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Breaking Out: Amy Winehouse

Tattooed U.K. soul sensation refuses to clean up her act.

Heckling Bono as he gave a speech in London. Wobbling through acover 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., soulsinger Amy Winehouse, well known for public displays of drunkenness,has been accused of all of these things. But when her former managersuggested she seek professional help for alcoholism, Winehouse washaving none of it. In fact, some months later, when the 23-year-oldLondoner 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’sconfessional 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 starquite 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 thatyour 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 aSlick Rick show (“Me & Mr Jones”). “It’s not necessarily alldrama,” Winehouse says in her broad, North London accent. “But there’sno point writing songs like ‘Got up, washed my socks, folded them, goodmorning.'”

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

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

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

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