On the 25th of August 2001, I was an eight- year old girl glued to the television screen as reporters announced the death of my idol- Aaliyah Dana Haughton. Although the concept of death was still somewhat foreign to me, I did however understand that the artist I had spent my life emulating and imitating with my friends was gone and was never coming back.
From her infamous “swoop over the eye” hairstyle, (although my mother swore it was because she had a lazy eye) to her dynamic fashion sense, Aaliyah had invented a style that had yet to be seen by any woman in the music industry at that point. She was one of your home girls. Not the kind who borrowed your clothes and never gave them back, but the one who always had something sweet to say. Everybody loved her so much that you’d look questionable to even find fault in that.
Monday marked the 14th anniversary of the untimely demise of the R&B superstar. Known to some as “baby girl,” the sultry songstress managed to leave an imprint on the lives of fans and peers. In the first five years following Aaliyah’s death, it is safe to say that I became slightly obsessed with her memory. As if my bedroom shrine filled with every picture she had ever taken wasn’t a dead giveaway, it was probably the novelty albums and books I fancied myself with that sent a crystal clear message to all who knew me-“I am Aaliyah’s number 1 fan and I double dog dare you to challenge that. “
Although looking back on my downright obsession with an artist at such a young age is bit comical, I never outgrew my admiration for Aaliyah as both an entertainer and social figure.
However, within the last four or five years, I have noticed a sudden and almost trend-like fascination with the Aaliyah in modern rap culture. Artists such as Drake and Chris Brown breathed new life into the fallen singer’s legacy by putting out songs that featured unreleased tracks from her music catalog. And how can we forget that god-awful Lifetime Aaliyah biopic film?
Since then, it seems as if I can’t turn around without looking at an image of the late singer plastered on the internet accompanied by a saying like, “We miss you baby girl,” or my favorite, “There wouldn’t be a Beyonce if she were still alive. “ Both of which make me roll my eyes and suck my teeth uncontrollably.
While I still find Aaliyah’s music timeless, I have come to the conclusion that this recent infatuation with her is nothing more than a superficial trend. This revamped idolization has exposed the singer’s work to a new generation whose only Aaliyah songs they can recall are “One in a Million” and “4 Page Letter.” Therefore, people are in love with her image and not her music.
Another part of this craze that bothers me, is that the first thing anyone ever seems to mention about Aaliyah was the fact that she was beautiful. I am not debating the fact that she was an attractive woman, but it almost leads one to the assumption that unless you are what the public deems to be “drop dead gorgeous,” you won’t be remembered. Sounds ridiculous right?
Finally, I would like to point out the collective bandwagon theory as it pertains to dead music artists. While you are alive, people may or may not like you. But once you die, you become larger than life. Much like Tupac and Biggie, Aaliyah has solidified herself into G.O.A.T (Greatest of all Time) category in hip hop culture. With this status comes “fans” who throw around her name but fail to capture her significance in music, and those annoying questions about Aaliyah would be doing if she were still alive.
Yea sure Aaliyah could have gone on to be another Beyonce or Rihanna. But she could have also been just another artist from the 90’s. Perhaps she would have reached her musical peak? Or would humans have found a problem with that too? We are living in a world where where Azealia Banks can hurl insults at Erykah Badu via Twitter for Christ’s sake. It is safe to say that this generation wouldn’t have one third of the “appreciation” that they claim to have for her now. With the rise of social media and the accessibility of celebrities today, people would have found some part of her life to dissect and exploit. She would also be the prey of countless internet trolls and Media Takeout posts. If not her looks, then perhaps because of her personal life. We also live in a world where nobody cares about you truly are until you no longer exist. As painful as it is, one must acknowledge the fact that sometimes people are put here for a moment in time and it wouldn’t be right any other way.