The first time I heard Frank, Amy Winehouse’s 2003 debut album, I immediately fell in love. Only 20 years old at the time of its release, she sang about the trials and joys of being a young woman in a modern world with heart and sometimes brutal candor. From deconstructing the politics of sex and love to poking fun at Generation Y’s more unsavoury proclivities, Winehouse understood the intricacies of the human experience and did the only thing she could to process them: sing about it.
By 2006, she began to gain wider recognition with the release of Back to Black. While many artists fall prey to the sophomore slump, Winehouse managed the exact opposite and reappeared on the scene with a new look; the multiple tattoos and beehive hairdo (which would later become her trademark) represented the strong, confident and no-nonsense woman from the Frank era but now with a retro feel. Back to Black displayed this shift perfectly, embodying a Motown-influenced, slickly produced record which built upon Winehouse’s obsession with her own obsessive self-awareness and continued to embrace the all-too-relatable tendencies we all have towards wreckless love and being our own worst enemy.
However, Winehouse didn’t just sing about destructive love, she lived it. By 2007, she tied the knot with on-and-off boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil, who she often described as her soulmate. It was around this time that she developed serious alcohol and drug abuse problems and started to become tabloid fodder not for her voice but for her regular public incidents as a result of said addictions. While many in Winehouse’s personal life attempted to separate the couple for her own good and they did ultimately divorce, her love for Civil is something that many point to as her ultimate undoing.
Winehouse was a self-described hopeless romantic in the most unconventional sense of the phrase. The intensity which led her toward unhealthy habits and relationships is also what lent such heart-wrenching sincerity to her music and made her stand out amongst the homogenized batch of young female popstars out there. She was phenomenally talented as a vocalist and songwriter, an artist whose vision was established early in her life and never wavered. She incited and inspired music fans with her unique brand of genre-hopping and left everyone waiting for what she would do next.
Hearing the news of Amy’s death this afternoon – at only 27 years old – was absolutely devastating. Here was an artist who was my age and seemed to share so much of my own heart and soul and ways of looking at the world, suddenly gone. I, like so many others, had been pulling for her. I would see photos of her looking healthier, getting better and I’d be excited for her to get back on track, to return to singing which was the one thing which always brought her such joy. I was excited for myself and other fans as well for the opportunity to share in more of her experiences in the way that only music allows. And now it’s all been cut short.
So here’s to Amy Winehouse. For all her tragic flaws, she was an unabashedly honest and emotional woman, ruthless and extremely loyal to her own heart, just trying to find her way. Unfortunately, she will never get a chance to find it now but I will never forget just how much she helped me on the journey to finding my own.
Rest in peace, Amy.