We shouldn’t whitewash the star for our own enjoyment.
Some good news for the music heads: Amy Winehouse is going back on tour. A string of worldwide 2019 dates has been announced where she’ll perform classic hits like ‘Rehab’ and ‘Back to Black,’ complete with live backing band and singers. Perfect Christmas present for your other half.
Except Amy Winehouse has been dead for seven years, passing away in 2011 at the age of 27 due to alcohol poisoning.
It’s the music industry’s newest money-maker: take a deceased popstar, get the rights to her digital ghost signed off by some less-than-scrupulous family member, and stick them on stage.
Tupac famously ‘performed’ in 2012 at Coachella festival, fifteen years after he breathed his last in a Nevada hospital room. For all intents and purposes, his digital likeness – which joined Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg on stage to perform two tracks from a posthumous album – was not technically a hologram, but instead an animation that took two months and a 20-strong team to create. Nevertheless, it looked like a hologram, moved like a hologram and so the public considered it as such.
Since then, the trend for reviving long-passed musicians has not abated. Michael Jackson returned to wow crowds at the Billboard Music Awards two years after Tupac made his ‘comeback’, while Billie Holliday puts on regular shows at a Los Angeles theatre. Roy Orbison is currently on a joint tour with opera singer Maria Callas – both died over 30 years ago.
And while none of those resurrections are easy to swallow – using a person’s death to hi-jack creative control of their image will never sit easy with me – hearing that Amy Winehouse would once again be taking to the stage as a hologram has left me horrified.
The upcoming tour is spearheaded by BASE Hologram. Proceeds will supposedly raise money for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which provides educational programmes for young people on substance abuse as well as opportunities in music for individuals from difficult backgrounds. And Winehouse’s father, Mitch – a controversial figure after Asif Kapadia’s 2015 film, Amy, which portrayed his relationship with Winehouse as strained (and his own lack of urgency in seeking help for her as entirely motivated by money) – has backed the project wholeheartedly.
“This is a dream for us,” Winehouse senior said in a statement. “To see her perform again is something special that really can’t be put into words. Our daughter’s music touched the lives of millions of people and it means everything that her legacy will continue in this innovative and ground-breaking way.”
I hate this idea. Hate it.
The stage was a rare space where audiences were forced to confront Amy Winehouse unedited and in the throes of addiction. Her descent couldn’t be hidden under the harsh glare of the spotlights. When she slurred her way through a disastrous 2008 Glastonbury set which ended with her punching a fan, it was captured on cameras. It showed the full extent of the trouble she was in – trouble made light of by many and actively exacerbated by the hounding she received from certain circles of the press.
When Winehouse was pushed on stage for her very last show in Belgrade – part of a 2011 tour that Kapadia’s documentary made clear she did not want or feel able to do – she was out of her mind on the alcohol she had apparently drunk in the hope someone would call off the performance. Shaky smartphone footage, beamed around the world, showed Winehouse unable to remember the words to her hit songs and trying repeatedly to leave the stage before being forced to return. Incredibly distressing to watch, the clips were a strong rebuttal to the statement released when, barely a month earlier, Winehouse was checked out from The Priory after just seven days. Why? So that she could complete her tour commitments.
“[Amy Winehouse] is looking forward to playing shows around Europe this summer,” said her representative at the time. “[She] is raring to go.”
Less than a month later, Winehouse was dead.
There were many things that contributed to the tragic way the talent of Amy Winehouse was snuffed out. She was a woman who carried immense pain. Fame, though, made that pain public, and the demands of living in the public eye certainly emboldened the demons that sat on her shoulders. From the height of Winehouse’s post-Back to Black renown onwards, she did not enjoy performing. Struggling with her addictions caused great anxiety whilst in front of the mic, and even reaching the peak of her profession brought her no joy: a clip from Amy shows her “looking stunned and strangely sad” as she was awarded Record of the Year at the 2008 Grammys via satellite link.
Time and time again she was wheeled out to sing her songs when patently unwell and her truncated, inebriated performances became somewhat of an expected punchline. There’s Amy Winehouse, f**ked out of her head and wobbling around a mic again. She just can’t keep it together! Ha ha ha ha.
This hologram does Amy Winehouse’s sad, short life a disservice. It allows the creation of an easily-packaged woman who will sing the songs the fans want to hear on cue and won’t do anything as uncooperative as publicly ceding to the thrall of addiction when she’s supposed to be making money. It enables audiences to brush past the tragedy of Winehouse, to ignore the intense sorrow of her story. It offers them a sanitised version of the singer – one that will chat in between songs and almost certainly not attempt to attack her fans.
This hologram will be Amy Winehouse at her very well-behaved best; neither true, nor fair. We owe it to Amy to not whitewash her wretched story, much of which took place on – and because of – the stage. A smiling, bouncy Winehouse performing to the greatest of her ability may be what audiences want to see. But it’s not what we deserve.