Daphne A. Brooks, associate professor of English and African-American studies at Princeton University, socks it to Amy Winehouse in an article for the Nation, Amy Winehouse and the (Black) Art of Appropriation:
What makes this act slightly less than amusing is the fact that Winehouse has built her stardom on recycling the looks and sounds–the Wurlitzer, hand claps and upright bass–of Freedom Ride-era pop music to sell her tale of rapidly unfolding decline. It’s one thing in our celebreality culture of scandals and bad behavior to garner attention by singing a pop anthem about resisting rehab. It’s quite another to set these finely crafted tales from the “gritty” English ‘hood to doo-wop hopefulness and buoyant, “Dancing in the Streets” percussive melodies that recall the upbeat tenor of King-era activism. This summer, the dissonance grew deafening when Winehouse was caught on video singing slurs about blacks and Asians–not to mention gays and disabled folk–to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” while hanging out in what looked like a crack den.
Check out what Brooks has to say about the Dap-Kings after the jump…
On the Dap-Kings:
Considered by some listeners to be the heartbeat of the current retro-soul revival, Brooklyn’s Dap-Kings emerged in 2000 as the house band at Daptone Records with an analog sound in an increasingly digital world. Heavy on brass and a crisp, early funk-and-soul percussive beat, the band developed a nostalgia-hungry indie following by reproducing note for note the compositional style of a bygone era. (A word of advice to hipster strivers: leapfrogging backward over hip-hop will always get you cred.) It was music that resuscitated the sound as well as the aura of black culture circa 1964–yet it was played by a predominantly white group of musicians.
Winehouse is something of a departure for the Dap-Kings, who are regularly fronted by 52-year-old African-American vocalist Sharon Jones, perhaps the true heir apparent to James and Ruth Brown alike. With a deeper and more powerful range than Winehouse, Jones has recorded three full-length albums with the Dap-Kings, none of which have moved anywhere near the number of units that Winehouse has. It would be easy to suggest that Winehouse “hijacked” Jones’s retro-soul soundtrack, but Winehouse doesn’t sound all that much like Jones, whose raw power and propulsive energy is more Godfather of Soul and less girl-group demure. Far removed from Jones’s infectious spirit, Winehouse’s pseudo-inebriated singing is more like a caricature of Amos ‘n’ Andy meets one of Billie Holiday on heroin.
At least Brooks recognizes the awesomeness of Sharon Jones!
4 thoughts on “Amy Winehouse: What kind of fuckery is this?”
I’m sorry, but I don’t harken back to King-era activism (or record companies chronically ripping off artists) when I listen to doo-wop or anything else from that era. Winehouse did a clever job appropriating wall-of-sound-era music and adapting it to her own fucked-up stories, something plenty of musicians have done before (and some of whom we like)…if she weren’t such a racist crackhead and instead was doing work for Greenpeace (but writing the same songs), we’d all be talking about how brilliant she was.
We can’t always keep the person separate from the music, but we can try.
Let me get this straight. We’re supposed to hold Winehouse to a greater amount of scrutiny because she’s revered among proclaimed hipsters that don’t properly attribute her style to Mamie Smith? On top of that, Winehouse herself is suppose to raise herself to the same elite echelon that Ms. Brooks demands of everyone, a society of socially aware and culturally respectful individuals that watch their mouths, even when the cell phone cameras are capturing their addictions in a fucking crack den.
That’s a bloody bit of fuckery if I ever heard of one mate!
Fuckery of the highest (academic) order which speaks for itself.