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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The British singer Amy Winehouse was supposed to be at the Grammy Awards in here in L.A. this Sunday. The 24-year-old has more Grammy nominations than any other artist, aside from rapper Kanye West. But yesterday Winehouse was refused a U.S. visa. So she'll spend the weekend in London, instead, where's she's been in rehab for her addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Amy Winehouse's personal struggles haven't prevented her from inspiring a new generation of British female singer/songwriters. Her struggles have inspired this song "Rehab." It was nominated for record and song of the year.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

(Soundbite of song, "Rehab")

Ms. AMY WINEHOUSE (Singer): (Singing) They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no.

ROB GIFFORD: It's been perhaps the most public case of denial in the British music industry of recent years. Amy Winehouse singing that she won't go to rehab, and then to few peoples surprise, finally checking in last month.

(Soundbite of song, "Rehab")

Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) I'd rather be at home with Ray. I ain't got seventy days.

GIFFORD: "Rehab" has become the theme song for the life of the skinny, tattooed North Londoner with the black beehive hair. Last month, she was photographed taking hard drugs and wandering dazed through the streets in her underwear — the brilliance of her music matched only by the tragedy of her life.

Despite — or perhaps because of — all that, her second album, Back to Black, sold 1.7 million copies in Britain alone last year. Neil McCormick, music critic of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, says that not only is Winehouse a musical genius, but she's changed the whole landscape of British music and paved the way for a whole new generation of young female singers.

Mr. NEIL MCCORMACK (Music critic, Daily Telegraph): Amy's a really great talent. She's reached back into the roots of the music that she loves and created a very retro album. Because of that, what's happened is you've seen a shift in the priorities of the record industry. She's really put big girl singing back on the map. Adele wouldn't be being called, you know, the star of 2008 if it hadn't been for Amy putting that on the map.

(Soundbite of song, "Chasing Pavements")

Ms. ADELE ADKINS (Singer): (Singing) If I told the world…

GIFFORD: Adele is 19-year-old Adele Adkins, all teenage attitude and London vowels, who is being hailed as "the new Amy Winehouse." Her album, called 19, is number one in the British charts. Her single, "Chasing Pavements," is number two.

(Soundbite of song, "Chasing Pavements")

Ms. ADELE ADKINS (Singer): (Singing) …with you. Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements, even if it leads no where, or would it…

GIFFORD: Like many of the new female singer-songwriters, Adele has become famous thanks to the Internet. She posts her songs online, plays her own guitar and sings about her tortured love life. Neil McCormick says the new generation of singers is a reflection of a new kind of "Girl Power" in Britain. Mr. MCCORMICK: In the '90s, we got into this whole lad thing where men were going to be men again and drinking Oasis. But the girls got into that as well, and you sort of had the ladette. The younger girls coming through have sort of emerged out of that kind of fearless, mouthy, post-Oasis, post-lad culture.

GIFFORD: The second pretender to Winehouse's throne is not quite from the same mold. She's all blonde '60s hairstyle, dimpled cheeks and a voice like she was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, not Nefyn, North Wales. She's also called Amy, but she's known by just her last name, Duffy, and her big chart hit is called "Mercy."

(Soundbite of song, "Mercy")

Ms. AMY DUFFY (Singer): (Singing) I'm under your spell. You got me begging you for mercy. Why won't you release me?

GIFFORD: As well as more established acts like KT Tunstall, Lily Allen and Katie Melua, there are other new names coming through, like Laura Marling and Kate Nash, who went from 0 to 60 in a couple of weeks last year simply by posting some songs on MySpace.

Many of the new stars have attended the British Record Industry Trust, or BRIT, School in South London. But one who hasn't — flying the flag for Scotland — is yet another Amy, 20-year-old Amy MacDonald, singing "This is the Life."

(Soundbite of song, "This is the Life")

Ms. AMY MACDONALD (Singer): (Singing) And you singing the song thinking this is the life. And you wake up in the morning and your head feels twice the size. Where you gonna go, where you gonna go, where you gonna sleep tonight? Where you gonna sleep tonight.

GIFFORD: What's perhaps most noticeable about the new young women singers from Amy Winehouse to Amy MacDonald is the crossover in styles and influences: blues, jazz, soul, folk, even Celtic rhythms.

Author and broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who's spent 30 years covering the British music scene, says this is partly because of the diversity in what gets played on the radio in Britain, compared with often centrally programmed stations in the United States.

Mr. PAUL GAMBACCINI (Author, broadcaster): In the States, it has been possible, with narrow casting and formatization, to only hear the kind of music you know you like. The result of this is that in American music, the tendency has been for white music to get whiter, and African-American music to get more ghetto. The point is that in Britain, where there is no such formatization of music, you can have an Amy Winehouse singing 'Back to Black' and nobody thinks you shouldn't be doing this.

GIFFORD: Neil McCormick agrees, and says, despite her problems, and despite all the new competition, Amy Winehouse is still in a league of her own.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MCCORMICK: Well, you know, 'Back to Black,' when I heard that itself, I was just absolutely knocked out, you know, at her own self-laceration, and then the way the music just takes off at the end is just fantastic.

(Soundbite of song, "Back to Black")

Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) We only said good-bye with words. I died a hundred times. You go back to her, and I go back to…

GIFFORD: Her fans are hoping she can pull herself back from the edge. The paradox is that, perhaps like other great singers before her, it's living life on the edge that makes her music so good.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

(Soundbite of song, "Back to Black")

Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) We only said good-bye with words.

MONTAGNE: Many of the singers following in Amy Winehouse's footsteps got their start online. You can find links to their MySpace pages at npr.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Back to Black")

Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) You go back to her, and I go back to…

MONTAGNE: And from NPR News this is MORNING EDITION.

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