Retrospective: Amy Winehouse

By Speed on the Beat (@SpeedontheBeat)

As cliched as it is to say, I do feel that legends never die. And say what you will about how Amy Winehouse lived, she, musically, is a legend. The late British songstress opened up her soul for us, as fans and listeners, to see every scar, every drink, every cigarette, every broken promise, in a way that was--and, in some ways, still is--missing from the musical world. She never glossed over emotions or her sins, instead embracing them as part of her fabric.

Armed with a voice that was original but familiar, unfiltered but refined--and production that was equal parts big-band, hip-hop, Motown, and blues--Winehouse shot onto the scene in 2003 with Frank. Frank, even with Winehouse's apparent dissatisfaction, was received with rave reviews. Most of these reviews, rightfully so, praised Winehouse's maturity (she was twenty when the album was released), songwriting ability, and voice.

What got me is how effortlessly she could go from "Stronger than Me," a song that pretty much calls out "the bitch in yoo" in the guy she's fucking with to "Fuck Me Pumps," a song where she speaks on gold-digging women, to "Take the Box," a track where she utterly refused to bite her tongue and go for a less-involved approach to heartbreak and playing the blame game over ended relationships.

Now, listening back to Frank and watching the videos, I can see some of why Winehouse wasn't fully appeased by the project. As amazing as it was, it still had a bit of glossiness to it that seems a bit un-Winehouse-like. However, it's still a classic album. So, how does a woman who's already put out a classic before she could legally drink in the United States respond? Well, three years later, she drops another classic, 2006's Back to Black.

"Rehab," the album's lead single, got so big that she received a remix of the track featuring Jay Z (along with Pharoahe Monch and Hot Chip).

It's wild to think about, though. And, yes, it's a sad song, considering the way Winehouse died. But, even with that in mind, it's a song that was unapologetic in its approach to substance abuse and love (mostly substance abuse, though). It flaunted the abuse in our faces, but did so in a way that wasn't exactly praising of Ms. Winehouse's practices.

Citing that, for instance, she could learn more from "Mr. [Donny] Hathaway" than rehab professionals (since, ya know, "[her] daddy thinks [she's] fine"), "Rehab" is still one of my favorite tracks. It combines the bluesy-soul feelings from Frank and ramps up the "fuck you" level to 100. Considering the lyrics, one could argue that Back to Black served as a concept album of sorts, dealing with the aftermath of success, fame, Frank, bad coping mechanisms, and more.

While she released only two albums in her twenty-seven years (Lioness was a posthumous release and, like, the Tupac and Biggie albums from years past, felt more like a hodgepodge of unreleased lyrics and remakes than all-new material), Winehouse's Billie Holiday-meets-Dinah Washington voice, her raw emotions, and just plain influence, though? All that and more's still heard today, through artists like Adele, Alessia Cara, The Weeknd, FKA Twigs, Corrine Bailey Rae, and more. Legends never die, they just leave the physical plane.

Now, as a fan--and someone who's experienced losses due to substance abuse--I do wish that Ms. Winehouse was still with us, just as the aforementioned Donny Hathaway (hence the "A Song For You" cover above). However, I've come to know that some of the biggest, brightest lights burn out way before many are ready for them to depart from our lives. Some of these lights are, in one way or another, too beautiful for human eyes and ears to see and hear--hell, even too beautiful and astounding for human eyes and ears to understand.

Thank you for sharing your talent with us. I just wish that we, as a society, would've helped more instead of just enjoying the show. I don't want to sound overly bitter and damning of our celebrity-obsessed society, nor do I want to sound like I knew Amy personally (I obviously didn't, even though her music does speak to me), but artists are human. Even if they possess seemingly otherworldly talent, at the end of the day? They're still human.



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