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Breaking Out: Amy Winehouse

amy winehouse, interview
Pilton, UNITED KINGDOM: British pop singer Amy Winehouse entertains the crowds of music fans, whilst on the Pyramid stage, at Glastonbury music festival, Pilton, Somerset 22 June 2007. 177,500 people are expected to attend the annual outdoor festival. Wet weather has been predicted for the duration of the festival. AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Heckling Bono as he gave a speech in London. Wobbling through a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” on a British television show.Smacking a fan for bad-mouthing her after a gig. In the U.K., soul singer Amy Winehouse, well known for public displays of drunkenness, has been accused of all of these things. But when her former manager suggested she seek professional help for alcoholism, Winehouse was having none of it. In fact, some months later, when the 23-year-old Londoner was walking with producer Mark Ronson to his New York studio, she idly began singing, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no…”

Ronson’s ears perked up. He took Winehouse’s confessional refrain and worked up a Phil Spector-esque backing track, and one of British radio’s defining anthems of 2006 was born. “Rehab” propelled Winehouse’s second album, Back to Black, to No. 1 on the U.K. charts.

No wonder. There’s never been a British star quite like her. Imagine a Jewish, potty-mouthed Billie Holiday withMedusa-like hair extensions, tattoos, and a winning way with punchy, retro R&B. Now picture her singing lyrics about discovering that your roommate’s boyfriend has smoked your last bit of weed (“Addicted”) or falling out with a friend because he couldn’t get you tickets to a Slick Rick show (“Me & Mr Jones”). “It’s not necessarily all drama,” Winehouse says in her broad, North London accent. “But there’s no point writing songs like ‘Got up, washed my socks, folded them, good morning.'”

The sassy, ’60s-inspired Back to Black is a grittier, more compelling album than Frank, Winehouse’s polished 2003 debut — not least because of Ghostface Killah’s raucous guest spot on “You Know I’m No Good.” (“He did me a favor,” she says.) But as critics heaped plaudits on the new album, Winehouse was also receiving attention in the U.K. for her admissions of past problems with eating disorders.

“I’m not a very ‘poor me’ kind of person,” she declares with typical gusto. “A problem is a problem — if I couldn’t sort it out myself, I wouldn’t talk about it.”

Happily, she can handle it herself. And if she ever can’t, she’ll just write a song about it.