The mockery materialized on its own. Just after Amy Winehouse was found dead at her London flat, for officially unknown but realistically known causes, at age 27--mere weeks after a string of cancelled European tour dates whose coverage devolved in minutes to a punchline contest--you could practically feel the dismissal rise like the day's heat from the Internet commentariat. The responses ranged from snideness, laced with every bad "wine" pun the tabloids came up with years ago, that doesn't deserve repeating; to "let's stop glamorizing rock excess" concern trolling, to lazy comparisons to the Oslo bombing, an act of mind-boggling fake contextualizing that's almost miraculously unfair. To be fair, equal amounts of genuine sympathy have emerged, but that's never what you remember. It's easier to focus on the scandals; the headlines make it so easy. It's easier to let Winehouse's life spiral off into the dark than to correct its course--certainly, her entourage found it so. It's easier to think of the tragic, sordid story that was than the success story that could have been and, all too briefly, was.
There was a time, not long ago, when Winehouse was more than a quick punchline. The singer had just attended the BRIT School in London, the same institution that nurtured the early careers of Adele, Leona Lewis and dozens of others, and was soaked in A&R and talent scouting, including that of Simon Fuller's 19 Management machine. From these connections emerged her debut album, Frank--co-written and released at age 20, but betraying few signs of youth or inexperience--which earned lavish praise in the British press. It also got the attention of producer and tastemaker Mark Ronson, who produced much of her follow-up and U.S. breakthrough: the platinum-selling, five-time Grammy winner Back to Black. "Rehab," its best (and most prescient) single, not only sold hundreds of thousands in both countries, but garnered scores of covers and cultural ubiquity. At least in the beginning, the world had rallied around her.
This is not to discount Winehouse's own contributions. Her talents were twofold: a rasp and roar of a voice, devastating at both ends, and an equally devastating lyrical voice. "Maybe if I get this down I'll get it off my mind -- it serves to condition me and smoothen my kinks," she sings on Frank single "You Sent Me Flying," which isn't even close to her most harrowing track. To call Winehouse's words "confessional" is to oversimplify; the strength of her lyrics is how she takes her listener through thickets of mundane details and polysyllabic generalities only to stop and pierce through with something direct like "I told you I was trouble; you know that I'm no good." Reading this on the page or screen, of course, is also missing the point; the effect is in how Winehouse inhabited them, as fully as the legends who preceded her. In the studio, her notes are forceful enough, but on stage, you'd need the upper reaches of the Richter scale.
Winehouse's third talent was courtesy of both her and her producers, particularly Ronson: her neo-retro sound, which brought those legends--Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dusty Springfield, Ronnie Spector, anyone with a voice and blues--to mind and to press. Winehouse wasn't the first to mine the blues and '60s girl groups for inspiration--singers like Macy Gray had done the same albeit not with as much ado, and soul singers do and had done the same for decades while reviewers omitted the proper ado. But in Winehouse, marketers found the makings of a bubble: a half-studied, half-raw voice, lyrics with both twentysomething signifiers and more timeless sentiment, and just as a bonus, an instantly identifiable beehive-and-eyeliner style that became the stuff of endless costumes, not to mention everyday fashions.
This industry blessing meant that her music, which used to pigeonhole her as a jazz singer, partly supplanted the slicker sounds on the charts and, in its own way, became just as acceptable for pop, specifically pop performed by young, female, British singer-songwriters. Her peers might have existed without her, but certainly not as easily. And those peers were many and varied: the lighter likes of Lily Allen and Kate Nash, the smoother likes of Corinne Bailey Rae, the grittier likes of Joss Stone, Duffy and, especially, Adele. The movement has a lot to answer for--despite this sound borrowing heavily from blues and soul, the artists the industry championed were mostly young and white--but its influence on music is undeniable.
To witness Winehouse is to wonder why art and self-destruction so often dance together. Insiders wonder if she'll keep it together long enough to fulfill her glittery promise -- or at least the promise that music marketers hold out.
Washington Post, February 7, 2007; via the Village Voice
It's chilling to consider Adele in light of Winehouse's tragedy; in many ways, Adele's 2011 breakout is what Winehouse could have had if only events and addictions arranged themselves differently. Most people face pain, and some people face extraordinary pain. For some artists, the result of that pain is tragedy; for others, the result is art. And for others still, it's both, and that's the most tragic of all.
"I started drinking and I fell in love. I fell so in love," said Winehouse in a 2007 Washington Post interview. The object of this love was video assistant Blake Fielder-Civil; their attraction was fast and their relationship even faster. By most accounts, Fielder-Civil was no prize and their relationship no model; the tabloids ran thick with murk either about their codependency or their drug abuse, assault and trauma. "There is no doubt they are deeply and passionately in love with each other, but there's also the clear sense that Winehouse and Blake are a pair of self-destructive souls equally capable of being the best or the worst thing that's ever happened to each other," wrote a now-too-prescient Rolling Stone article. (It's telling that most of Winehouse's major features--Rolling Stone, SPIN, others--came as Winehouse was well into her spiral of scandal, the print equivalent of disaster photography.) It's a difficult, ultimately useless task to figure out how much of the rumors were substantiated and how much were gossip or pre-emptive schadenfreude. What matters is public record: the relationship was painful, and if it didn't destroy Winehouse, it might as well have.
The course of this destruction is sordid and needs little explaining; drugs, alcohol, addiction, eating and mental disorders, ever-more-erratic performances and disasters upon disasters until there were no further disasters to be had. It's hard not to gawk at this and harder not to glamorize this, because doing so is so entrenched. There's a particular line of thought, both for singers and for their listeners, that links vocal power to recovery, as if if a singer just pushes hard enough on his or her vocal cords, she'll sublimate what's deeper down--as if people can literally sing away the pain. The same impulse affects writers: if you pull just the right words from your mind, you'll pull the past out with them.
Winehouse, both a singer and a writer and steeped in a music industry full of others, was undoubtedly familiar with these impulses. Back to Black is all but a cry for help; every successive single contains successively more damning confessions--not posturing, as some have accused Winehouse of, but genuine shame. "I cheated myself, like I knew I would." "Life is like a pipe, and I'm a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside." "I should just be my own best friend, not fuck myself in the head with stupid men." Every failure, in Winehouse's telling and in her voice, sounds pre-ordained; any moment of happiness is tempered by its departure. Whether to mock or to pity, everyone quotes that one line in "Rehab," but the real kicker comes elsewhere: "I just need a friend." It's the classic problem of fame, to have fans but no friends, to be admired and hounded but never helped, to be enormous in the musical world but feel so small.
But again, to read these words on paper is to miss the point. It's almost impossible, but try to listen to "Rehab" with no context, as if it was in an unfamiliar language sung by a demo singer. There's not just resignation here, but a certain defiance, even euphoria. Faced with extraordinary pain, much of it not her own making (the thing about addiction is it controls you, not the other way around, and anyone who says otherwise is lying or ignorant), and faced with an industry and press that demanded further output or further outrage, whichever came easier, Winehouse seems to have done the only thing she could have think of: dove into all her pain and all their pejoratives, inhabiting them fully for as long as she could. Every pop musician inhabits a persona, of course, from Lady Gaga's costumery to Ke$ha's gleeful debauchery. It's the nature of addiction, and of Winehouse's tragedy, that for Winehouse, it stopped being a choice.
The model has accused photographer Jonathan Leder of sexually assaulting her in 2012.
Content Warning: The following article contains depictions of sexual assault.
Emily Ratajkowski isn't one to stay silent.
The model and actress, who's perhaps most widely recognized as "the girl from the 'Blurred Lines' music video," has used her platform over the past few years to engage in notable activism. She was spotted at Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles earlier this year and has been a loud advocate for women's rights, even serving as a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.
Ah, the nostalgia...
Today's youth doesn't understand the joy that came with shredding on a plastic guitar.
As Guitar Hero became a global phenomenon, groups of friends spent countless after school hours trying to conquer complex offerings from Van Halen, Metallica, Buckethead, Slayer, and the Charlie Daniels Band. The next day, they'd regale their peers with their efforts, as one friend would chime in and say he knows a guy's cousin who allegedly scored 100% on DragonForce's elusive "Through the Fire and Flames" on "expert" difficulty.