In an explicit rebuke of Miley Cyrus’ failed MTV Music Video Awards twerking performance, Amy Linden writes an evocative piece at Ebony about Amy Winehouse. The late pop star, Linden says, was more intuitively tuned into black soul than any other white pop artist to arrive in her wake, which is why she didn’t resort to antics like twerking.
Amy Winehouse was arguably one of the decade’s strongest, most nakedly expressive singer/songwriters. Just 27 when she passed away July 23, 2011, Winehouse was a five-time Grammy winner whose multiplatinum Back to Black (2007) reinvigorated a (mostly) British remake/remodel of American soul music. The trend continued with the ubiquitous ascendancy of Adele, herself a progeny of a rich lineage of White (mostly Brit) artists including Annie Lennox, Lisa Stansfield, George Michael, and the late Teena Marie—all of whom easily crossed over to Black audiences…
For obvious reasons, comparing Amy Winehouse to Miley Cyrus is laughable. But as the latter’s recent twerk-a-thon debacle so painfully demonstrated, stakes continue to be high for White artists referencing so-called urban culture or Black music. Because no matter how pure their intentions, there’s always the risk that when an artist pays homage, it can be repositioned as tacit permission to step over a line (blurred or otherwise) and enter territory that could—and possibly should—be off limits. One false or insensitive move, and appreciation can devolve into co-opting, or karaoke.
Much as it had been with Stansfield, Marie, et al., Amy Winehouse never tried to be something she wasn’t. If, as a handful of detractors offered, she sounded Black, I’d argue that what they might have meant, or should have said, was that Winehouse found the truth, and articulated the emotion and depth of experience that’s ofttimes associated with Black music. And audiences across racial lines heard that respect and Winehouse’s pain, and responded. It’s part of the reason why hip-hop appreciated her.
Read Amy Linden‘s entire piece at Ebony.
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