Editor’s Note: As part of our continued effort to maintain awareness of how essential Black talent is to the music industry, Chartmetric is spotlighting great Black artists monthly in the context of what we normally do: nerd out on music, data, and culture.
Our first installment looked at R&B artists who had performed live YouTube sessions on COLORS, NPR Tiny Desk, and Vevo DSCVR. Our second installment focuses on a small but growing group of Black artists in the Country music scene, and in particular, American singer Mickey Guyton.
“And if you think we live in the land of the free / You should try to be black like me / And some day we'll all be free / And I'm proud to be black like me” — Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me”
There's little actual reason to see Black country artists in 2020 as unique. The banjo, a standard in Country, Folk, and Bluegrass, is a likely ancestor of the West African lute, which was brought over by slaves. The first performer introduced on the Grand Ole Opry was DeFord Bailey, a Black harmonica virtuoso, who performed on "the show that made Country music famous" in 1927. Starting in the 1920s, "hillbilly" records featured "50 African-American singers and musicians" in a "fundamentally multicultural" space, until the commercialization and marketing of the genre began to divide the music by racial appearance.
“Life is hard. God is real. Family, whiskey, and road are significant compensations, and the past is better than the present.... That’s country. Three chords and those four truths.” - Alice Randall, the first Black woman to write a No. 1 Country hit (July 2019, via Huff Post)
Country music is undoubtedly an integral part of the American music tradition, but it’s also seen as a largely “white” genre. Sadly, the sidelining of Black voices and simultaneous exploitation of Black talent is the rule and not the exception in the American music industry, and it’s arguably more pronounced in the Country genre. Fortunately, a new generation of Black Country artists is trying to turn the tide, raising both awareness and also representation of Black contributions to the American Country music tradition.
Darius Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, is one of the more prominent Black country artists of the last two decades, but it’s artists like Mickey Guyton and Kane Brown who are particularly exciting for younger Country music audiences and the future of the music business. What makes Guyton’s success all the more exciting is that she’s paving the way for Black female Country artists as well.
Mickey Guyton's Music Data Trends
Guyton, born Candace Mycale Guyton in Arlington, Texas, on June 17, 1983, was unceremoniously cut from the eight season of American Idol, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Two years later, Guyton signed to Capitol Records Nashville, and by 2015, her track “Better Than You Left Me” had debuted at No. 56 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. A year after that, she was nominated for New Female Vocalist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
In 2020, Guyton is proving that it’s still possible to be successful while critiquing the powers that be. In March, Guyton’s “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” took on music industry sexism, and on June 2, her single “Black Like Me” was fated for the moment. While protests over George Floyd’s murder spilled onto the streets, music industry executives Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas launched an initiative called #theshowmustbepaused, which included a “blackout” for the music industry on June 2, 2020 (and that quickly ballooned into a social media phenomenon called “blackout Tuesday”).
“So my whole frame of thinking went from me just singing about my relationships to then just singing about being a Black woman in Country music." — Mickey Guyton (April 2020, via Los Angeles Times)
Whether the June 2 release was fate, coincidence, or coordination, it’s evident that Guyton’s track struck a chord. Across virtually every single platform, Guyton saw huge spikes that coincided with the release of “Black Like Me.” On Spotify, Instagram, and Twitter, her daily follower growth jumped from the single digits to triple digits while her Spotify Monthly Listeners vaulted from around 300K to more than a million.
Guyton also saw a sharp rise in playlist adds on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon after the release of “Black Like Me,” with the track landing around 30 editorial playlists on each of those DSPs in June. All of these stats contributed to her Cross-Platform Performance (CPP) rank climbing from 22K to around 3.5K in two weeks, which is roughly an 84 percent increase in her overall popularity, according to our global digital performance index, which ranks the 2.4M artists in our database every day.
Interestingly, though terrestrial radio airplay is a huge marketing driver for Country music, Guyton has seen relatively little of it, unfortunately. Based on the 999 international radio stations that we track, she has more radio spins in the Netherlands than she does in Columbus, Ohio, indicating that she probably appeals to a different, and likely younger, Country music audience with a preference for streaming over radio.
Unsurprisingly, Guyton’s audience is largely located in the United States, where Country music tends to localize itself, but her YouTube video views and Instagram follower demographics suggest that she does have some global appeal, with Canada, India, and the United Kingdom entering the fray on both platforms, though well below the US’ roughly 80 percent share of her fans. On Instagram, some of her most notable followers include country artists Keith Urban (2.5M followers), Kelsea Ballerini (2.2M), and Chrissy Metz (1.5M), as well as popular figures in non-music sectors like activist Shaun King (3.6M), actor Tisha Campbell (2M), and fashion designer Jerry Lorenzo (1.5M).
What’s clear is that the lion’s share of Guyton’s fans on social media platforms is female: 68 percent on Instagram and 88 percent on TikTok. With the highly anticipated release of her new Bridges EP on Sept. 11, it will hopefully be yet another door opened for the Black female Country artists of the future, many of whom are likely being inspired by her music and her story on streaming and social media platforms today. The more that Guyton, and other trailblazers like her, steer the narrative of the future of the music business toward a more equitable direction, the closer the industry will come to a point where being a Black country artist is no longer twice as hard.