Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” video was never going to age well. The song was unsettling enough to listen to, both for having spawned a million identical rehab jokes and being pretty wrenching even upon release (key lyric: “ooh, I just need a friend.”) But the video, with its dramatization and, with the frequent camera pans up Winehouse’s legs and/or heels, titillation, is almost unwatchable. Whether or not extended rehabilitation would have averted or delayed Winehouse’s death, it’d ideally be a transition from bad times to better–something temporary that’d be overshadowed by future work. Winehouse’s “Rehab” grappling might have scored hits and awards, but she probably didn’t intend it to be all she’d be remembered for.
Rewatching the video today, as part of VH1′s relaunch of Pop-Up Video, you’re hard-pressed to remember anything else. Just the name was a jolt, after the fluffier or anodyne likes of Justin Bieber’s “Somebody to Love” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” The first frames might also have been jolting, had viewers forgotten them or tried to forget. The shock, though, quickly gave way to a much eerier emotion: suspense. It was like watching a documentary mired in development long before the news: did they know Winehouse died? Would they acknowledge it? The first few blurbs, mostly about biographical trivia and gay porn, didn’t suggest so. Then came a detour about soul musician Donny Hathaway, mentioned in the lyrics–specifically, about his mental health and eventual suicide, a juxtaposition too disturbing to be accidental. Finally, excruciatingly, came a tiptoe along Winehouse’s timeline and her entrances into and exits from rehab. As Winehouse sang and exclaimed, the captions counted up her last years, from the Grammys to May 2011 to, yes, her eventual death, illustrated by a cartoon skull. Then came the 27 Club portraits, right where you’d expect them; then came the end. It wasn’t tasteless, exactly–although if the producers wanted buzz, buzz was certainly had. It was just strange, the dramatic irony only stronger with a real person involved.
This wasn’t the first uncomfortable Amy Winehouse video out recently. That would be her much-bandied duet with Tony Bennett for his Duets II album, “Body and Soul.” Her performance was hardly her greatest–reviews varied from polite “incoherent“s to much harsher–but few people were watching solely to hear it. They were watching because it was likely Amy Winehouse’s last recorded moment before her death. Posthumous recordings tend to be eerie, and but posthumous video much more so. Every mannerism suddenly seems like an omen; every facial expression has baggage. People watching for signs of recovery or relapse could probably make up a few, and considering Winehouse’s cause of death is still officially unknown, those people were likely many.
It’s natural to speculate about celebrities’ deaths, particularly those tragic and/or unexplained; it happens every time, and it happens for as long as posthumous material is forthcoming. And it often translates to posthumous sales–after her death, Winehouse’s Back to Black sold millions of copies and topped the U.K. charts for weeks. But Back to Black, at least, makes a fine memorial. The latest videos are less so; they’re gripping but unsettling, like rewatching disaster footage again and again as if there’s something new to be gleaned from the same ending. Is it too soon? Depends on who you ask–Winehouse’s family would likely give you different answers than someone who heard “Rehab” once in passing–but it’s soon enough that it feels like all Winehouse’s thorough memorializing is being undone.