deCODED: Amy Winehouse, a life by the lyrics

On the day of five time Grammy winner, Amy Winehouse's passing, the Internet was abuzz with speculation about the cause of her death.  The event shocked many, but surprised few, as the 60's inspired blues/jazz singer's life was riddled with dependencies on drugs, alcohol, and boyfriends. Checkered as her personal-life-made-public may be, as a primary provider of lyrics rather than news, 10% of MetroLyrics's total traffic weren't Amy Winehouse news stories about the "27 club," but lyrics searches: Rehab, Back to Black, and You Know I'm No Good in particular. Lyrics by their very nature are raw and honest, so instead of understanding Amy Winehouse's life through the lens of skewed media like many others so often have, we decided to explore Amy's own words, thoughts and feelings to wrap our heads around the life experiences that shaped her song lyrics and made her such a captivating and endearing subject in the music world.

The autobiographical first single off Back To Black, Rehab, won Winehouse three Grammys (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance), and the 2007 Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song. Winehouse wrote the song after her management encouraged her to clean up her act and attend an alcohol rehabilitation centre. As Amy has publicly spoken about it, and as the lyrics suggest, her dad didn't think she needed to go, but she should at least try. A self-proclaimed Daddy's Girl, Winehouse took her father's advice at face value and "tried" rehab, for just 15 minutes in the lobby. The lyrics reveal a more personal insight into her feelings about the brief stint.

"I'd rather be at home with Ray / I aint got seventy days / Cause there's nothing, there's nothing you can teach me / That I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway"
"Ray" and "Mr Hathaway" are in reference to fellow soul artists Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway. However, for some time, Winehouse replaced "Ray" with "Blake", referring to her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

"The man said why you think you here? / I said I got no idea / I'm gonna, gonna lose my baby / So I always keep a bottle near / He said I just think you're depressed / Yes me, baby, and the rest."
Winehouse explained to the Sun in an interview about the truth behind these lyrics; "I did [go to rehab], for just 15 minutes. I went in and said, "Hello" and explained that I drink because I'm in love and have f****d up the relationship. Then I walked out."

Winehouse's second single You Know I'm No Good, references a vicious cycle of cheating on her significant other. She performed the song at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards via satellite from London and it was later remixed by Ghostface Killah.

"You say 'What did you do with him today?'" / And sniffed me out like I was Tanqueray"
Winehouse is cheating on a good man that loves her, and therefore cheating herself out of a healthy relationship. She feels helpless trying to understand and resist her self-destructive compulsions.

"Then you notice likkle carpet burn / My stomach drop and my guts churn / You shrug and it's the worst / Who truly stuck the knife in first?"
Cheating is often perceived as an attention-seeking behaviour so maybe what hurts her more than the cheating is the fact that her boyfriend seems to no longer care that she's being unfaithful. It's as if he doesn't love her enough anymore to care.

Back To Black was the third single from Winehouse's album of the same name. The song scared a solid 10 out of 10 review by Channel 4 Music, and was named one of the best singles of 2007 by Manchester Evening News.

"I love you much, it's not enough / You love blow and I love puff"
The song showcases some of her most personal and emotional lyrics, which reference both heartbreak over Fielder-Civil and drug use at the same time.

"We only said goodbye with words / I died a hundred times / You go back to her / And I go back to black"
The UK newspaper Sun reports Winehouse stating the following about the song: "Back To Black is when you've finished a relationship and you go back to what's comfortable for you. My ex went back to his girlfriend and I went back to drinking and dark times."

On a further note, the music video for "Back To Black" shows her at a funeral mourning her own heart, symbolizing the loss of her beloved as well as her life to drug use.

After closely decoding three of her most popular songs, the common thread that ties Rehab, You Know I'm No Good, and Back To Black is self-destruction. It seems it was only a matter of time until Winehouse's bad habits caught up with her, though we are still shocked and saddened regardless. Even though Winehouse's problems seemed very individual, fans related to the songstress's lyrics because while they were honest and intimate, her use of metaphor allowed her personal experiences to transcend her private life and make their way into the lives of her listeners. Take "Back to Black" for example — there are a lot of slang words for drugs in the song, but it's also clearly about heartbreak, so even the cleanest of individuals could relate to the lyrics.

We've compiled a collection of comments from our users on Amy Winehouse's lyrics pages, further proving her impact and ability to relate to people:


The music industry, corporate minds and fans alike, have been stalled to a halt over the loss of such a trailblazing songstress. Amy was apparently working on tracks for a forthcoming album that has yet to see the light of day. Since our execution of deCODED on Rehab, You Know I'm No Good, and Back To Black has already given us significant insight into the personal life of Miss Winehouse as she wrote her Back To Black album, there's no telling what her posthumous writings will expose.