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Music City
MICKEY GUYTON TELLS
THE BITTER TRUTH
3/11/20

By Holly Gleason

 


She thinks love is love and if
You work hard, that’s enough
Skin’s just skin and it doesn’t matter
And that her friend’s older brother’s gonna keep his hands to himself
And that somebody’s gonna believe her when she tells

The track sounds like a tinkling music box, the type a little girl would keep her first tiny string of pearls in. The kind she opens, and as the ballerina turns, she pretends she’s “a big girl.” 

That’s the gambit of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” by Arlington, Texas, native Mickey Guyton: the empowering things we tell girls and the realities poised to betray those promises. 

Guyton knows a lot about those things. The 36-year-old singer/songwriter is a classic vocalist borrowing from the Carrie Underwood flamethrower school. African-American. She looks like a classic Texas beauty: cascading hair, gorgeous smile, a sense of glamour, a willingness to engage, a true dignity in the buy-me, love-me InstaTwitterBookTok world. 

Like so many women at Country radio, Guyton can’t get arrested. Underwood, a fan, put her in Chrissy Metz’ “I’m Standing With You” vocal debut on the ACM Awards, alongside Lauren Alaina and Maddie & Tae

A schooled vocalist with 10 years in Nashville under her belt, Guyton seems to have found a new resolve. If she wasn’t going to be heard, perhaps she should speak her mind. 

And so, “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” earned the only standing ovation at Mike Dungan and Cindy Mabe’s annual Country Radio Seminar acoustic afternoon at the Ryman, showcasing Universal Nashville’s roster, which includes Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves and Underwood. Standing alone on that stage, positing truths no one wants to acknowledge, she was undeniable. 

Do you let her think the deck’s not stacked?
And gay or straight or white or black
You just dream and anything can happen
What are you gonna tell her
When she’s wrong?
Will you just shrug, say it’s been that way all along? 

After the child’s music-box keyboard gives way to a passing grand piano chords, strings swell up and the empty space on the track echoes with emotion. Guyton opens up her vocal chords, moving back and forth from the intimacy of sweetness to a power that slices. It’s not frustration or desperation, not recrimination nor judgment; it’s the flat reporting of things every woman knows, the angst reflecting an empathy for every woman who’s been there. 

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in six women experience rape or attempted rape; 34% of the underage assaults are on girls under 12; every 73 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. These are the stats based on what’s reported. The number of unreported attacks? Because we see—based on Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves, all the whispered about executives who pay settlements, press nondisclosure clauses, move on—what happens when women come forward.

Do you tell her not to fight?
Is it worth the sacrifice?
Can you look her in the face
And promise her that things’ll change? 

As the instruments drop away, Guyton works through that bridge, delivering the lines with all the drama of a Disney princess’ moment of truth. It’s a reckoning that requires transparency, vulnerability, the reality of how these things shake you. 

With every daddy who’s raising his little girl to believe she’s got an equal shot—“Work hard, apply yourself, embrace your brains/talents/tenacity, reach for that dream”—how many times has he leered, knowingly or not, or suggested the best time for meetings is over drinks? Or worse. 

Or less. How many promotions weren’t given? How many times were they left out? How often was the unspoken bias that women can’t in play? The “bros before hoes” mentality insidiously manifesting itself yet again? 

And the women who get through, who are paraded around as progress? Used to validate inertia? The women who get ahead, who pay lip service to helping other women, then say, “I’m not involved in that,” when a woman who’s been violated comes seeking support? 

Guyton, who evokes fellow Texan Solange Knowles with her emotional porousness, keeps building the tension, dragging the line, maintaining the gaze. She’s got the support of a major label, but given that Country radio has a pattern of turning a blind eye, what has she got to lose? 

What are you gonna tell her?
Maybe you can’t
’Cause there ain’t no way
You can’t explain
What you don’t understand
Yeah what the hell do you tell her?

Photo by Chelsea Thompson