Digital Venuses - Page 3

UK pop starlets vie for America's heart of darkness

Unlike Stone, who's at pains to elide her Englishness, Winehouse's distinctly North London Jewish accent surfaces on her critically acclaimed Back to Black, but her extreme jazz-soul mummery remains paramount, even as white critics and listeners continue to adopt a white version of black culture at the expense of young black artists of the retro-nuevo soul or urban alternative persuasion. Winehouse has yet to be anointed with a universal ghetto pass and, like Stone and Allen, has bypassed the hood and proper apprenticeship for lucrative prime time at the nation's premier venues this spring.

Throughout Back to Black, Winehouse gets away with borderline minstrelsy, carelessly mashing up a vocal cocktail of Washington, Billie Holiday, Carla Thomas, and Phil Spector's girl-group surrogates while not being excoriated because her Pete Doherty–rivaling tabloid exploits with drunkenness, raunchy sexuality, and public belligerence fit her admirers' view of authentic blackness. Behind Spanish Harlem drag, Motown cocktail dresses, and Cleopatra's black eyeliner, Winehouse is the cunning poster girl of her mid-Atlantic milieu, permitted to get away with potentially offensive lyrics such as "side from Sammy you're my best black Jew" ("Me and Mr. Jones"), showcasing a pair of cooning black backing vocalists and hipster-comforting insincerity.

"What kind of fuckery is this?" I'm sure to Winehouse's equivalents across the color line — from fiftysomething Sharon Jones to 36-year-old failing freaky-deak diva Macy Gray and badass bitches in the wings such as Alice Smith — it seems like the demoralizing same old. These are black artists who, to varying degrees, can sang but whose efforts render them invisible in a field overwhelmed by white soul saviors. Why invest in these sistas' development or even spotlight the neo–chitlin circuit movement afoot in the Southeast when the only blackness that really counts bears a stench of formaldehyde? *


Tues/15, 8 p.m., $35


982 Market, SF

(415) 775-7722

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