the track list, which features a total of 33 guest artists across 14 songs.
While the Hixtape went ultra-country, other duets albums were genre-spanning. Rapper Nelly put out his Heartland project, featuring Darius Rucker, Breland and Florida Georgia Line. Jimmie Allen went even broader for his Bettie James Gold Edition, which featured everyone from rapper Pitbull to R&B/soul singer Monica and pop star Noah Cyrus.
Source Photos (L-R): Rick Diamond/Getty Images; Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage; GAB Archive/Redferns; Terry Wyatt/Getty Images; Erika Goldring/Getty Images for CMT
5 Women Essential To Country Music: Dolly Parton, Mickey Guyton, Jo Walker-Meador, The Love Junkies & Mother Maybelle Carter
In honor of Women’s History Month, GRAMMY.com highlights some of the pioneering women who have changed the sounds, structure and look of country music — and how their contributions are finally moving the needle
Commercially, country music can appear to be a male-dominated genre. Trends like "bro-country" and controversies like 2015's "Tomato-gate" painted a picture of a format with women as rare outliers amid a sea of male voices and perspectives.
Though the gender imbalance on radio and in festival lineups remains glaring, women in the genre have flourished and diversified in recent years. Artists like Carly Pearce, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini have found a variety of paths to the top of their fields, both with and without the support of country radio.
But women's position as change-makers in country music is not a new phenomenon. From its earliest iteration, country music has seen the impact of powerful female figures who helped lay the groundwork for the positive change we're seeing today.
Through the years, the artists who push country music's boundaries, braid it with other genres, or reimagine what a country song can look like have often been women. And it's not just the women on stage who are changing the game: Country music has also benefited from women visionaries behind the scenes, who helped establish some of Music City's most beloved traditions and wrote some of its most canonical songs.
In honor of Women's History Month, GRAMMY.com highlights some of country music's pioneering women who have left — and continue to leave — their mark on the genre.
"Mother" Maybelle Carter: Carter Family matriarch who invented the "Carter scratch" and became known as the "Mother of Country Music"
A member of the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, the late "Mother" Maybelle Carter is best known as the matriarch of country music's renowned Carter Family.
Born Maybelle Addington, she was already a skilled guitarist by age 12. At age 18, she and her husband E.J. Carter began performing as the Carter Family. In various iterations, the family band won recognition through the 1940s and '50s. A mother of three daughters, Carter's middle child, June, became a star in her own right with her husband Johnny Cash; together, they became one of the best-loved country duos of the '60s and beyond.
Early in her career, Maybelle Carter achieved acclaim for her patented "Carter Scratch" guitar style, a method which used the guitar to create multiple instrumental lines at once, instead of using it solely as a rhythm instrument. Earl Scruggs, Chet Akins and Johnny Cash all emulated her finger-picking style.
Until her death in 1978, Carter was an active living legend in country music. More than four decades later, her songs like "Wabash Cannonball" and "Wildwood Flower" have become classics of the genre.
Dolly Parton: A seven-decade country veteran who broke boundaries with empowering lyrics and a feminist mentality
Born the fourth of 12 children to a poor farming family in rural Tennessee, Dolly Parton showed musical promise from an early age. After graduating from high school and moving to Nashville, she landed a slot as the "girl singer" on country star Porter Wagoner's variety show — a role that eventually resulted in her iconic hit "I Will Always Love You," which she wrote as a farewell to Wagoner upon embarking on a solo career.
In the years since, Parton has become one of country music's most prolific veterans and beloved stars. In addition to releasing 50 studio albums — many of which she wrote almost entirely on her own — Parton has won numerous awards (including 10 GRAMMYs) and holds the record for most No. 1 hits on the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart by a female artist with 25.
Along with those country hits, Parton's crossover into pop radio with songs like "Jolene" and "Here You Come Again" was historic for her time, inspiring genre-bending country artists such as Shania Twain, Taylor Swift, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and a slew of others.
Her impact has spanned far beyond the genre, too. Parton has starred in several films, earning Golden Globe nominations for her acting in 9 To 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. (She also received Best Original Song nods at both the Oscars and Golden Globes for 9 To 5 and Transamerica.)
What's more, Parton has proven to be one of country's most powerful businesswomen thanks to her entertainment venture, The Dollywood Company. She's also one of the genre's most giving artists: Parton has founded a number of charitable and philanthropic organizations, including the Dollywood Foundation, which aids poverty and education in her hometown in east Tennessee. She has also made considerable contributions to various causes, including $1 million to fund research for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and $700,000 to help Tennessee flood victims in 2021.
At 76 years old, Parton's popularity today is as fervent as ever. She remains a pillar of traditional country music, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Jo Walker-Meador: Country Music Association's longest-serving executive director
Visionary music executive Jo Walker-Meador helped transform Nashville from a mid-size music hub into the capital of country music. She served as the executive director of the Country Music Association from 1962 to 1991, the organization's longest-standing director.
A year before she assumed office, the CMA had created the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Walker-Meador helped build and expand the Hall through a national fundraising campaign. The initiative also helped establish the CMA's annual country music awards show, the CMA Awards.
Another program that flourished under her tenure was Fan Fair, a festival that launched in 1972 and is now known as the CMA Music Festival. Though she retired in the early '90s, Walker-Meador remained closely involved in the music business, serving as a mentor for young music scholars who were assembling books about Nashville, the music industry and the CMA. She became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in '95, and died in 2017.
The Love Junkies: A songwriting team who together (and separately) have written many of the genre's beloved songs
Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and Lori McKenna — collectively known as songwriter trio the Love Junkies — have together (and separately) written some of country music's greatest modern hits. As a team, they've written for and with stars like Miranda Lambert and Lady A. One of their most notable contributions is Little Big Town's "Girl Crush," a chart-topping hit that won two GRAMMY Awards (including Best Country Song) in 2016.
Independently, the three women are also influential Nashville songwriters: Lori McKenna penned Tim McGraw's CMA Song of the Year-winning "Humble and Kind"; Liz Rose is a co-writer on 17 of Taylor Swift's songs, including "You Belong With Me," "All Too Well" and "Teardrops on My Guitar"; and Lindsey is known as the pen behind Carrie Underwood's GRAMMY-winning "Jesus, Take the Wheel."
Mickey Guyton: A rising star who fights for equal representation in country
An artist who toiled at the fringes of the Nashville music community for years before ever seeing major recognition, Mickey Guyton finally saw her star rise in 2020 when she began to release songs that detailed her experience as a Black woman in country music and in America.
Inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd, Guyton released "Black Like Me" in 2020. The GRAMMY-nominated song was featured on Guyton's powerful debut album, 2021's Remember Her Name, which features several tracks that speak specifically to her experience as a Black woman in country music and in the world at large.
As Guyton's profile grew, her message-forward music — including the thought-provoking "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" and the bouncy anthem "Different" — began to spur a conversation about the dramatic lack of representation of Black and other minorities in the format. She gave a moving performance of her Remember Her Name track "Love My Hair" at the 2021 CMA Awards, where she was joined onstage by two more rising stars, Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards.
Guyton's growing presence in the country world has opened up doors for a host of new Black voices, like Spencer and Edwards, as well as Breland and Blanco Brown. She received nominations in three of the four country categories at the 2022 Grammy Awards, including Best Country Album for Remember Her Name.
Ariana Grande performs at 62nd GRAMMY Awards
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Poll: From Bad Bunny To Taylor Swift, Which 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show Performer Are You Most Excited About?
BTS, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Brandi Carlile, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Mickey Guyton, HAIM, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lil Baby, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles and more are also part of the stacked GRAMMYs lineup
The Recording Academy just shared the full performance lineup for the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, taking place Sun., March 14. The stacked lineup includes Bad Bunny, Black Pumas, Cardi B, BTS, Brandi Carlile, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Mickey Guyton, HAIM, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lil Baby, Dua Lipa, Chris Martin, John Mayer, Megan Thee Stallion, Maren Morris, Post Malone, Roddy Ricch, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.
We're pretty certain you're looking forward to seeing all of these sets as much we are, and we want to know which artist you're most excited to see light up the stage!
For more info on all the special guests, please visit our GRAMMY Awards performers and presenters page here.
Make sure to check out the many exciting 2021 (virtual) GRAMMY Week events this week, kicking off with GRAMMY In The Schools Fest and Women In The Mix today. The massive week concludes, as always, with the Biggest Night In Music, where you can catch all the epic performers and big winners. The 63rd GRAMMY Awards will be hosted by the one and only Trevor Noah—tune in to CBS or Paramount+ on Sun., March 14 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT for all the action.