Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Are You That Somebody: Aaliyah's Legacy

Aaliyah Dana Haughton is heralded is R&B's lost princess. She was cut short as her career truly began to blossom. Her self-titled album Aaliyah was lighting up the charts, she starred in Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned, and she was set to star in The Matrix sequels. Then there was the crash. Her plane went down off of the coast of the Bahamas and along with it went the potential for a bright and shining star and a rising icon.

Aaliyah picked up on the heels of acts like Total and TLC with tomboy sex appeal and fusing hip-hop with R&B. She was launched as an R. Kelly protegé but flourished under the mentoring of super producer Timbaland. At the young age of 22, she indelibly changed the R&B game forever. Her influence can be seen in the performances of Ciara and even short lived R&B act Cherish. Cassie's looks in Official Girl (pictured below) certainly mirror the style of Aaliyah, bordering the lines of imitation. Long tresses, fitted tops, baggy bottoms, and intricate dance moves personified Aaliyah's style. Not to mention the ubiquitous eye covering bang.


Official Girl video feat. Lil' Wayne

Like a Boy

Many speculate about Aaliyah's place in the R&B game if she hadn't died. Would there have ever been an Ashanti, Rihanna, or Ciara? Would Keri Hilson have a place? Would Beyoncé have skyrocketed into superstardom? I'm not one to try to figure it out. While we canonize Aaliyah now, she suffered some of the same criticisms as those above while she was alive. She didn't sing well live. She relied on studio help. Mind you a beautiful voice doesn't have to be strong in power. [See Janet Jackson] Most people talk about her sweet personality rather than her trailblazing talent. Ciara is certainly very similar to Aaliyah. That being said, it doesn't mean they couldn't have coexisted. Janet and Paula coexisted. Monica and Brandy did. Janet and Ciara coexist. Besides, Ciara's style is much more brash and sassy than Aaliyah's coy flirting. Beyoncé was already a superstar with Destiny's Child after Survivor solidified their place as worldwide stars a year before Aaliyah's death.

Aaliyah probably would have become a superstar with The Matrix sequels and would have benefited from the rebirth of Timbaland's creative flair. She probably would have sung Promiscuous Girl, the hook on The Way I Are, and many other Timbaland projects. Her mainstream success would have mirrored his. However, if she were alive today at the age of 31 in today's music business, she would have likely fizzled without reinvention. There would still be younger girls to compete with who sung over catchy beats. The industry isn't kind to aging pop girls. Could she have transitioned into a mature sound? A premature death always catapults a figure into the stratosphere. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Tupac & Biggie, and many other artists were seen as icons due to their death, not necessarily in spite of their deaths. Had Rihanna died shortly after Umbrella's release, the world would have mourned a pop princess who never lived up to her potential. We will debate all we want about Aaliyah's place in today's music world. What is not debatable is her legacy, classic sound, performance style, any illuminating effect of the industry. One in a million indeed.

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