I am here to put to rest an ongoing subject that has significantly bothered me, and has escalated greatly just to sell a story. The death of late British singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse in July of 2011 has since brought alive an uneasy comparison to late 1960s rock and blues singer Janis Joplin. Everyone immediately puts the two together because they both died at the tender age of 27, they had a hard addiction to drugs and alcohol, and they behaved outrageously in the public eye.
But most significantly, what brings this ultimate comparison unconsciously to the young teenager's and ignorant adult's mind goes way beyond the music and social persona. The comparison arrives through gender, an issue I thought was not to be considered in the magnificent world of rock and roll music. I write this so you can ask yourself, in an industry filled with thousands of talented musicians both dead and alive: why the comparison between Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse?
Because they are both women, society complies an intense urge to bring upon this issue. Joplin and Winehouse do share similar interests, there is no denial in that; they both did not live long enough to see their star shine, and most significantly be artistically appreciated by society and, in some cases, their fellow musical peers. But what has me severely troubled is this incessant need to compare two artists just because they share a gender. Society should not be filing "woman" as a category in which to analyze and critique artists: music is purely music. A record is to be classified by the instrument, not the gender.
A singer as talented as Amy Winehouse, if measured, should be to the likes of other soul and blues based artists like Solomon Burke or Wilson Pickett. This talent cannot be limited to be categorized with women like The Ronettes or Janis Joplin, solely based off of the 1960s beehive and alcoholism Winehouse fashioned. The Beatles and Barbra Streisand share a comparable record-breaking status, but then again no one even thinks to put them in the same division.
Put on an Amy Winehouse record ("Love Is A Losing Game," "Me and Mr. Jones"), close your eyes, and sink into it. She has gained the status to be legendary not for her social outbursts and actions, but for her fine vocal instrument and her unique approach to songwriting.
With the consistent categorization of "woman," we are demeaning the role female artists play in the music industry. By frequently comparing two women in music, we are bringing awareness that there is still a difference with no equalization amongst the two genders. The artistic abilities of Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse must be recognized as to how a singer should approach his or her work, not just a female singer. It is the voice that makes an artist unique, and without this repetitious identification we are not selecting Winehouse into the one female genre. But rather, she is one of many singers, like Otis Redding, who performed with an appreciation of music for its art, and its everlasting effect of touching someone's soul.
Comparisons are born to analyze two different ideas, not something that is one in the same. Expanding your mind before classifying the talents of powerful singers like Janis Joplin or Amy Winehouse based off of their gender will allow yourself to partake in discussion without limitation. Before having this continuous debate with a family member, friend, or stranger of Joplin vs. Winehouse, fight back with a stronger topic of discussion that will defy the expected gendered comparison, finally putting the issue to rest:
-Who can shred better on the guitar, B.B. King or Joan Jett?
-Who crafts a greater lyric, Bob Dylan or Adele?
-Who remains timeless in popular music, Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston?