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Billboard Staffers Remember Amy Winehouse, 10 Years After Her Death

Billboard Staffers Remember Amy Winehouse, 10 Years After Her Death

A decade ago today (July 23), the music world was rocked by the news that Amy Winehouse — the powerhouse singer/songwriter whose incredibly soulful, uncomfortably personal songs had a seismic impact both stateside and in her native U.K. — had died at the age of 27. While Winehouse’s artistry was often overshadowed towards the end of her life by tabloid headlines about her personal life and problems with substance abuse, it’s the music that’s lived on, timeless in its own right and incalculably impactful on the direction of popular music in its wake.

Below, Billboard staffers recall their memories of Amy Winehouse’s life and death — as well as their favorite songs and moments of hers, and the way they still see her influence carried out in music today — in response to a series of questions about the too-short career of one of the truly singular artists of our lifetimes.

1. What, if anything, do you remember about the day 10 years ago that Amy Winehouse died — where you were, what you were doing, how you reacted? 

Rania Aniftos: Full disclosure – I was 16 and so wrapped up in SATs and the college application process that I sadly cannot remember anything else from that time period. It was only until a few years later, when I developed an interest in psychology and was also old enough to fully understand the weight of her life, that I delved into just how devastating her death and the years leading up to it were. Now that I’m almost 27 myself, the reality of how addiction without the proper help can so quickly take away a young person’s life hits really hard.

Katie Atkinson: I was working for MTV News at the time … but I was on vacation and truly off the grid (sorry to my co-workers). So I actually found out about Amy’s death in The New York Times print edition, which my now-father-in-law picked up for me to do the crossword puzzle. I was a massive fan, so despite all the doom-and-gloom coverage of her substance abuse issues, I hadn’t allowed myself to think she would be taken away from us this soon. I was beyond devastated.

Katie Bain: I was at home, working. I remember that it was a really hot afternoon in L.A. I saw the news somewhere online and was sad, obviously, but I can’t say I was shocked. (And not being shocked sort of compounded the sadness.) Given what we’d all seen of Amy in the media preceding her death — I remember Perez Hilton being particularly hard on her — the news seemed inevitable. I vaguely remember just sitting at my computer looking at photos of her throughout the years while watching the story unfold.

Jason Lipshutz: I was an editorial assistant at Billboard, working on a broken laptop in a too-small Brooklyn apartment on a hazy summer afternoon. I remember getting a flurry of texts, and buying Back to Black on iTunes (I had it on CD, but had left it at my parents’ house), and having to update a gallery of “27 Club” artists. It was a crappy day.

Neena Rouhani: I was only 16 years old when Amy passed. I hadn’t yet understood the effect she would have on my life in later years and the way her music would accompany me through my journey. All I remember from the day she passed is her story being reduced to her addictions and vices, when there’s so much more nuance to it. In my adulthood, I really poured myself into understanding her story and music beyond her often manipulated public image.

Andrew Unterberger: I was at an all-day barbecue that I ended up leaving early to go and write about Amy’s life and legacy for the pop blog I was working for at the time. Looking back, it’s easy to say that her death was predictable at the time, but I was still in total disbelief that day — sometimes when a celebrity feels perpetually on the brink of tragedy, you come to think that they’ll never actually fall over the edge. I was drunk and sad and by the time I got home all I really wanted to do was to write about her anyway.

2. When you think of Winehouse’s life and career, what’s the flashbulb moment of hers that you recall most immediately/vividly? 

Rania Aniftos: I first discovered Amy while watching the 2008 Grammys, where she performed a mashup of “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.” I was so captivated by her famous beehive hairstyle and winged eyeliner, and of course her voice blew me away. At the risk of sounding cheesy, my teenage self had never heard music like that or seen someone who looked like that before. At that moment, I became so obsessed with her strong sense of individuality and it gave me confidence to experiment with my own personal style. I must have listened to “You Know I’m No Good” at least 200 times in the year that followed.

Katie Atkinson: I had only been working at MTV for a year when Amy was booked to perform at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards, which was the first time the show had ever been live. As the legend goes, she showed up for rehearsal on Saturday, which reassured producers that she was good to go for Sunday night’s show, only to hop on a private jet for Las Vegas and promise to be back in time. Her plane landed an hour before showtime, so there were a lot of nervous execs wandering the Universal Studios lot — but watching that performance back today, all I see is a complete pro who turns in a strong, self-assured vocal. All the chaos surrounding that night is nowhere to be seen.

Katie Bain: The look on her face when she won record of the year at the 2008 Grammys. Her wide-eyed, jaw-on-the-floor shock was super endearing and really showed us the human person behind the star.

Lyndsey Havens: This is a bit of a roundabout answer, but there was a moment in early 2020 that made me retroactively appreciate the release of “Cherry.” While at the Grammy Museum ahead of the 2020 ceremony, there was an Amy Winehouse exhibit on display. I briefly walked through and recall feeling immediately struck by some hand-written lyrics framed on the wall, one of which was for “Cherry” off Frank. The yellow notebook paper was filled with Amy’s rounded and clean writing, but what made me smile most was that the page was filled with doodles of hearts. It became so clear in that moment the purity of Amy’s passion as a vocalist and musician who loved the craft and her instrument above all else.

Jason Lipshutz: The 2008 Grammys, in which Winehouse performed “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” via satellite from London; won five awards, including best new artist and record of the year and song of the year for “Rehab”; and dropped “my Blake incarcerated,” in reference to her then-jailed beau Blake Fielder-Civil, during an acceptance speech. Winehouse took over the music industry on her own terms that night, and witnessing it in real time as a pop fan was a treat that’s stuck with me.

Neena Rouhani: Honestly, what comes to mind is the tragedy of it all. Lately, I’ve reflected on the parallels between her story and what’s happening with Britney Spears. Similar to what is surfacing about Britney, Amy was exploited and taken advantage of by the people around her. Many believe that had she not been, she may have still been alive today. She was such a special soul and everyone could see that and wanted a piece of it, which in a way contributed to the tragedy of her life.

Andrew Unterberger: For whatever reason, the two most vivid memories I have of Amy are both related to her tumultuous marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil. The wording of her shouting out to “my Blake, incarcerated” during her Grammy acceptance speech has always stuck with me — as has a magazine profile (which mag, I can’t seem to remember or Google) in which after hearing a friend describe her own star-crossed romance, she declared that the friend wasn’t really in love anyway, because if she was, she would be dead right now for not being with him. Not the healthiest view of love, certainly, but one that made an impression.

3. Winehouse’s sophomore LP Back to Black is generally remembered as one of the best albums of the 21st century. Aside from the most obvious hits (“Rehab,” “You Know I’m No Good,” the title track), what’s a song on it that you think doesn’t get the love it should? 

Rania Aniftos: This song has been getting a much deserved second life on TikTok lately, but the Billy Paul-inspired (and Nas-referencing) “Me & Mr. Jones” is so, so good. It gives us Winehouse’s smoky ’60s soul vocals and her irreplaceable sass laid on top of her misery with that amazing “What kind of f–kery is this?” line. I know I was only supposed to pick one, but I also have to mention “Wake Up Alone.” Nothing captures heartbreak quite like that song.

Katie Atkinson: The one that continues to amaze me is “Love Is a Losing Game.” It’s one thing to reference all these Motown and Wall of Sound vibes throughout the album, but quite another to create a song that should have been a hit for The Supremes in 1964 yet somehow isn’t derivative. It doesn’t have the anachronistic references of the album’s other tracks (skull T-shirt, Slick Rick); it’s just a timeless classic that could be dropped into any decade and still connect.

Katie Bain: “Me & Mr. Jones” has got so much swagger, and an eye-roll sense of humor that I love — particularly the way she delivers “What kind of f–kery is this?” It’s a line my friends and I still say to each other when presented with any garden variety f–kery.

Lyndsey Havens: I’ll go to bat for the lesser-played “Some Unholy War.” As one of the tracks Amy wrote on her own, the sentiment of her loyalty hits particularly hard. And, considering my earlier answer about Amy’s fondness for her guitar, there’s a warmth and honor felt in her singing about, “Just me, my dignity and this guitar case.”

Jason Lipshutz: “Wake Up Alone” is positioned right after a run of hits (“Back to Black,” “Love is a Losing Game,” “Tears Dry On Their Own”) on the album track list, and serves as a cold shot of reality after a breathless string of songs — a doo-wop song about mundane everyday activities that help distract from the nights where dreams of lost romance are tragically real. It was never going to be a hit, and probably never should have been, but a song like “Wake Up Alone” is just as much of a showcase for Winehouse’s natural gift for song craft as the album’s bigger pop moments.

Neena Rouhani: I have to pick two, “Love Is A Losing Game” and “Wake Up Alone.” Both songs emit so much emotion that they almost regularly bring me to tears and the lyrics are somehow both poetic and accessible (“This face in my dreams seizes my guts/ He floods me with dread/ Soaked in soul, he swims in my eyes by the bed”).  They’re those kinds of songs that you can sing with your entire being, on repeat. I think Amy specialized in making that sort of music.

Andrew Unterberger: “Wake Up Alone” has maybe my favorite Amy line: “I stay up, clean the house, at least I’m not drinking/ Run around just so I don’t have to think about thinking.” The implications are perhaps the biggest gut-punch in a catalog with no shortage of blows to the midsection.

4. Though Back to Black was the only album Winehouse released as a star in her lifetime, it was preceded by the rawer Frank in 2003, and posthumously succeeded by the jazzier Lioness: Hidden Treasures compilation following her death in 2011. Are either sets essential listens, or for hardcore fans only? 

Rania Aniftos: Lioness is one of my favorite compilation albums of all time. She’s so emotionally raw, and you don’t have to be a die-hard Amy Winehouse fan to feel it. From her hopelessly romantic “Don’t tell me I’m too young to know I love you so” in the Ruby & the Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come” cover to her goosebump-inducing take on The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” her vulnerability is so heart-wrenching and beautiful. I could go on and on. It’s a must-listen no matter what type of music you’re into.

Katie Atkinson: Justice for Frank! After wearing out Back to Black, I bought Frank to get even more Amy, and it went into just as regular rotation as her sophomore album. Proving the versatility of her singular vocals, Frank is a modern R&B album with a groovy Erykah Badu vibe. Personal favorites: the Nas-sampling “In My Bed,” the smoky “What Is It About Men,” and the scathing “Stronger Than Me” (despite some lyrics that wouldn’t fly today).

Katie Bain: Although excellent, I’d put them in the hardcore category.

Lyndsey Havens: Of the two, I’d argue Frank is an essential listen for any fan of music in general. Tracks like the funky “What Is It About Men” and the bouncy “F–k Me Pumps” are among the more-listened to tracks, but the entire near hour-long project is a worthwhile play in better understanding not only the arch of Amy’s career but more broadly how any artist can and has gone from point A to B.

Jason Lipshutz: Both have their respective charms, but Back to Black towers above them with such purpose and gravity that it’s hard to even compare its predecessor or posthumous follow-up — if you made a list of the five best Amy Winehouse songs, for instance, all five are probably coming from Back to Black. Obsessive fans deserve to have a greater discography to sink into, but there’s only one Winehouse LP that’s indispensable.

Neena Rouhani: All three are essential because they show you different sides of Amy. On top of that, she’s gone now; whatever we have of her, which is not a ton, then becomes essential. Frank is very true to her jazz and soul roots, the music that made her. Back to Black is incredible but it’s definitely a more commercial rendition of Frank. And Lioness: Hidden Treasures gives us captivating covers of songs that inspired her, like “The Girl From Ipanema” and “A Song For You,” coupled with original renditions of her own classics like “Valerie” and “Tears Dry.” What I love about that is it shows you the journey of her music from inception to commercial release.

Andrew Unterberger: I think you do need both, but Lioness is the one I’m particularly fond of. The assemblage of new songs, covers, and redos from her own back catalog might give it an odds-and-ends feel on paper, but listening to it actually just feels like attending a specially curated Amy lounge night for family and friends, one where she lets loose, invites a couple special guests, and lets folks see a side of her not often witnessed. If she’d ever gotten to record an MTV Unplugged set in her lifetime, a la her collaborator here Tony Bennett, I bet it would’ve sounded and felt like Lioness.

5. Impossible to really say, of course, but had Winehouse lived and remained in popular music for the past decade, what’s one thing you would’ve been excited to potentially hear/see her do? A musical direction she might’ve gone in, a collaborator she might’ve worked with, a special tour or a new career path? 

Rania Aniftos: While I don’t think her sound would have changed too much (don’t fix something that’s not broken, right?), I would have loved to see who she’d collaborate with. Maybe a hip-hip crossover with Kanye West or a gritty ballad with Miley Cyrus.

Katie Atkinson: A James Bond theme song, without a doubt. Her vocals (and her nationality) were tailor-made for a Bond theme. Hell, “Back to Black” is basically already a Bond song, and totally a 007-sounding title. She could have been the modern-day Shirley Bassey and churned out multiple Bond hits.

Katie Bain: It would have been incredible to hear her voice in other genres. As the dance editor I’m obviously biased, but can you imagine Amy belting the hook on a properly massive gospel house track? I can.

Lyndsey Havens: It is a bit impossible to say, which is why my only real answer here is that I would’ve loved to just see her continue — full stop. Of course, my mind wanders to thinking of the kind of music she would have gone to write and record had she been able to more successfully confront everything from her mental health to her eating, drinking and drug abuses… but it’s a game of what if.

Jason Lipshutz: I’ve never really considered what paths Amy Winehouse would have chosen as a musical artist over the past decade if she were still here today. Would she have bent some of the pop trends du jour toward her own aesthetic? Or would she have dismissed them and done her own thing, via throwback soul or another (potentially esoteric) sonic interest? Would she have stayed in the mainstream, or retreated to the corners of her craft? I think the fact that it’s impossible to guess is one of the things worth cherishing about Winehouse, an artist who had the talent to follow her muse and defy all predictions.

Neena Rouhani: I would’ve loved to see the amazing collabs and movie soundtracks she would’ve done. I would’ve wanted to see her alongside the myriad of artists she influenced, and witness how her sound would’ve transformed and influenced what’s going on in today’s R&B/soul landscape. If it were up to me, her approach would be similar to Adele’s. Mostly out of the public eye, hopefully a happier and healthier Amy, who releases mind-blowingly cohesive albums every three or so years and holds out on us in between.

Andrew Unterberger: The possibility I feel most confident in is that she would’ve explored the hip-hop world further. It’s no accident that the two producers she’s most associated with — Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi — both have done a good amount of work in that realm, and obviously she had a special connection with rap legend Nas that no doubt could’ve led to more. Would she have started working with trap producers eventually? Would she have become a more regular presence on hip-hop hooks? I could definitely see both.

6. How do you think Winehouse’s influence could most be felt in the years that followed her passing? What artists who followed might not have had the same impact without her precedent? 

Rania Aniftos: Where do we even begin? Adele, Sam Smith, Alessia Cara and Lana Del Rey, just to name a few. They’ve all shouted her out as an inspiration and I think these artists have been able to feel so comfortable publicly showing the rawest layer of their hearts thanks to Amy paving the way. They all have an incredible balance of power and tenderness in their vocals and lyrics that Winehouse also had, and I see her impact in their music so clearly.

Katie Atkinson: Definitely in vocal style. Watch any singing competition and you’ll see someone trying their best to capture Amy’s rich tone. Alessia Cara is a good example of someone who was clearly inspired by the late star’s vocal stylings (and she might agree, given her Tonight Show impression of Winehouse sounds a lot like her own music).

Katie Bain: With all due respect to Adele, who is obviously wonderful and talented, would we have an Adele without Amy? Maybe not? You can argue that Amy blew the doors open for the whole gaggle of British soul singers with big bouffants and big voices (especially Duffy) that arrived in her wake.

Lyndsey Havens: Adele’s vocal power and soulful songs immediately come to mind, as does a more rising artist like Yebba — whose impact is still yet to be fully felt. But honestly, I think the less obvious answer here is the one I’m most fascinated by: Mark Ronson. He had, of course, some success before and during his time working with Amy, but nothing like the success he’s had since. He’s become a staple in modern music, working with everyone from Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga, among others. And, at least speaking for myself, I believe had it not been for the groundbreaking music he created with Amy (the same music that scored him his first Grammy, for producer of the year), his impact today would not be quite the same.

Jason Lipshutz: I actually don’t think it could be felt within pop in the years after her death — a testament to her singular talent more than anything. Ten years ago, top 40 was playing turbo-pop, the voices of Taio Cruz and LMFAO not even attempting the genuine emotion that Winehouse could inject into a single syllable. Adele was an outlier, enjoying a mega-breakthrough during the year of Winehouse’s death, but Amy left a hole in the center of pop when she was gone that no artist tried to fill.

Neena Rouhani: She really created a fusion of jazz, hip-hop, pop and R&B that was so balanced and palatable. The integration of brass instruments, coupled with hip-hop drums and her timeless tone that so many draw influence from. She had this dark element to a lot of her music, namely her album Back To Black, that I think we often heard following her passing and still hear today. Amy was the blueprint for countless artists. Adele, Lady Gaga, Jorja Smith, Duffy, Lana Del Rey, Sam Smith, Baby Rose, Snoh Aalegra, to name a few. 

Andrew Unterberger: Amy’s acolytes are many, but I think you can best see her influence in two megastars who probably would’ve never had near the same level of stateside commercial success without Amy setting the table for them: Adele and Bruno Mars. Adele took her soul classicism, powerhouse pipes and heart-wrenching heartbreak confessionals — not to mention the down-to-earth personality and raunchy sense of humor — to their logical extreme, while Bruno took the more upbeat elements of her retro fascination (as well as Ronson, her primary collaborator) to similar success at the other end of the spectrum.

7. Who in popular music today most reminds you of prime Amy Winehouse? (Not in terms of sound so much as general artistry/personality/presence.) 

Rania Aniftos: Lady Gaga. There is something about Gaga’s devotion to being unapologetically herself that is so Amy. I know she has credited Winehouse as an inspiration for her career, and it really shows in the way she embraces her weirdness and establishes her own authentic style both visually and musically. They even look alike!

Katie Atkinson: OK, this is definitely the toughest question. I think the answer, truly, is no one, because Amy was so singular in her presence and her impact. But if I have to choose a current pop star, I’ll go with Billie Eilish since she’s unapologetically doing her own thing without worrying about current trends. But, really, Amy was incomparable.

Katie Bain: Billie Eilish. Same authenticity, same originality, same widespread belovedness, same talent level, same earnestness and same sort of musical-phenomenon-with-an-edge quality.

Lyndsey Havens: I often think of Gaga, who much like Amy truly took off once she embraced a fully formed look. Though, of course, Gaga’s meat dress and sky-high heels, for example, are far more out there than Amy’s beehive and heavy highliner ever were. Lately, I also can’t help but think of Demi Lovato, who like Amy has battled a fair share of demons in regards to their health and processed those moments through music, in real time — with the whole world watching.

Jason Lipshutz: The easy answer here is Adele, another British best new artist Grammy winner with enormous fame and an even bigger voice. But the effortlessness with which Winehouse commanded the stage, her persona fully formed and ripe for mass consumption, reminds me of Bruno Mars, a master showman who covered Winehouse’s rendition of “Valerie” (and did a darn good job, too). Both Winehouse and Mars hoisted touchstones of generations-old pop out of mothballs and made them feel fresh; Mars knew how to entertain from the very beginning, just like Winehouse did, which helped his speedy ascent to Super Bowl headliner status.

Neena Rouhani: No one. She was so unique and that’s what makes her iconic and will keep her name on people’s minds and in their playlists. She was deeply tormented in a lot of ways and she put every ounce of it into her music, not in a way that felt “for profit,” but completely authentically, like it was all she knew. Outside of that, the stories she told were so unconventional for a woman. Instead of singing about being cheated on, she was the cheater. Other times, she was cheated on and she’d unapologetically stick around. She was so brutally honest and vulnerable in a way that is irreplaceable. You knew she simply loved music and that there was nothing more to it.

Andrew Unterberger: No one captures the entirety of what Amy was and represented, but I think you can most clearly see elements of her in SZA (the incredibly personal connection with fans, the immediately hailed classic album and difficulty in following it up), Ariana Grande (the vivid sense of her personal life deeply felt in the music, the R-rated sense of humor) and Lana Del Rey (the fascination with pop iconography of past eras, the lack of filter in interviews). The fact that you need all three of those and still can’t quite get all the way there is pretty telling for just how mighty Amy Winehouse was as an artist and presence.

8. All these years later, if you want to remember the good times with Amy Winehouse, what’s the first song you reach for?

Rania Aniftos“Valerie” every single time. Like Amy, it’s vibrant, it’s magnetic and I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t like that song.

Katie Atkinson: “Valerie.” Amy’s Zutons cover for Mark Ronson’s Version album is so over-the-top joyful and shows just how skillful she was with her vocal choices. It’s probably the best escapist song of hers too since it’s a cover and doesn’t have that twinge of sadness all her self-written material has.

Katie Bain: “Tears Dry on Their Own” is an always effective singalong mood lifter, and I think also features Amy in such a triumphant way, with both her vocal abilities and her self assurance peaking on this song. Ironically, listening to it just now while writing this brought me to tears. Rest in peace, Amy.

Lyndsey Havens: “Valerie.” Though it’s a cover, and not necessarily my favorite song Amy sings on, oh man is it a feel-good track. Despite the lyrics about being a mess (written by The Zutons’ lead singer Dave McCabe), the underlying sentiment is about reaching out — the first and most crucial step for anyone going through anything. And when juxtaposed with the uptempo and sunny instrumentals, it’s near impossible not to dance through the pain.

Jason Lipshutz: “Tears Dry on Their Own” rules, a masterful flip of the “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” composition by Ashford & Simpson, who are credited as co-writers with Winehouse. She had bigger hits, but this one was the most inventive, from a musical, lyrical and vocal level.

Neena Rouhani“Half Time.” It’s an Amy song that I discovered later in life, in my 20s, but you really hear her love for music and instrumentation and the ways she weaves those themes into her lyrics. It’s all raw instruments and she starts the song by introducing each section one by one and in the second verse shares how the music makes her feel. She takes you through that journey with her.

Andrew Unterberger: “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It shouldn’t be possible to take a pop standard as enduring as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and make something entirely your own out of it, but where so many artists would attempt to merely recreate it, Amy Winehouse (and Salaam Remi) instead internalized it and wrote their own version of it, turning the rapturous devotion of the original into an even richer blend of the melancholy and sublime. It’s an incredible achievement, and it just sounds like a Thursday night in the studio for Winehouse and Remi.

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