Photo Credit for Images (L-R): Chris Christoforou/Redferns, Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for NARAS, Rob Verhorst/Redferns
We Only Said Goodbye With Words: Remembering Amy Winehouse 10 Years Later
To truly understand Amy Winehouse, you have to be in tune with the unfiltered version of yourself. Through her whiskey-soaked vocals and lyrics that sang more like ripped diary pages, the singer pulled at heartstrings worldwide.
A Southgate, North London native, Winehouse first emerged onto the music scene with 2003’s Frank. Partly inspired by Frank Sinatra (one of her many influences), the debut album was an engaging collection of breezy, jazz-soul ditties that commented on everything from local gold diggers (the cheeky "F*** Me Pumps") to annoying boyfriends ("Stronger Than Me").
But the artist’s global breakout moment is attributed to 2006’s follow-up and final album, Back to Black. While Frank teased Winehouse’s innate talent, this sophomore record showcased a budding legend before the world’s very eyes. The album is unabashed in its rawness, with Winehouse triggering listeners with once-deeply hidden memories of the emotional rollercoaster that relationships bring: the distracting love bombing, the painful heartbreak and trying to pull yourself out of the pits. Back to Black’s foundation is honesty, reflecting the artist’s own personal life at the time — from her tumultuous relationship with then ex-beau and future husband Blake Fielder-Civil to her battle with addiction and the mobs of British paparazzi tracking her every move.
Back to Black was a refreshing fusion of ‘60s girl group doo-wop, contemporary R&B, pop, reggae, and soul. The magic that Winehouse created with collaborators Mark Ronson, producer Salaam Remi and Sharon Jones' band The Dap-Kings led to massive success. Back to Black took home five out of six GRAMMY Awards (including Record of the Year for "Rehab" and Best New Artist). Following her untimely death, Winehouse won best Pop/Duo Performance in 2011 for her "Body and Soul" collaboration with Tony Bennett, as well as Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for Nas’ "Cherry Wine" in 2012.
Along with her gripping music, Winehouse made a stamp on pop culture through her nostalgic fashion style. A mix of ‘60s Motown, rockabilly and British ‘80s punk, she became known for her signature to-the-sky beehive hairdo, overly extended winged eyeliner, cherry-red lips, Monroe piercing and love for short cocktail dresses. In 2020, her style was commemorated in the GRAMMY Museum’s "Beyond Black – The Style Of Amy Winehouse" exhibit with assistance by her stylist Naomi Parry and longtime friend Catriona Gourlay. Winehouse’s legacy remains strong to this day: she paved the way for artists like Adele, Duffy, Estelle to cross over stateside, and also inspired a new generation of singers who admired her musical bluntness.
On the 10th anniversary of her passing today (July 23), GRAMMY.com honors Amy Winehouse with an industry round-table tribute featuring the artists, creatives and journalists she's inspired through her music and style.
The quotes and comments used in this feature were edited for clarity and brevity.
She Tapped Into Everyone’s Emotions
Alessia Cara (GRAMMY-winning Canadian singer/songwriter): I remember seeing the "Rehab" video for the first time and being glued to the television. She had big curly hair like mine, sitting on a stoop and singing with the most beautiful voice I'd ever heard. From then, I watched every video I could find on YouTube and learned every song. She made me want to learn the guitar, made me fall in love with jazz, and made me understand the undeniable power in simplicity and honesty. I saw so much of myself in her, in ways that I just couldn’t find in a lot of people on the radio at the time. To this day, if I write a lyric that feels a little too close for comfort, I think of her and how she would have said it anyway and it puts me right back on track. The real magic lies just past discomfort. It’s embedded in the truth. There is no one who did it more impactfully than her, but I always keep that sentiment in my pocket when speaking of my own feelings in my music; It’s shown me the reason for music in the first place. It’s an escape, a shoulder, a mirror. She never took it lightly and because of that — neither do I.
Charlotte Day Wilson (Toronto singer/songwriter): Amy's music was soulful, unafraid and deeply personal. As a teen who was obsessed with Motown, I was instantly hooked when I heard Back to Black for the first time. Her swagger as a vocalist, her crass yet timeless lyrics, the production, everything just hit perfectly and I know those elements/ influences live in me in many ways as an artist.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti (London-based journalist, comedian and performer of "I Miss Amy Winehouse" show): When I look back at my memories of the 2000s, so many of them are soundtracked by Amy’s music. I was born in the same year as Amy Winehouse – 1983 – and she’s six months younger than me. She was born in a suburb of north London, and I was born in a suburb of east London. We could’ve gone to the same school. She moved to Camden and made it her home in the 2000s; I worked and partied in Camden during the same period.
Amy always felt three steps away, perhaps pulling pints in The Hawley Arms or listening to the after-hours rockabilly music in the backroom of Marathon Bar (a kebab shop that used to host late-night parties), or having a smoke as she invited a gang of people back to her Camden flat for an after-party. Yet, she was a record-breaking global mega-star that I somehow didn’t run into around Camden!
The Amy I read about and saw in interviews was incredibly likable and unafraid of the media machine. Her kind of London accent wasn’t (and still isn’t) often heard on TV, and she would not play by the rules of a nice, media-trained pop starlet, choosing instead to criticize other acts, talk about her relationships and bare her soul, or storm off, depending on her mood. She could give as good as she got, particularly towards older male journalists who wanted to view her with an objectifying eye.
Most of all, she was funny. Earlier on in her career, she could undercut the dramatically heartbroken image of herself that her songs suggested by just turning up to interviews and being her own sarcastic, quick-witted self. Amy entertained the public off-stage as well as on, and I always wanted to know what she would do next. I was always rooting for her.
Lolo Zouaï (R&B/pop singer/songwriter): My favorite part about her music is her songwriting; her voice sounds so timeless but her lyrics have an edge to them. She doesn't filter what she wants to say which is such a beautiful contrast that I try to emulate in my lyrics.
Daya (GRAMMY-winning pop singer-songwriter): Amy’s ability to pick you up wherever you are and place you right in the middle of whatever she was going through was transcendent. To see the world through her lens has impacted me greatly as a person, songwriter and artist. What I love most about her as a person was her stubbornness and reluctance to compromise — she knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t care to cater to industry expectations or appeal to any specific audience. I constantly find myself trying to channel that energy when I’m met with resistance to my work. She’s easily one of the greatest artists that’s ever lived, and I feel lucky to have been alive at the same time as her.
Mike Spinella (Senior Director, Original Content at Pandora): I had the privilege to work with Amy in 2007 when she came to the United States to promote Back to Black. I had been booking talent and developing new content at AOL Music and became aware of the U.K. buzz surrounding her talent and instantly iconic voice. The record felt timeless immediately, it was brilliant — perfect, really. I had the opportunity to book Amy in our studio, where she gave a remarkable stripped-down performance, it was the first time I had seen her perform in person. Her extraordinary talent was undeniable at that moment. This was a very impactful moment in my career, being able to share her performance with the world. I am extremely proud to have played a role in reaching a large audience in the U.S. at that stage of her career with this timeless content.
Her Music Was Both Charming & Timeless
Alessia Cara (singer): Amy had this unmatched ability to tap into specific details of her life in a way that made you think of your own. She was brutally honest, sometimes to the point that made you uncomfortable. But it’s only that type of honesty that can hit a certain nerve in people — one that feels like she’s holding a mirror right up to your face. The older I get, the more her lyrics shape-shift their meaning to me. She detailed the human experience (specifically sadness) in ways that if you didn’t relate to in the past, you eventually will. You can go back to those songs and think, "Wow I get it now." Her music is timeless because the shared experience of love and loss is timeless.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti (journalist, comedian and performer): Her music is about the biggest things in life: love, sex, trust, pain, emotion. Amy’s songs manage to make each of us the "Main Character" in the imaginary film of our life, her dramatic soundtrack scoring our highs and lows, our sadnesses and our triumphs. That’s why she seemed like the perfect fit for a Bond theme; it’s a shame that it didn’t work out.
I’ve been researching a lot of media from the time to write my show, and Mark Ronson’s quote about Amy writing the single "Back to Black" in two or three hours really stuck with me. Her lyrics could have been diary entries, polished into poetry and set to melodies that can make you jump onto the dancefloor or fall onto your bed in despair. Her pain was raw, and part of her processing it was to make it into music. That part made sense, but it was sharing it with the public that I think took its toll on her.
The contrast between her stage presence and her "real" presence in interviews and on the streets of Camden was utterly fascinating. She didn’t need to try to capture our attention with a fancy home, designer clothes or perfectly prepared soundbites for headlines. The talent reeled us in, and we just wanted to know everything about the person who could make this music at such a young age. She burst into fame apparently complete, any apprenticeship in music already done and dusted.
Daya (singer): Her honesty, pain and the blatant rawness with which she talked about the struggles of love, sex, drugs, addiction, and temptation cuts through. It’s timeless because it touches on universal human emotion and experiences that will exist and be shared as long as humans are alive on earth. She was completely unfiltered, politically incorrect and unconcerned with what others think, and I think that is and will always continue to be a refreshing take, especially now at a time when art/music can feel increasingly watered down or made "safe" to cater to whatever will work in a mainstream or commercial way.
Mike Spinella (Senior Director, Original Content at Pandora): What struck me right away was Amy's unique style. Her sound was modern and classic all at the same time. Having witnessed Amy perform several times, including in an intimate studio session, it was easy to see how her sheer talent and captivating presence would inspire musicians for generations to come. Beyond the music, what also struck me was her sincerity, love and appreciation for the artists who influenced her as well as her peers. Amy embodied the creativity of a true artist and it showed in her work. Her career will continue to inspire those who have not yet discovered her brilliance.
Her Sense of Fashion Style Was Unapologetic
Nicholas Vega (GRAMMY Musem’s Curator and Director of Exhibitions, who helmed the "Beyond Black – The Style Of Amy Winehouse" exhibit last January): Amy’s style has proven to be timeless and has influenced a number of artists (and continues to do so). This is undeniable. There are certain elements of her style that other artists have adopted — whether it is the beehive hairdo, eye make-up, tattoos, or fitted dresses. But the most influential attribute of her style has to be her sense of individualism. Her stylist and friends were influential in helping her develop her look, but ultimately Amy took bits and pieces of trends and styles that she admired to create her own look. This is so essential because she could have very well let her team tell her what and what not to wear. Her interest in fashion extended well beyond her own personal wardrobe, as this is clearly visible in her direct involvement in 2010’s Fred Perry campaign and the different looks she developed with her stylist Naomi Parry. When talking about Amy’s style or "look," this is what stands out the most to me.
Daya (singer): Her style and image were provocative in a way that really drew you in immediately. It was very "cool girl who doesn’t give a f***" while still alluding to glamour and opulence that kept it interesting and mysterious and elevated. She was beautifully extravagant without trying too hard, and she showed her body in a way that felt empowering and emboldening to me. Her general attitude toward style has influenced me heavily: she single handedly got me into eyeliner when I was a teen and it’s still my favorite item of makeup.
Opening night of the Beyond Black - The Style Of Amy Winehouse Exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles | Photo: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images
She Created Soulful Hits
Charlotte Day Wilson (singer): [Back to Black single] "Love Is A Losing Game" was an instant classic and remains one. It's a song I turn to when I need someone to echo my pessimism towards love & its potential for longevity.
Nicholas Vega (GRAMMY Musem’s Curator and Director of Exhibitions): My all-time personal favorite Amy Winehouse song is "In My Bed" off the Frank album. Sampling Nas’ [2002 hit] "Made You Look" was genius! Sampling is such a huge part of hip-hop and the beat from "Made You Look" was actually lifted from the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” from 1973. There are few instances where hip-hop beats are used by artists from other genres of music — it’s usually the other way around. With a hip-hop beat serving as the record’s backbone, combined with her soulful voice and emotionally raw lyrics, Amy’s creativity is certainly on full display.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti (journalist, comedian and performer): "Tears Dry On Their Own" is my favorite song and video. From the sample of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's soaring "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" from 1967 to the lyrics speaking of growing up, changing her ways and being her own best friend, this should be Amy’s anthem rather than "Rehab." The sample draws a direct comparison between the two songs: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is about two people whose love cannot be dimmed by distance, whereas "Tears" is about one codependent person finding the strength to walk away, no matter the imagined obstacles, or the urge to try just one more time.
The other songs on Back to Black are about the pain and of surrendering to one’s own destructive patterns in love, but "Tears" is a manifesto for change. There’s much more hope in the lyrics, even though it can sound more downbeat in the melody than "Rehab" or "You Know I’m No Good." That’s the sly secret at the heart of Amy’s songs: the lyrics and the melody work beautifully together, but they each provoke two different emotions in us.
The video has always struck me as being inspired by two memorable Richard Ashcroft videos from the Britpop era. The obvious one is his strut down East London’s Hoxton Street as the frontman of The Verve in 1997’s "Bitter Sweet Symphony." Amy, being a woman and (despite the beehive, only 5’3") emulates on Hollywood Blvd.
The quieter scenes with Amy in a hotel room call to mind Richard Ashcroft’s "A Song For The Lovers" in 2000. While he moves around his large hotel room with a sense of joy, Amy longingly sits alone in her small room. I think that we would have got more songs like "Tears Dry On Their Own" as Amy got into her 30s. There’s self-acceptance and maturity that makes it stand out from the other tracks on Back to Black. Plus, it’s just a great song to belt out at karaoke.
Lolo Zouaï (singer): I love so much of her music but the song "Wake Up Alone" is my favorite. I love to listen to her music in the morning because of the way it makes you feel so present.
Daya (singer): You Know I’m No Good" holds a special place in my heart because it was my favorite song to sing when I was 10 and still is one of them now. I used to cover it on the ukulele all of the time, and I was always drawn to the seduction and provocation of it without even knowing it at the time. It’s interesting to fully comprehend the layers of the lyrics as an adult now. It also really made me want to work with a big band at some point in my career.
Mike Spinella (Senior Director, Original Content at Pandora): It is hard to have a favorite song when Amy made so many perfect ones. But I will choose the song I probably have listened to most: "Tears Dry on Their Own." It encapsulates everything I love about Amy's music: an ear-worm tune that showcases Amy's one-a-kind vocals, blending struggles, heartbreak and truth into a candy-coated melody, all while paying homage with an interpolation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
She Was A Budding Icon Gone Too Soon
Alessia Cara (singer): I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. It was my second year of high school, so I was sitting on my bed writing an essay on my laptop. My mom came in, sat on my bed with me, and told me. I remember feeling my heart sink. One of my first thoughts after the initial questions of how, why, and where, was selfishly: "Oh my God. I will never meet her." Looking back, it’s kind of an ambitious thing to say. The thought that me, a high school student from Brampton, would have definitely met her had it not been for her passing was so far-fetched, yet it was crushing. As long as she was alive, there would still be the one percent chance that I’d run into her and get to tell her what she meant to me. But this solidified that I would never have that chance.
That moment sparked so many devastating truths. She was never going to write a song again. We will never hear her sing again. How was someone so poignantly human, with an endless stream of emotions, never going to feel a single emotion again? It felt like she was robbed of the chances she was supposed to have. I felt her pain through her words and the thought that her life ended within that pain felt so wrong. Death never feels right, but this felt especially wrong.
Thinking back now, her passing ultimately taught us all the true purpose of songwriting and how music lives on despite any circumstances. Her words continue to touch whoever hears [them] — even 10 years later — and will continue to for generations. She’s still very much alive within that. I didn’t get to know her, but her art makes us all feel like we do. Her spirit is transcendent and her heart is still on earth, every time we dance around our kitchens to "Tears Dry On Their Own" or ugly cry to "Love is a Losing Game." Through her beautiful work and the awe she continues to leave us in, Amy will always be here.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti (journalist, comedian and performer): It was a Saturday lunchtime when the news broke. I was at home in Finsbury Park, which is about a 10-minute drive from Camden. I couldn’t tell you which medium brought me the news first — radio, TV, or online — but the moment I knew, I was on all three at once, trying to find out more.
I was utterly shocked. Amy had been photographed walking around London just two days earlier, looking much healthier and stronger than she had in a long time. I genuinely thought that she would be able to turn things around. She was only 27, six months younger than me. Of course, there would be more songs, there would be more sightings of her around Camden, she would shepherd her goddaughter Dionne Bromfield into a promising music career of her own...
I was working in broadcast news at the time and two days after her death, I was sent down to the scene outside her flat to collect interviews. It was an extraordinary scene. The buildings on Amy’s streets are gorgeous mid-19th-century townhouses arranged around a large rectangle of grass, and every inch of it was covered in mourners.
These were teenagers, not 20-somethings like Amy or myself. They had created their own festival outside Amy’s home: drinking, smoking, and smearing their black eyeliner with their tears. It seemed like a strange tribute to a singer who had probably died due to drugs or alcohol — at this point we didn’t know for sure — and I still wonder now what those fans got from being there. I suppose they felt that they were being witnesses to the private, lonely death of such a public, much-photographed star.
Her Artistry Impacted A New Generation
Charlotte Day Wilson (singer): Just that the world of music was a better place with her in it. There will always be an empty space where she should've remained.
Nicholas Vega (GRAMMY Musem’s Curator and Director of Exhibitions): As I closely worked with her family and friends to develop the "Beyond Black – The Style of Amy Winehouse" exhibition, it became immediately clear that there are so many rich layers to her story. Having been able to hear first-hand accounts from those who knew her best and to be able to examine and analyze different objects from her personal collection, I learned that she was truly dedicated to her craft. Her passion for music and [music-making] was such a huge part of her DNA. Although she was blessed with a beautiful and soulful voice, she did not take that for granted. This really stands out as something special, as many people do not know this side of her story.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti (journalist, comedian and performer): While Amy’s music is timeless, she lived in a very specific age. One in which her obvious difficulties were met with mocking headlines, cruel jokes on TV and a lack of support. We watched a career and life unfold, blossom and then end in real-time. So much more has to be done to care for people in her position. It would be nice to think that future generations of fans will find the values of the 2000s archaic, and that Amy’s sad trajectory in full view of the world won’t be repeated.
Lolo Zouaï (singer): She was always authentically herself and just wanted to make music because that was her way of coping with her life, which was not easy. She never wanted to be famous, she was just born an artist and felt everything so deeply.
Daya (singer): I would hope that her addiction and death don’t cast a shadow on everything that she was and everything she contributed to the world. I hope her legacy continues to live on as one of the most important and brilliant songwriters and pop culture influences who’s ever lived. She was undergoing heavy personal battles and the people around her — combined with the industry/media — continued to manipulate and exploit her for their own monetary or social gain. It was completely unfair and tragic what happened to her, which shouldn’t at all take away from the beautiful artist and person she was.