Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MICROPHONISCOPE: oh amy

















a post at idolator introduced me to the writing of daphne a. brooks, and here are a few thoughts spurred by the thoughtful, well-researched and pummellingly insightful piece by ms. brooks called "tainted love."

the pop phenomenom spearheaded by winehouse's success has had a lens placed to it before, and really, its a conversation that we're going to keep having while the transatlantic princesses continue to resemble joss, duffy and adele. it certainly makes financial success for the brits to keep pushing the product, folks are buying. but fellow export estelle has questioned who it is profitable at the expense of, along with expressing a general angry bewilderment at the tactic of the oh so white faces found on this cadre of performers. while i tend to agree with one of the commenters at soulbounce that its hard for me to call estelle full-on soul when she so clearly draws on really diverse genres, its an ongoing conversation worth having and a point worth exploring.

so amy is neck deep in retro-motown culture. brooks has a nuanced analysis of just how deeply she is, and then follows with an almost bullet pointed list of parsed references:

Whether letting her man know that she'd "rather be at home with Ray" (Charles) than in rehab; hatin' on a suitor for having gotten in the way of her and her "man, Mr. Jones" (a k a the New York rapper Nas, Nasir Jones); spitting remorse for having "missed the Slick Rick gig"; or, perhaps most cryptically, telling a confidant that "'side from Sammy, you're my best black Jew," Winehouse may be belting it out like a black woman, but her references and posturings are so, so def, pop-ya-collar, hip-hop machismo, all the way down to her weirdly inverted "you my nigga" bonding reference to Sammy Davis Jr. Witness to how, in her videos, Winehouse rehearses the lowdown "junkie jazz musician" caricature, idling in the bar long after closing time when he should be home with his woman.
... going down the list, it does play a role in shifting my opinion from "influenced by" to "hijacker," thus differentiating the behaviour from a list of inspirations. i don't think it necessarily makes winehouse a villainous figure, she clearly has her own demons without me adding my antagonism, but it brings an uncomfortable element to the table when it comes to continuing to appreciate the album, her work in general and the white soul trend. but really, brooks' finishing point is that what amy is doing is a hip hop drag king act, and the lengths she takes to paint the picture are eye-opening. not all of her points completely coalesce as stabs at great truth; her somewhat eyebrow-raising efforts to make winehouse's london-living premised lyrics another sin against motown is unusual in that this content is one of the few things that truly distinguish winehouse as an artist at all. but brooks has a deftness with writing smartly about the vagueries of pop ephemera in such a way that you take it seriously, which i appreciate.

what will it mean if amy is indeed writing her next album off the impetus of the wizard of oz? hardly a clean slate, but maybe a move towards a sound more her own.

check a different article by brooks here -- it parses beyonce's sophmore album.

update: check another perspective on the brooks article by tami called, "cultural appropriation: homage or insult?" at racialicious over here. she looks at it primarily through the lens of colonization and oppression, an analysis that definitely adds to the discussion.

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