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More About Amy Winehouse…

I seriously had no idea people cared so much about Amy Winehouse. Go here and for some reason, here for some sort of interesting ongoing discussion. I felt the need to address her again…

The support of Amy Winehouse, when it isn’t by negrophobes, the musically retarded, or feminists, is by people who romanticize suffering and still believe in concepts like “confessional” art. In an interview in this month’s NYLON magazine, Winehouse says “I say things in songs that I wouldn’t even admit to myself looking in the mirror” (116). What? It is literally impossible to admit something in a song that one has not admitted in the mirror. I assume by “in the mirror” she means to herself, alone, which, unless she just gets on the mic and just wails, she’s writing her songs down. All of her insecurities and neuroses don’t just pour out of her.

She is held up as authentic and therefore a “true” soul musician because many buy into stuff she says or they want to believe in such purity. Her supposed honesty and the praise it receives goes back to racist notions of black musicians (or athletes, even mixed-race presidential candidates) as having a natural or untapped something which makes them great. Winehouse’s troubled persona and “honesty” make her music seem immediate, even primitive. Her producers, black rap producer with credit, Salaam Remi and white, rich boy fuckface Mark Ronson, are presented as something like her handlers, maintaining her pure artistic soul. Of course, this purity does not really exist and never has and even if it had, how is saying everything and anything in a song worthy of praise? Due to the internet in particular, there has been something of a shift in the culture: MySpace, Youtube, this fucking blog, everything is about expression! If everything is about expression (which is fine) then simple expression can no longer be used as an end-run around artistic quality or insight.

The indie rock world, when it isn’t being ironic, is a perfect example of honesty and sincerity being broken-down into a series of easy-to-do gestures through clothing, that whiny “bad” singing, making a Wes Anderson-lite videos, etc. etc.…all of this boundless sincerity is a misguided affront to irony, no different than irony because another series of signs and signifiers are now the norm. Because people are so used to irony and manufactured, distant, emotionless product, stuff like Winehouse which on some level, does attempt to connect to an audience with real feelings, becomes overrated and overvalued. To do what Winehouse and others do but to do it with insight is much harder to do and more poignant. Clement Greenberg, American art critic, has an essay in which he discusses issues of honesty and talent in art. “Honesty” Greenberg says, although “essential”, “does not guarantee anything” and “can never be separated from the procedures of talent” (146). Now, we’ve already agreed that Winehouse is talented in the sense that she has a good voice; it is the issues of honesty or actual honesty that need to be addressed. Greenberg adds that “complete honesty has nothing to do with “purity” or naivety [because] the full truth is unattainable to naivety, and the completely honest artist is not pure in heart.” (146). Words that Winehouse or Bright Eyes, even the Game or Brother Ali would be advised to take.

Good art, real art, stuff that matters, is a hard, messy navigation through emotions of all types; it’s complicated. If all you have is emotional honesty, you’re no better than the artist couched in irony and abstract lyrics. The concept of the difficult artist being abstract and the primitive artist being honest are outdated and as I said before, kinda racist, but when it comes to music, pop music, music manufactured, bought, and sold, the concept that the art you sell is about baring one’s soul is absurd. The best musicians, but especially rappers, have found some kind of interesting balance between giving people what they want and maintaining integrity (Prodigy!) but the concept that on some level, someone who sells a CD only wants to express themselves has always been total bullshit. If it’s only about expression, go back in your room and sing in front of your mirror, don’t bother me with it.

There is a way to address one’s life, exposing very-real truths about one’s self without devolving into self-pity and self-aggrandizing through self-pity. You can talk about your problems and not make yourself a spectacle. This comes from maintaining the emotional integrity of the situaiton without making it quite so apparent or simplistic. When Biggie drops “My mother’s got cancer in her breast/Don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin’ stressed” it comes in the middle of a song that laments Biggie’s world, without becoming all “woe is me” about it. When he finally goes from the general (how his neighborhood changed) to the specific (exactly what troubles him) the effect is stronger because the entire song is not a song about why his mother has breast cancer. Kanye West, one of rap’s biggest self-mythologizers, can often lose his way but his autobiographical songs are almost always injected with humor, autobiography, and insight. It is this mix of emotions which not only makes for a rewarding experience but is closer to real-life, for even in the worst of situations, some warmth or humor pops through and indeed, something is learned. The supposed immediacy of songs like ‘Rehab’ is nothing but laziness. Lazy with insight and disrespectful to an audience who find this music sincere or believe it to be soul-baring. ‘You Know I’m No Good’ is the song-equivalent of the dude in Burger King who mops the floor, telling you about how messed-up his life is, not so much because he wants emotional connection but because the pathetic tendency to victimize one’s self instead of expressing real, actual feelings is so pervasive and even encouraged. Like Burger King Guy, Winehouse is trying to express herself and indeed, if this is her way of doing it, perhaps she has some problems, but I don’t see why that is given magazine covers and record sales; the same would never be done for scary Burger King Guy.

-Greenberg, Clement. ‘Art and Culture: Critical Essays.’ Beacon Press: Boston, 1961.
-Valdesolo, Fiorella. ‘The Devil In Miss Winehouse.’ NYLON Magazine. April 2007. (114-117).

Written by Brandon

April 8th, 2007 at 7:23 pm

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Amy Winehouse…

I thought I’d re-post this because of the SXSW hype about Ms. Winehouse. I should be back with an actually new post in a day or two…-brandon

There’s a lot of talk about Amy Winehouse because of ‘You Know I’m No Good’ from ‘More Fish’ which begs the question, why hasn’t Mr. Maygreen blown-up? His vocal approximation of an incredibly specific bygone r & b era on ‘Good’ is just as impressive. Okay, so there are obvious reasons why Mr. Maygreen isn’t the talk of the U.K press: he probably doesn’t have an album out and someone that can sound Bootsy Collins is a lot less interesting to most than someone that sounds like 60s r & b. Even if those reasons weren’t the case, Winehouse has a lot of other things going for her.

First, the incredibly fickle U.K press. Once again, everyone has forgotten that England is a tiny piece of shit country where the press holds a lot of power and can make bands like Arctic Monkeys superstars. England isn’t open-minded, nor is it hip; it’s just small, so music critic love can make something incredibly popular. Imagine if the United States were only New York, the music charts would be “hip” too. It is for these reasons that punk rock was able to blow-up in England while remaining a subculture here.

Second, Winehouse is white. Her music proves just how far people will go to embrace black music while removing the black element. This is particularly true in the incredibly, musically racist U.K. These assholes will act like because they celebrated Jimi Hendrix they aren’t racist (just as the French still wear their acceptance of Josephine Baker as a badge). The reality is most white critics, particularly, foreign, white critics, when given the option, always adopt the white version of black culture. Can you say trip-hop? In the case of Winehouse, it is more disturbing because she has been embraced not only for her ability to sound like old, black singers but because her troubled, personal life is interpreted as making her soul music, that is, her connections to black music, more “authentic.” She is clearly trying to be Billie Holiday. This is borderline minstrelsy: (from ‘Rehab’) “I ain’t got tha tahhme/And if mah’ daddy thinks ahm fahne”. This is appropriation in the most fucked-up form but for some reason, no one is really complaining. The reason she is not questioned, challenged, or laughed-off for being white is because she is also nuts and can approximate a “black” voice?

Third, she is a woman. To many, Winehouse’s troubles are celebrated through some, confused feminist lens that celebrates her public hi-jinx as honesty. Julianne Shepherd’s recent ‘Interrobang(?!)’ said this:

“In the UK press, Winehouse has both been lauded as a talent in the classic soul and jazz sense, and held up as a drunken, eating-disordered, and generally disheveled pariah. She has been honest about all of these things– which, as those who have been drunken, eating disordered and disheveled will tell you, is no easy feat.”

No, it is not easy to discuss drinking problems or eating disorders but this is not what Winehouse is doing. She perversely uses her problems as both a P.R and anti-P.R moves (as not to alienate any fans), essentially making her problems a dark joke. Now, she can do whatever she wants with her problems but the fact that she is getting credit for being honest when she is at best, being sarcastic, is troubling. The fact that Shepherd, by far the most enthusiastic and (in the best sense of the word) impulsive of Pitchfork’s writers cannot actually say anything about Winehouse’s music in an article that praises the singer, is quite telling. When Winehouse uses her music instead of the press to address emotional issues, it is done in the least subtle of ways.

‘Rehab’ removes all of the subtleties of Winehouses’s supposed influences. While Nina Simone or Billie Holiday or girl groups used their very-specific femininity and the problems that stem from this as a sub-text, Winehouse rubs it in your face. Her music is a gross misreading of the female-fronted music she seems inspired by. There is something refined and at the same time, utterly brash about the music of these women singers, while Winehouse’s music is so cheeky it is uncomfortably obvious. Cat Power, who also went black-soul-throwback with ‘The Greatest’, was for many years, notorious for instability but never wore it as a badge even if every song she sang, in one way or another, was about said instability.

Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ sounds like a song from ‘Dreamgirls’ if ‘Dreamgirls’ were an off-off broadway musical instead of the Hollywood musical it is. That it to say, its approximation of the girl-group sound is significantly better than anything in ‘Dreamgirls’ but it is served through this hipster, “downtown” irony that seems to be where Winehouse is coming from. These impulses, the performing the action of honesty while making light of it all, allow her to be critique-proof and therefore, not controversial but safe, completely explains the UK press’s celebration of her. People love safe rebellion, quantifiable craziness, soft edginess, etc.

Winehouse has an incredibly contrived public persona that fully exploits her own neuroses not for absolution but for cheap popularity and misguided critical respect. So contrived is her persona that it is supposed to come off as totally uncontrived. She comes off as hot enough that males will think she is hot but ugly enough that women can’t hate her. When she says annoyingly flirty things like “I like pin-up girls. I’m more of a boy than a girl. I’m not a lesbian, though — not before a sambuca anyway” she’s begging dudes to jerk off to her. And fellas, if you haven’t busted a nut yet, in that quotation, she’s talking about her pin-up girl tats. Oh snap!

Her music isn’t bad as in, it’s alright, so I see why the British press and 30-something ‘New Yorker’ readers might embrace it, but I just can’t believe that so many others are being fooled. In contrast to Shepherd, Amy Phillips’ Pitchfork song review of a Hot Chip remix of ‘Rehab’ said: “Basically [Winehouse] sounds like a street-smart version of Joss Stone. (Not that we in any way needed a street-smart version of Joss Stone.) To extremely confused people, this means she’s comparable to Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill.”

Dear Extremely Confused People,
There’s a guy named Jaheim. He sang on ‘My Place’ by Nelly and he’s also on that Cam’ron album that Pitchfork told you to buy. He has a much better sense of r & b history and deservingly samples Willie Hutch as opposed to fraudulently sampling girl groups. There’s also Cody Chesnutt. Remember him? If not, dig through your back issues of ‘Fader’ from 2003 or so. Can you send some of your love R. Kelly’s way? I know you chuckle at ‘Trapped In the Closet’ as if R. Kelly isn’t in on the joke (he is) but this dude can sing and if you’re interested in psychos, it doesn’t get realer than R. Kelly. The motherfucker pees on under-aged girls! That’s actually troubled! Not troubled by way of some prep-school attending, child of musicians, Jewess, with a good approximation (I suspect, thanks to some studio processing, but that’s another story) of the Shirelles.


Also, this is William’s comment on the original entry which is well-worth reading…

“The critics all love Amy Whinhouse in NY”….hispters have hard time with soul music unless it is a)older or b)it is done by a white artist… they always need to create some sort of emotional distant between the the music and themselves music….soul music is all about sincerty and we all know sincerty makes the readers of pitchfork uncomfortable… Look same at mass Hispter jerk off to Justin Timberlake (see Pitchfork review of Unsexxy///soundsssss)…But have any of them even listened to a Jahiem album. Pretty smiley boy Justin is playing around about fucking…Jahiem is gonna fuck…


And just because…

How to Enjoy Rap Music If You’re A N00b: Volume 2

1. Dope Dayton Ave – Dayton Family (from ‘What’s On My Mind?’)
2. Serenity Prayer – Goodie Mob (from ‘Soul Food’)
3. 93′ Til Infinity – Souls of Mischief (from ‘93 Til Infinity’)
4. 03′ Til Infinity – Consequence ft. Kanye West (from ‘Take Em’ to the Cleaners Mixtape’)
5. Vernal Equinox – CAN (from ‘Landed’)
6. Pimps – Eightball and MJG (from ‘Comin’ Out Hard’)
7. Sequence I – Fabio Frizzi (from ‘Zombi OST’)
8. Call Me Rambo – Ackie (from I don’t know where, read about it in ‘Wax Poetics’)
9. I Got 5 On It – Luniz ( from ‘Operation Stackola’)
10. It Was A Great Day – Pharrell ft. DJ Drama (from ‘In My Mind (The Prequel) Mixtape’)
11. Dungeoneering – Tim Hecker (from ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’)
12. Auto Rock – Mogwai (from ‘Mr. Beast’ and ‘Miami Vice OST’)
13. Trill Ass Nigga – UGK (from ‘The Southern Way EP’)

Here’s Volume One.

Written by Brandon

March 19th, 2007 at 3:57 pm