Mickey Guyton is TIME’s inaugural Breakthrough Artist of the Year, representing a category that is brand-new for 2022.
Her new accolade comes in recognition of her status as one of country music’s change-makers, and an artist who represented the genre on some of the most visible stages of the year. In 2022, Mickey sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl, hosted PBS’ A Capitol Fourth Independence Day special and became the first Black nominee for Best Country Album at the Grammy Awards.
Mickey tells TIME that after she started to become more vocal about racial inequality in country music, artists began to reach out to her behind the scenes, asking how they could help enact change.
“A lot of them did start finding musicians of color for their bands,” she says, adding that she is seeing change happen within the genre, though there’s still significant room for improvement. “If you study the country music charts, they’re against women and people of color.”
Case in point: White men performed all the No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart this year -- and only a few women and non-white artists made it to the top of the Country Airplay chart -- and Mickey says that’s “frustrating.”
“There are so many incredible singers out there and we’re just accepting the crumbs,” she continues. “...But these are peoples’ lives and careers that you’re deciding.”
TIME also named its 2022 Entertainer of the Year: All-female K-pop band BLACKPINK. The publication will reveal its 2022 Person of the Year on Wednesday morning.