Amy Winehouse. Artist and superstar. An incredible, one-of-a-kind talent whose belting alto vocals and unique confluence of jazz, pop, R&B and ’60s soul took the world by storm. Amy’s music, both heart-wrenching (“Back To Black”) and playfully risque (“Rehab”), dominated the noughties. Her star power was undeniable, but much of the attention that followed was invasive and ugly. Amy passed away from alcohol poisoning in 2011.
Most people will say they know Amy’s story well. After all, it’s been told and retold in print, biopics, and tributes for a decade. Those who were closest to her, though, feel too much has been left out. Now, 10 years on from Amy’s death, several new documentaries produced by her loved ones look to add more layers to Amy’s legacy. These films aren’t about Amy the icon, but Amy the person: someone who struggled, yes, and someone who was generous, loving and loved.
Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story is one such documentary (and I should declare here, it’s produced by MTV). It follows Amy’s god-daughter Dionne Bromfield as she looks back on Amy’s passing, and comes to terms with the grief that has engulfed her since. In it, she shares the ways Amy’s loss – and its spectacle – affected her, and reflects on the many valuable lessons Amy taught her at pivotal moments in her life. (Dionne was just 15 years old when Amy died.) It also shines a light on Amy’s role as a mentor: her generosity in lending her musical chops and star-power to lift up Dionne and prompt her first steps in her musical career – one that she continues with today. I spoke with Dionne about Amy, grief and why she made this documentary.
MTV Australia: What have you taken away from the experience of doing this documentary and reflecting more on Amy in such a public forum?
Dionne Bromfield: I think the main thing I really took from it was just how much of an amazing person she was. I mean, I knew that anyway, but speaking to the people I did speak to in the documentary that also knew her very well, it solidifies exactly what I always knew about Amy, which is just how caring and loving she was.
Why did you want to make this documentary?
The first reason was that I felt like that was a side to Amy that I felt just hasn't been seen [that I could share]. With me, I guess that I was so young at the time, I really got kind of a one-off experience with Amy that not many people can say [they had]. I feel like people saw my relationship with her publicly, but it was very surface.
What people did see of Amy was really only 10% of Amy, there was a whole 90% of her that I just think people should really see. The documentary gave me the opportunity to share how she really was – I really wanted to honour her.
And the second reason was, for me, I found it quite hard to get closure since her passing. Having to really tap into those emotions that I buried since she passed – it felt good to do that. [After making this documentary], I'm finally at a place where I can move forward where I can think of her and speak about her to people like you. Now, I'm happy to talk about her and how amazing she was.
You experienced a huge loss at such a young age. What have you learned about yourself and about grief from this process? Is there any advice you’d give to young people going through a similar situation?
It’s the hardest thing to do and I’m guilty of it, but one thing that I would advise is to chat, to talk to somebody. You have to let it out. We are very good as humans at getting in our own heads and not talking and probably not processing, and thinking, ‘Okay, yeah I'm going to stay in this dark hole, I'm not going to get out of it’, when really, you need to talk. It really does help.
The one thing with me where it was especially difficult is you don't actually get to grieve privately. Everything is public, so you kind of want to keep as much as possible to yourself. And for me, by doing that – by trying to stay private – I actually didn't allow myself to talk to anyone. I just thought, ‘No one understands how I'm feeling, so I'm just going to try and deal with it in whichever way I can deal with it’. I personally feel like that was the wrong way to do it, but there really isn't a right or wrong way of grieving. It will always be with you but you just learn how to live with it, basically.
Words can’t really articulate just how awfully Amy was abused by the media. Of course, you've pursued a career in the same industry, which was inspired by Amy in many ways. I'm curious as to whether Amy’s experiences came into your thinking when you were considering pursuing this kind of career?
Fame is a double edge sword. We as a society need to understand what personal space is. When Amy was alive, the media was a lot more invasive and I think that social media has skewed a little more in celebrities’ favour now, because if there is [news stories] about you that you want to shut down you can actually just jump online and speak for yourself. But for me, I was so young at the time, I didn't know what I was doing [in entering this career]. I didn't really understand the magnitude of what press was and how it worked.
I also don’t know how to do anything else! I’ve been singing since I was 11 or 12 so it’s all I know, to be fair. You can’t let anything stop you from doing what you love doing.
In the documentary you talk about finally being able to listen to Amy’s music again. Tell us your favourite Amy song?
My favourite is “Tears Dry On Their Own”. I really, really love that.
Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story airs on MTV. You can also watch the documentary on BINGE and Foxtel Now.
Words and interview by Alice Griffin, editor of MTV.com.au. Follow Alice on Twitter and Instagram at @_alicegriffin.
Editor’s note: The above conversation was edited for length and clarity.