You start to feel old when the person who was the icon of your youth has been dead for a decade.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of Amy Winehouse, arguably the most iconic and influential British singer/songwriter of the 21st century.
Though her career was short, she left behind an incredible body of work that still resonates with people almost 20 years after it was released.
Whilst today obviously marks a sad anniversary for those who loved Amy, in some ways it can also be seen as a vindication of Amy as an artist.
Here we are ten years on and there is as much interest in this woman as ever. She clearly wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and her music clearly made an impact on people.
Not only are there plenty of people who were just children when Amy died who have become massive fans, but older generations who may have overlooked her at the time as just another modern pop star in life are also discovering her too.
For almost every single year for the past decade, Back to Black has been the best selling album of the 21st century on Vinyl, which has itself made a massive comeback in the past ten years. Despite its newfound popularity Vinyl is still mostly bought by older generations. When you look at the top ten best selling albums on Vinyl ever year, they are mostly made up of bands and singers from the 20th century.
I’m not saying that younger people can’t and don’t enjoy bands and singers from the 60s and 70s. (I do!) Or that modern singers such as Harry Styles don’t make the top ten best selling Vinyl albums. However the top ten singers and bands for other, more modern mediums such as downloads, streaming, even CDs are all modern bands and singers, whilst on Vinyl meanwhile Amy has been the only 21st century artists to crack the top ten every year.
Here is a full rundown of how well Amy’s music has continued to sell across all platforms.
Here are some more examples of Amy’s enduring popularity to older and younger generations.
Aside from her music still selling well, there have also been statues and Oscar winning films made about her life in the decade since her passing.
Her influence on other musicians meanwhile is just as strong as ever on both sides of the Atlantic. Prominent British artists to emerge since Amy’s death who cite her as their main or one of their main influences include Sam Smith, Celeste, Laura Mvula, Emeli Sande, whilst artists from other countries around the world to cite her as their main inspiration include Caro Emerald, Lana Del Rey, Alessia Cara,and Millie Bobby Brown.
In spite of this however I can’t help but feel that many tributes, and retrospectives on this important anniversary will probably remember Amy in the wrong way to some extent.
Obviously they will all talk about her talent and impact, but ultimately I can’t help but feel they will maybe make her into too much of a victim.
Amy was treated appallingly by the mainstream media. Her death should serve as a cautionary example of how cruel the industry can be to its stars, and there are many other important issues surrounding the dreadful treatment she received such as mental health being stigmatized, double standards against women. (There is no doubt that had she been a man who lived that kind of lifestyle. She would not have been scrutinized to the same extent.) Finally there is also the hypocrisy from many of the same papers that kicked her in the teeth when she was at her lowest eb, now celebrating her as a misunderstood musical genius.
That said however it is important not to let this shameful treatment from the media, and the tragedy of her early death overshadow her talent and great musical accomplishments.
Sadly the dominant narrative is that Amy was a complete joke during her lifetime and that no-one ever gave her any time until she died. That is complete myth and sadly it has been spread by her fans. I understand why. Her fans are justifiably still upset at the awful way she was treated, and get angry when they see hypocrites like NME now praise her. I myself have focused on the awful treatment she got in previous articles I’ve written about her.
Still ultimately I think that in our grief and anger over losing Amy we have overlooked just how incredible her career was in many respects. Back to Black was one of the best selling albums in the world for three years in a row, broke numerous records in terms of sales and awards all over the world, and made Amy a household name. Furthermore all of her albums were big critical hits too, and the biggest names in music, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, Debbie Harry, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Lily Allen, Adele, Florence Welch, even Eminem all expressed interest in working with her and admiration for her talent.
Finally in addition to this she was also cited as an influence by the likes of Adele, Lady Gaga, Florence Welch, Paloma Faith etc, when she was alive.
Whilst there were many tragic things about Amy’s life, artistically it was incredibly fulfilling. She did live to see her music be appreciated by millions of people around the world, make a sizable impact on other singer/songwriters and have the people whose music she had grown up with like Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones and even Stevie Wonder all express admiration for her.
Sadly however I’d wager you will see very few articles mentioning this today. Instead most of them will be along the lines of “how we failed Amy Winehouse.” “Amy Winehouse is a lesson for the way the media treats women.” “How could we have saved Amy”. etc, with only a passing mention of her accomplishments.
Even worse is the fact that her talent is skipped over in many of these articles too. Amy was more than just a great soul singer. She was incredibly versatile. She could cover many different genres from Jazz to Soul to Reggae and she could sing more than just sad, downbeat songs about heartbreak.
She was incredibly funny and witty and many of her songs are actually quite humorous such as “I Head Love Is Blind” and “Fuck Me Pumps.” Others are quite upbeat fun dance songs like her cover Valerie, Amy Amy Amy meanwhile is a lively sexy song.
To simply write Amy off as another tortured artist I think does her a disservice. It overlooks her versatility, her wit and amazing sense of humour, and her passion for and extensive knowledge of music which allowed her to pick out such a wide range of songs to cover. Everything from classics by the Beatles and Billie Holiday to contemporary hits like Valerie.
Obviously I am not saying that articles exploring how Amy was mistreated are inappropriate and don’t have their place, and I’d be hypocritical if I didn’t acknowledge that I have written similar articles in the past. Still I think now after 10 years we can maybe try and remember Amy in a way that she would probably rather be remembered. Not simply as a victim off the media, but also as a pioneering, accomplished singer/songwriter in her own right.