It’s been two weeks since Amy Winehouse had to cancel a twelve-city European tour following a now-notorious meltdown in Belgrade, which one Serbian newspaper deemed to be the nation’s “worst concert ever.” Amy Winehouse continues to be the most polarizing figure in the music industry, eliciting more anger than anyone in the post-Michael Jackson universe. Expressions of anger usually fall into one of three categories.
The first category attacks her looks. Certainly, some of this is par for the course for high profile songstresses (Fergie, Britney, Courtney), but Winehouse’s propensity for having her looks attacked is simply without parallel in the music word and perhaps the world of celebrity. She has been publically called out for looking like: a man and/or tranny, a horse, Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter movies, an alien, Dr. Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a vampire, Bette Midler, Death, a martian, the Bride of Frankenstein, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Howard Stern, Marilyn Manson, SS-Standartenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Google it), and perhaps most frequently, a train wreck. She has been a popular Halloween costume and the subject of a porn parody.
The second category attacks her health. Winehouse has been summarily diagnosed (by people who have never been in the same room with her) as suffering from herpes, anorexia, emphysema, tuberculosis and chronic thumb sucking. Winehouse’s “sickness” is frequently cast in opposition to her relative “health” when she burst onto the scene as a white, Jewish girl from the London suburbs. And we’re not just talking tabloids. In it’s 2007 cover story of Winehouse, Spin said of her: “Three years ago she was an innocuous, girl-next-doorish, virtually tat-free, full-figured neo-jazz crooner with middling sales and no American distribution—now she’s Sid Vicious.” Even when Winehouse looks healthy the public still manages to find occasion for insult: After returning from a trip to the Caribbean, for instance, she was described as looking like “a cast member of the Jersey Shore.”
The third category of Amy-hating points to her behavior. The 27-year old’s battles with heroin, alcohol, cocaine, ketamine and marijuana are well chronicled (in fact, she’s chronicled many of them herself in songs), but the mocking scorn that accompanies their depiction is without parallel. The photograph of her wandering the streets in just her bra in 2007 became her icon’s fait accompli, the way Nick Ut’s photo of a naked Vietnamese girl in 1972 became the symbol for all that was wrong with the US’s actions in the Vietnam War. There was, of course, the cell phone video in which she appeared to be smoking crack and, of course, the video of her singing racist words inserted into a children’s song.
Since when aren’t rock stars supposed to be dangerous? The same three criteria above—bad looks, bad health, bad behavior—have been aired as protests against some of the most important musical acts of all-time—Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan and The Stones. They were the arguments against the value of the early punks and the forefathers of hip hop. In an era in which artists shill to their fans on MySpace and Twitter as if they were friends, isn’t there a place for one performer in the world who isn’t pussy enough to say she doesn’t give a fuck if we like her? Even ballyhooed subversive Lady Gaga—last seen giving Scotty McCreery tips on how to hold a microphone on American Idol can be bought and sold like Coca-Cola. Meanwhile, that grainy video of Winehouse with her trademark flopping over to one side, painfully mumbling through songs on a Belgrade stage communicates more in one unfinished song about the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll than Gaga could summon from inside her GRAMMY egg vessel in a lifetime.
Don’t pity Amy Winehouse. She wants you to hate the way she looks. She wants you to think of her as sick. She wants you to notice her fucked-up behavior. While some have speculated that Winehouse’s latest crash and burn has made it possible for Adele to assume her abdicated throne as the reigning British queen of soul, I doubt it. Amy Winehouse has already lived and died in that throne a hundred times before: “The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.”