Friday, October 2, 2009

15. Amy Winehouse "Rehab" (2007)

Amy Winehouse's repeated public meltdowns have now been amply covered by the mainstream media and tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic. Her shenanigans have almost overshadowed the fact that, unlike other tabloid creatures, she has a great talent. Her signature song, "Rehab," captures this tension between her art and her defiant self-destruction.

Amy Winehouse openly embraces the early sixties girl-group aesthetic. She clearly idolizes Ronnie Spector, even down (or up?) to her hairdo. But she, with the help of her producer Mark Ronson, reimagines the music in a modern context. Lesser acts, like the Pipettes, only ape the girl-group ethos; Winehouse makes it matter again.

Even without the context of her personal life, "Rehab" would still be troubling song. Its message is unambiguous: Winehouse thumbs her nose at critics who think she has a problem. I've seen a number of joyful barroom singalongs of "Rehab," with drinks held high. Even the television show Glee had teenagers cover the song, with accompanying choreography, to boot.

Of course, in the latter case, the homage being paid was to the song's infectious melody. And that's where the tension lies. It's such a good song, that by liking it, Winehouse makes us all her enablers. By cheering the music, we inadvertently cheer the message, too. It's a dirty trick, but a sly one, nonetheless.

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