Ten years after Amy Winehouse released her second and final album, we’re still feeling its effects. Back to Black is rhythm and blues through and through — a solid tribute to ’60s Motown with a sharp edge.
In the years since Winehouse’s death in 2011 at the age of 27, her powerhouse voice and irreverent lyrics have left a gap in the music scene. In a testament to her staying power, though, a quick glance at today’s independent and pop charts show how the singer has inspired and influenced musicians since. In the past decade, artists have drawn inspiration from Back to Black’s neo-soul, which can be seen especially in the realm of vocal-driven female pop and in artists who emulate the 1960s sounds Winehouse was famous for.
Modern take on Motown
Winehouse’s musical influences ran wide and deep: hip-hop, jazz, gospel music. But nowhere on Back to Black is her modus operandi clearer than on the song “Tears Dry on My Own.” While the lyrics and melody are Winehouse’s, the music in the background is a sample of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It’s a 1960s standard, produced on the Motown label in ’66, about an all-consuming love that’s able to overcome all obstacles.
In contrast, the lyrics Winehouse sings on top of the sample are those of a classic scorned-but-empowered woman song — a tale of getting over a man who’s no good. With just a little extra profanity and grit, Winehouse turned something old-school and classy into a hit with a little more bite: “I shouldn't play myself again / I should just be my own best friend / Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.”
It’s this layering of two modes — tributes to the R&B masters and a twist of sassy Winehouse personality — that made the singer’s music so compelling — and what makes her star power so enduring.
A decade of inspiration
Back to Black was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Pop Album of the Year Grammys, and topped charts in countries around the world. Throughout her success, though, Winehouse was troubled by pop-star and personal problems alike: dogged by comparisons to Lily Allen — mostly because they were both brassy British pop stars with a penchant for profanity and snark (and both had Mark Ronson as a producer), caught up in her struggles with addiction, and trapped by an all-too-easy-to-recall paparazzi feeding frenzy.
Now, though, the singer’s musical legacy can stand apart from the problems of the past. That’s partly attributable to the simple fact that Winehouse and her two albums have been immortalized by her death. But it’s also because Winehouse’s talents as a singer and performer have stood the test of time. Today, new artists are bestowed the label “like Amy Winehouse”: a descriptor reserved for someone with that special neo-soul twinge or superstar voice.
A decade after Back to Black, the influences of Winehouse and her final album can be heard in the work of many current artists and music, from pop to rap to indie soul. Here are seven across the musical spectrum who have infused Winehouse’s spirit into their own music.
Andra Day’s similarities to Amy Winehouse are unmistakable: She dresses in a vintage ’60s style, her voice is bold and sometimes raspy, and her songs could all fit in Winehouse’s wheelhouse. That doesn’t diminish Day’s talent, though, as evidenced by her first album, 2015’s Cheers to the Fall, which is stacked with moody soul and R&B scorchers. When Bossip asked her how she felt about being called the “black Amy Winehouse,” Day responded, “I don’t mind that at all. Amy Winehouse loved music, she loved jazz music.”
There’s something spectacular about Anti, Rihanna’s 2016 album. Instead of the singer’s usual party jams, Vox’s Caroline Framke writes, “Rihanna sets the scene for the more intimate afterparty.” On no song is that more apparent than “Love on the Brain,” a searing ballad that’s Winehouse to a T, from the Motown melody to the lightly profane lyrics. Fred Ball, a Grammy-nominated producer from Fredrikstad, Norway, co-wrote the song, and said: “We wanted it to have that juxtaposition of an old-school soul feel with modern lyrics. That’s why Amy Winehouse was never pastiche or retro even though her music has an old soul sound.”
This California artist’s 2016 album, aptly titled Malibu, is a tight R&B LP with a little rap thrown in. .Paak’s songs have a shade of Winehouse style to them: soulful, with some harmonizing backing vocals that add an extra special layer. When interviewed in the summer, .Paak listed Amy Winehouse as one of his three dream dinner party guests. (The other two were Prince and Mike Tyson, which definitely would make for some lively dining room table conversation.) Though Malibu has a sound all its own, featuring artists like Talib Kweli and Schoolboy Q, Winehouse’s influence is still notably present.
No list of artists influenced by Amy Winehouse would be complete without Adele. The British megastar has never been shy about declaring her love for the singer, saying after Winehouse died in 2011, “Amy paved the way for artists like me and made people excited about British music again whilst being fearlessly hilarious and blasé about the whole thing.” On what would have been Winehouse’s 30th birthday, Adele paused a concert during her 25 tour to give a tribute to the artist, saying, “I used to think she was the coolest motherfucker on the face of the Earth.”
Sam Smith cites both Winehouse and Adele as two of his biggest influences, which is no wonder if you listen to his voice. The British singer’s love songs are all over the radio, but he still finds time to pay tribute to his faves — like last summer, when he covered “Tears Dry on Their Own” at an outdoor concert without missing a beat. If you’re still not convinced, listen to Smith’s cover of Winehouse’s “Love Is a Losing Game” from the deluxe version of his 2014 album In the Lonely Hour.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Sharon Jones has a contentious relationship with Amy Winehouse. The fiery singer has been making music with her backing band the Dap Kings since 2000, years before Winehouse released an album. When Mark Ronson, Back to Black’s producer, was searching for a new Winehouse sound post-Frank, he zeroed in on the Dap Kings as not only inspiration but a full-on backing band for the record. The horns, guitars, and drums you hear on Back to Black all come from Jones’s Dap Kings, who also contribute to many artists on their soul-heavy Daptone record label.
This became a bit of a sore subject for Jones when Winehouse’s record blew up, but she insisted that instead of being bothered by Ronson and Winehouse essentially snatching the Dap Kings’ sound, what bugged her most was the assumption that her band was copying Winehouse. “First, I feel kind of angry about it,” she told the New York Times in 2007. But she then added, “If it took Amy to get the Dap-Kings heard, then it’s a good thing. I say it’s great. Thank you.”
Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas is sort of like Amy Winehouse with the brightness turned up a few notches. Her songs are lighter, happier, and sparer, but they all turn on a soaring voice that evokes Winehouse’s at its most emotional. La Havas, an English singer, says she was influenced by Winehouse’s “voice and her singing of her pain, and playing guitar and just being a normal girl.” Her most recent album, 2015’s Blood, is a treat for a less heavy listen.
A sampling of Back to Back tracks, classic Motown hits, and songs from all seven artists above also appear on this Spotify playlist.