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IN “BLACK LIKE ME,”
MICKEY GUYTON
NUDGES AMERICA’S CONSCIENCE

A couple minor electric piano chords rise, laced with a few sunny passing notes. Simple stuff. A sinewy guitar line slithers through, falls away. A female voice—a little fluttery, a little dusky—confesses in the same faltering way so many kids do.

Little kid in a small town/Did my best just to fit in
Broke my heart on the playground/When they said that I was different

Was it a stutter? Second-hand clothes? A crossed eye? Too short? Too thin? Crooked tooth? Just shy? So many ways kids don’t fit in, or think they don’t, racked with a self-doubt that presages self-discovery. “Outsider” is a seemingly universal condition.

On Tuesday, while the music business paused to acknowledge and consider the larger meaning of the death of George Floyd, Mickey Guyton released a conversational ballad with little fanfare. But “Black Like Me” speaks volumes.

Ten years into a career mostly spent waiting, the African-American Texan, who stunned Country Radio Seminar at Universal Nashville’s annual acoustic show at the Ryman with the “Me Too” truth of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?,” nudges America’s conscience with personal truth and gospel fervor.

Though Guyton attended a good school, led an idyllic childhood, possesses beauty-queen looks and has the full support of Mike Dungan and Cindy Mabe, the vocalist with the Beyoncé-leaning mezzo-soprano is the ultimate Nashville rarity: a black female signed to a country label. So when the chorus swells into the sobering truth, Guyton stands alone.

It’s a hard life on easy street/Just white painted picket fences far as you can see
If you think we live in the land of the free/You should try to be black like me

As Music City labels shuttered for #BlackOut Tuesday, the grapple with racial bias, police brutality, social injustice, racism and awareness is harder to ground. A homogenous genre—where physical product still sends its biggest stars to #1—it’s a different record business.

Even in this bastion of “traditional values,” where God, country and hard work are touchstones, the horror of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and so many more, giving rise to #SayHisName and #SayHerName in the Black Lives Matter movement, is undeniable.

As any mother knows, these men and women are someone’s children. Still, how to truly understand that to walk home wearing a hoodie, go for a jog or sit in a park is taking your life in your hands? In a world where Caucasians are raised to believe we’re equal, we can say we understand, post black squares, take a day and devote it to meaningful dialogue. But then it’s Wednesday...and life goes on.

My daddy worked day and night/For an old house and a used car
Just to live that good life/It shouldn’t be twice as hard

The gospel undertow and hand claps pull listeners in. Writing with Taylor Swift/Keith Urban collaborator Nathan Chapman and pop-leaning writers Emma Davidson-Dillon and Frazer Churchill at a cross-genre writers camp Warner Chappell put together in March 2019, Guyton was compelled to lean into her truth.

In the genre where DeFord Bailey mentored Hank Williams, Charlie Pride went into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000, surgeon Cleve Francis had success in the ’90s, Darius Rucker found a second act, Jimmie Allen is emerging and Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cryus’ “Old Town Road” won the 2019 CMA Vocal Event and Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Guyton’s power ballad cores the inherent differences of being “Black Like Me.”

During her decade on Universal, Guyton has experienced waiting and being patient as others have passed her by. She understands being not just marked by her skin color but also shut out by gender. She also knows what it means to burn for a dream, to refuse to let go. If “Black Like Me” was originally an album cut to explain her truth to a musical world with no clue about being marked when you walk out the door, it’s taken on a whole other urgency since 5/25.

Just like everything else about her, she wrote her truth unadorned. Then, in the days following George Floyd’s murder, the lack of arrests, the sketchy coroner’s report and finally the indictment of Derek Chauvin, her song made the abstract tangible. As white America took to the streets alongside African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, LGBTQs and others, crying out for justice, an end to police brutality and some kind of equity in a land where everyone’s supposed to be equal, Guyton brought people into the gap.

She offers no answers, gives up few details. Opening with common discomforts, she creates a place to understand. By expanding into her father’s experience and a pre-chorus—Now I’m all grown up and nothing has changed”—that demonstrates the lack of progress, Guyton punches into the realities that go unseen, unrecognized, unacknowledged.

Will this song change things? No. But for three minutes and 30 seconds, it will tug at the listener, ear-worm its way in as a witness to how it works when you’re African American. Without preaching, Guyton reaches higher, finding the salvation the American Dream offers. A torchy witness, she closes with the change-embracing vamp, “Someday, we’ll all be free/And I’m proud to be black like me.”

2020 MIDYEAR MARKETSHARE SCORECARD
The competition is fierce. (7/7a)
POP SMOKE SET
FOR BIG DEBUT (UPDATE)
A "Moon" shot. (7/6a)
U.K. GOVT. OKS £1.57B ARTS RESCUE PACKAGE 
Fingers crossed for indie venues to return. (7/6a)
BLACK MUSIC MONTH:
LADIES FIRST
Latifah, Lauryn, Missy, Lil Kim, more. (7/7a)
JUICE WRLD'S LEGENDS NEVER DIE DUE FRIDAY
Juiced with a big D2C initiative. (7/7a)
WHAT NEXT?
The biz ponders action after some reflection.
GRAMMY SPECULATION
100% guaranteed to be somewhat accurate, probably.
BLACK MUSIC MONTH
...continues.
TRUMP'S IN THE BUNKER
Just to inspect it, though.
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