Sep 12th, 2008 // 7 Comments

For your pre-weekend reading, here’s the lightning-smart Daphne Brooks on Amy Winehouse and how she engages in racial drag (when she’s able to stand up long enough to perform, anyway): “Winehouse has been lauded for essentially throwing Holiday along with Foster Brooks, Louis Armstrong, Wesley Willis, Megan Mullally’s Karen on Will and Grace, Moms Mabley and Courtney Love into a blender and pressing pulse. And her ability to bring that tricked-out mix of characters to life has made for some eyebrow-raising, highly orchestrated stage shows. Curious to many is Winehouse’s use of black male backup dancers and singers, brothers with skinny ties, black mod suits and hats who hustle to choreographed moves, conjuring up images of a bygone era of black male ‘coolness’: Belafonte and Poitier, Nkrumah and Lumumba. Putting this ‘coolness’ in the service of backing up a ‘ruint’ white retro femme figure seems laughable in one sense and egregiously patronizing in another. In either case this sight-gag gimmick is perhaps the key to the obsessions of Back to Black.” Much, much more at the link. [The Nation via tylercoates]

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  1. Michaelangelo Matos

    I’m off-page with Brooks when it comes to Winehouse the musician–I love her, she plainly doesn’t–but that’s a very sharp piece. The thought it’s spurred, beyond any of the stuff she cites directly, is what it might mean that two of the major media darlings at the moment are Winehouse and Mad Men, both of which thrive on pre-Beatles iconography. (Not to mention there’s a tight presidential race featuring a candidate who’s, among other things, a Kennedy-manque.)

  2. metalkate

    lady needs to stop overthinking this and put her intellect to work on some more pressing issues.

    leave amy alone!

  3. Anonymous

    I agree this is very well written and draws some interesting conclusions. What I take issue with is the author taking stock of Winehouse’s influences as if there was something to be ashamed of. Any artist can be deconstructed in this manner, no music was created in a vacuum. Coltrane had Charlie Parker, Michael Jackson had Stevie Wonder, so on and so forth. The sheer amount of artists that this article lists as influences, to me suggests that she is doing a good job of not borrowing to heavily from any one in particular.

    Also, not every African-American soul singer in the 60′s was a motivated civil-rights activist. Some liked to party as hard as Amy does.

    And as far as the updated slang and tales of London nightlife, I would point to that as the very reason that Winehouse has soared to such heights of popularity, while Sharon Jones has yet to breakout. Jones’ lyrical content shares much more in common with music from the 60′s.

    Finally, I can’t help but see the irony in this article that tries so hard to play up the race issues of Winhouse’s makeup and gives Marc Ronson a paragraph as the creator of her sound without mentioning Salaam Remi, who produced half the album.

  4. T'Challa

    I would argue that it’s those very juxtapositions that make Winehouse interesting. It’s never been lost on me that she toured with the Dap-Kings and always makes a point to talk about black men sexually–her role as “the ruint white woman” who has been defiled by the evil black penis is well-played, albeit not even remotely PC.

    And I’m surprised that no one at Idolator has picked up on none other than KID ROCK claiming how much he loves Winehouse, and even plans on doing more Motown-styled music because of her influence.

    Let that sink in for a minute. Kid Rock. Amy Winehouse. The similarities are kind of mind-boggling…

  5. Clevertrousers

    Damn that was a sharp piece of writing – the only thing I can add is that I think Brooks needs to dig a little deeper into specifically Black and British signifiers in Winehouse’s music and image. Winehouse is working just as much off the iconography of post-Windrush generation rudeboys, Northern soulboys and two-tone revivalists as she is from her refracted, transatlantic readings of American black music. I think when you look at her from a strictly American lens you miss a lot of the important British subtext one race and, yes, class that’s part of Winehouse’s work. I’m not saying that representations of blackness and race aren’t equally problematic – in fact, they’re probably worse, thanks to the added weight of British colonial history – but I would like to see Brooks dig a little deeper into this side of things, too. God knows she’s smart enough to get it right if she wants to…

  6. musicmope

    Wait until Brooks discovers Dame Shirley Bassey. HER MIND WILL BE BLOWN.

  7. musicmope

    Oops, having now read the article, I see that Brooks namechecks Bassey, though she seems to have no clue as to her race-drag significance.

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