MTV’s VMA tribute to Amy Winehouse did not feature a certain U.K. songstress with big hair and an even bigger voice (ahem, Adele); nor did it include a certain Mother Monster, who, upon hearing of Winehouse’s death, described just how much hope Amy had given her. Rather, the VMA dedication to the deceased “Back to Black” singer was led by men, some who knew her and some who simply admired her: friend Russell Brand, collaborator Tony Bennett, and soulful singer Bruno Mars.
Russell Brand kicked off the tribute, sharing his first impressions of Amy with the crowd: “daft, dopey person, just wandering around” and “ordinary girl with extraordinary hair.” But soon he relented, telling the crowd that Amy, a “genius” in his eyes, was “not just another person milling about, waiting to be famous.”
Tony Bennett, who recorded a duet of “Body and Soul” with Winehouse in March, echoed Brand’s high praise. “Of all the young artists I’ve ever met in the last 20 years, she was a true jazz artist in the traditions of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday — She had the gift,” Bennett told the crowd amidst footage of the two recording side by side.
The final male who honored Winehouse was a singer who, though not as often acknowledged as influenced by Winehouse’s throwback soul sound, clearly is inspired in his own way. Doo-wop hooligan Bruno Mars, flanked by a full band with horn and string sections, took the stage for a high-energy, hand-clapping performance of Winehouse’s “Valerie.” The mood was far more celebratory than mournful; after all, it’s not often a tribute to the deceased includes a snappy dance break. Nonetheless, it was one of the award show’s high points, both for its emotional resonance and its retro showmanship.
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