For Mickey Guyton, the last 18 months have been nothing short of a whirlwind.
The 37-year-old finally broke into the mainstream after almost 20 years of push backs with the powerful and polarising songs, Black Like Me and What Are You Going To Tell Her?
She went on to become the first black woman to perform at the American Country Music awards, the first black woman to host the Country Music Awards, and the first black woman to be nominated for a Grammy in the country music category.
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But it all came at a time of enormous upheaval in the US and around the globe, as people began to finally grapple with racism and questioned how they could become not just better allies, but specifically become anti-racist.
Mickey turned into the face of that conversation in Nashville, a city of beauty and diversity but one that remains an old, white, boys club - and all while becoming a mom for the first time as well.
WATCH: Mickey Guyton performs All-American at the CMA's Summer Jam
Now, the star is about to release her debut album, Remember Her Name, and she tells HELLO! about the journey to get to this point, what songs will surprise fans - and why she can't quite focus on just the album....
This album has been a long time coming, how are you feeling?
I am... I am a new mom so trying to find the balance [is hard]! I want to focus on the album and I am so excited but then I am picking up poopy diapers. It's really hard to focus! There are nerves because you put out this body of work and it's open for critique, but I am excited.
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Thinking back over your career, why do you think it's taken you almost 20 years to be able to release a debut album?
My God when you think about it like that… I never stood up for myself, ever.
I always assumed people in authority knew what they were doing, and it turns out they don't and I got the memo a little late. I needed to stand up for myself and my artistry, and figure out what that is. Life has to happen sometimes for you to figure that out.
Mickey, 37, is finally releasing her debut album
Has there been a mantra or something that's kept you going?
My husband is my mantra. And me - just keep going, don't give up.
There's an animation I always come back to of two men digging for diamonds, and one turns around with his shovel on his back and his head down with a look of defeat. But he was just one more foot to the diamond, just one foot down, and if he had just kept digging he would have gotten there, and that alone kept me fighting.
This album has been a long time coming, what made you decide to include Better Than You Left Me, your debut single but one that's now six years old?
It was the song that started it off for me, it was one of the first songs I wrote, but it also has a different meaning now.
When I first wrote it, it was about a guy that I had been so madly in love with that broke my heart and he means nothing now, he's not a thought in my head.
Now, this song is about the industry, the old me, the fight I had with myself, and I am so much better off. So it's the closing of a chapter. I have arrived.
Mickey in 2016
Which is the most personal track and why?
Love My Hair. There are a lot of personal tracks but Love My Hair is about a love relationship with yourself, and people don't understand their words and how harmful they can be, words hurt more than a punch.
They stick with you forever
For little black girls, we are born with such different hair than most people and when you don't give them extra love as they fight internal battles about why we look so different, it can change the whole course of how they love themselves.
That song was inspired by a Youtube video of a little black girl in braids who was sent home because the school said it was distracting. To see her in defeat, to be sent home and seeing her digest that; it is a memory she will forever remember and it may change the course of how she loves herself.
And it's not just black girls - women, our hair is our crown, we've been made to feel that if our hair isn't good, don't look at us.
It defines beauty in society, and I hope it encourages women to just love their hair, no matter if it's extensions like me or natural coils.
Is there a song you think will surprise fans?
I think the whole album is going to surprise people. Because what people have heard from me are the songs that get people's attention - Black Like Me, and What Are You Going To Tell Her? - and those songs are compelling and polarising, punch you in the gut, but there is a whole other side of me.
Different will surprise people, because it's a bop!
You're covering Beyonce on this album - how did that come about?
The first time I heard If I Were A Boy I was in my car, heartbroken on the way to work and I had a Sprinkles cupcake and sobbed my heart out, and when Amazon Originals said I could remake a song, any song, I knew it would be that track.
Beyonce did send me some Ivy Park...
You've been an outspoken critic of the old boys club feel to Nashville this past year, what prompted you to say enough is enough?
For years, as you're trying to pursue a career in country music, you beat your head against the wall writing songs that mean nothing.
At a certain point, it's enough. When you are watching not just yourself but your peers still struggling, you realize... the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I have been insane for a long time.
It drove me crazy, and at a certain point I realized nothing would change. I have nothing else to lose.
It was 2017 when I was finally like, 'enough'. I have pushed and tried every producer and songwriter Nashville has to offer, and it was not working for me - or any women - and I finally got enough nerve. I don't want to say balls as I saw a quote that balls are actually really fragile!
But I had enough strength to walk in and say enough, what we're doing isn't working, and I asked for the chairman to trust me and hand my career over to Cindy Mabe and that changed it for me. My breaking point was being insane for long enough I had to try it my way.
Suddenly your career is in your hands, which can often be even more terrifying...
I had decided I was going to be a voice teacher, and I think that is something I'm doing anyway; I want to help other people in the industry, which is a whole other career path for me.
But I walked in and I was terrified. And I said, 'with all due respect, I am a woman and I know what I want to hear as a woman and you are not my audience,' and he said okay and I kid you not, I couldn't get out of bed. For three days, I felt so sick and literally could not get out of bed, and it was a release of pent up anxiety and fear I had for years.
It was released.
As women we are taught men are authority, we submit, and I think sometimes we take that from childhood but the reality is as soon as we are 18, we are adults.
And I should have known that and taken control. I want to start mentoring kids today, 'start now', I would love to do that.
Mickey with Gladys Knight and Kelsea Ballerini in 2021
Do you feel you have support from your peers?
Yes 100% I think so many of my peers have been wanting to see this change in this industry, and I think some of them have been wanting their own opportunities in this industry.
If you are white, tall and male you are King in this industry, but for anyone else it's really hard.
And you can fight me all you want but look at the charts. But I think people wanted the change, and people seeing me shedding it means they have the same opportunities.
Miley Cyrus said this to me: stop putting yourself in a box when there is no box. There was a box created for us that doesn't exist.
Have you had people reaching out to ask you for help or guidance in how to become better allies, and is that a role you are happy to take on?
There are times when I think 'why is everyone asking me? Why is it my responsibility?'
And then I realize I have been waiting for someone to take the step and move the industry forward, and if not me, who else? If not me, who will?
I have given people chances for a long time and there are some women trying to push this needle forward but for some reason when a black woman says it people hear it, so I realized God gave me this responsibility.
I don't always want to be that person but if not me, who?
Mickey welcomed her son Grayson in January 2021
You've become the first black woman to do a lot of amazing things this past year in country music - first to perform at the ACMs, first to host the CMA, first to be nominated for a Grammy in the country category. Do you look back and think that this was always the right time?
Absolutely. I am a firm believer in God, and of course I wish things had happened sooner for me but I realize God's timing is the right timing for me. Where I am mentally, it's right.
The timing of a child I question… God, you really wanted to do this now?
But even my baby, it's truly God's timing, with all these amazing things my grounding force is my child. As amazing as they all are, he tops them all.
How has he influenced the way you approach your career?
He has influenced my music absolutely. I have always been a naturally maternal person, and when I look at the new generation I want to put my arms around them and protect them. I know what it's like to not feel protected and I want to be that force for the future.
And for music, the way I write and think, the way my mind is now, I am such a different person than before I had a child.
The title is a memorial to Breonna Taylor, can you talk about that process of making the decision, and was there pushback?
I didn't get any pushback, when I wrote the song I was initially thinking of Breanna Taylor, but as I kept writing it became more of my story, and what happens when we are first starting out - whatever that career is.
We are so excited and bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and you can't tell us success isn't coming our way, and then life happens and you get told 'no' enough times and you lose your confidence, and Remember Her Name is about finding that little girl again who was so fearless.
So it was also symbolic of my own journey of not giving up on yourself.
What's next for you?
I can't wait to tour, and I am already working on album number two, and I want to start a record label; I would love that. I am just passionate about artistry, I would love to watch an artist blow up because I believe in them.
Any artists you'd recommend?
Yes, Brittney Spencer, who is blowing up in Nashville, she represents so much, she brings soul into the country.
She's a plus size black woman and her voice is insane, she is opening up for Jason Isbell - check her out.
Remember Her Name is out globally on 24 September
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