4:30 pm - 08/25/2012

Would Aaliyah Still Be Popular If She Were Alive?

The young talent was a force in the '90s and a bit of the 2000s. But would she be as big now if she was still with us?

Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of the grim day when Aaliyah was killed in an airplane crash at the age of 22. The "Princess of R&B” had been in the Bahamas filming a music video for "Rock the Boat," a single from her self-titled third album. On August 25, 2001, she and seven others died in an overloaded Cessna propeller plane that took a nosedive shortly after takeoff, sending her family, fans, and music industry associates—including frequent collaborators Missy Elliott, Timbaland, R.Kelly and fiancee Damon Dash—into a tailspin of shock and grief.

A star since she was a child, Aaliyah Dana Haughton always possessed a certain mystique. Describing her style as "street but sweet." she came out just as the New Jack Swing era was coming to an end sporting baggy hooded sweatshirts, leather pants and vests, skullys, and dark glasses—only exposing her abs. But that was enough to keep us wanting more.

More so than her vocal talent, which was solid but not incredible (lol, has he even listened to "I Care 4 U?"), what set Aaliyah apart was the alluring air about her, as seen on her overtly sexual debut, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, released when she was just 15 in 1994. Her sultry voice, coached and produced by R. Kelly, pushed her debut single, the party-starter “Back & Forth,” all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. On the album’s title track, she sang about how she was ready to do grown up things most teens only dream of. Talk of an annulled marriage to Kells only added to the intrigue surrounding the young R&B starlet.

Her mysterious appeal grew with sophomore effort, One in Million. With writing and production by Missy Elliott and Timbaland (who were fast becoming stars in their own right), Aaliyah’s mellow bangers—“Hot Like Fire,” “If Your Girl Only Knew,” and the title track—were all smashes. Soundtrack cuts “Are You That Somebody” and “Try Again” soon followed, along with the smooth, yet futuristic self-titled third album furthered her lore. And then—as with Tupac or Biggie, dying in the prime of one’s career tends to help create a legend.

Aaliyah’s music continues to touch many. Drake has been outspoken about his admiration for her, even going as far as to address a letter to the dear departed singer. “Not only was I one of your biggest fans but I was truly in love with you,” he wrote. “I loved the way you carried yourself, the way you dressed, the confidence with which you addressed passion and relationships in your music. I said to myself that even if we never met, I wanted a woman in my life just like you.”

But in the time since she’s passed, Aaliyah’s legacy has, inevitably, waned a bit. With time, new stars have claimed her space in the R&B realm, and people are forgetful. But earlier this month, the artist—who would be 33 if she were alive—was back with a new song, or at least one we’ve never heard before.

Drake and his production partner, Noah “40” Shebib, collaborated on “Enough Said.” the first single from an as-yet-untitled album of Aaliyah songs culled from a trove of unreleased vocal demos. On the airy track, Aaliyah urges her man—personified by Drake—to open up.

“You say you got a lot on your mind,” she sings in the lithe tone that made her a star. “Let’s sit down and talk about it.” Drake falls in halfway through to vent about enemies, “bitches” who “act iffy,” and all sorts of other matters he prefers to keeps to himself.

Hearing Aaliyah’s new song played alongside current talents like and Rihanna and Beyoncé on urban radio is quite a jarring experience. She’s like a ghost competing against a new class of girls who hadn't yet become superstars when she was alive. More often than not, “new” records made by glossing up old vocals are a recipe for audio disaster. But ”Enough Said” isn’t half bad. (Although Timbaland probably doesn’t like the fact that he wasn’t consulted on the project at first). Whether or not a whole new album of updated Aaliyah tracks ever sees the light of day, it’s impossible not to wonder what might have happened if Aaliyah never got on that plane 11 years ago.

Would she be as big of a star now as she was in 2001? Probably not. Her old peers, R&B stars Brandy, Monica, and Faith Evans, have all come down to earth. All are still active singers, but none are the force they once were. Only premium talents stay hot for decades, a special few. Most runs end, slowly but surely. Who’s to say the trajectory of Aaliyah’s career would have been any different?

Aaliyah’s untimely death brings the passing of ’50s actor James Dean to mind. He died in a car crash after playing lead in only three movies (most notably Rebel Without a Cause). She was bona fide star with each of her three albums going platinum and a budding career as an actress. She starred in the martial arts action flick Romeo Must Die with Jet Li, then played a vampire in Queen of the Damned before passing. Both died at high points, cheated of the chance to see whether they would excel, maintain, or fizzle. All we can really do is speculate.

Topically, her music wasn’t groundbreaking. Her most beloved tracks (“Are You That Somebody,” “4 Page Letter,” “More Than a Woman”) circled familiar subjects: young love—getting it, losing it, maintaining it. Was there something about the way she tackled these familiar themes—or was it more about the stellar talents she surrounded herself with? With Timbaland on the boards and Elliott and Static Major penning her songs, couldn’t another singer have made them hit records, too?

There’s no denying that her music recalls a golden era of some of the best hip-hop-soul the young genre had to offer. But a solid listen to most of Aaliyah’s hit singles—and she had many—reveals that she had a soft, appealing voice but not astonishing. She was not as capable of hitting highs and lows as burgeoning stars like Alicia Keys (LOL WHAT?!) or Beyoncé.

Even Ciara, whose vocals nearly equal Aaliyah’s, (insulting to say the least) would have been a formidable competitor thanks to her stellar dancing ability. When it came to choreography Aaliyah was sexy, sensuous—but not awe-inspiring. “I think it's hard for Aaliyah to be duplicated, because she had her own lane,” Missy Elliott told MTV. “Ciara is an R&B singer who loves to dance, and Aaliyah was that same kinda artist. We knew when she dropped a record, we couldn't wait for the video. I think Aaliyah has influenced artists like a Ciara.”

Ciara was not the only artist to study Aaliyah’s template—from her chic tomboyish style (Keri Hilson) and sex appeal to her ability to make the most of a middling voice (Rihanna).

R&B singer Tank, who worked with Aaliyah and was featured on “Come Over,” a track from her posthumous 2002 album, I Care 4 U, believes Aaliyah created a path for today’s R&B singers.

“She combined sexy, classy, cool, singing, dancing, and acting,” he says. “Aaliyah made it possible to do all these things at the highest level. She's still what women in this industry aspire to be: a total threat. She was leading the charge at that point for urban and pop females. The question is would these females have as much room as they have to operate if baby girl was still here? My answer is ‘No.’”

Maybe so. But we’ll never really know. And maybe that's for the best.

What an insulting article tbh, what are your thoughts ONTD?

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friarsfire 25th-Aug-2012 10:49 pm (UTC)
Waiting for Aubrey's official statement on behalf of Missy and Timbaland, tbh.
gorlplz 25th-Aug-2012 11:56 pm (UTC)

jimmy would
myroomiswhite88 26th-Aug-2012 04:40 am (UTC)
i actually am too, i'm sad their wasn't a creepy tweet
fight4thislove 25th-Aug-2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
I always tell people, had Aaliyah not passed away, I don't think Beyonce would be as popular as she is right now.
elementalranger 25th-Aug-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
beyonce and her were in completely different lanes tho. destiny's child & beyonce's collabo w/ jay-z would've still made her more popular than Aaliyah imo

Edited at 2012-08-25 10:56 pm (UTC)
david_edison 25th-Aug-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
This. Also a bunch of bubbleheads like Ciara, Ashanti, etc. Bottom line: It shoulda been Mariah in that plane.
mahgie 25th-Aug-2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
there should have been no one in that plane, as the flight should never have happened. if they left as originally planned the next day then she and the others who perished with her would hopefully all still be alive and well. i wouldn't wish that on anyone, what a horrific way to go.
sugarcrawler 25th-Aug-2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
omg what a horrible thing to say are you saying mariah should have died wtf
and um last time i checked ciara and ashanti are irrelevant
glass_houses 25th-Aug-2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
omg why would you ever say that jfc
heartlockedx 25th-Aug-2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
ex_vampirew765 25th-Aug-2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
take your ass outta here with that shit boo
yummy_minogue 25th-Aug-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Destiny's Child was outselling her when she was alive so IDK what ur talking about
yah_bish_yah 25th-Aug-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
lol idts. Aaliyah had a couple cute songs but that was it.
pistol_eyes 25th-Aug-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
I don't agree. Matty Knowles was determined to make his daughter a star. I loved Aaliyah but I think she'd be in the same irrelevant boat with Brandy and Monica.
devilsadvocate 25th-Aug-2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
ex_vampirew765 25th-Aug-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
idts bc DC were on top of the world at the time so
fakevoices 25th-Aug-2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
i don't think bey would be with jay if aaliyah were still alive tbh
andres01234 25th-Aug-2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
la_sikka 25th-Aug-2012 11:45 pm (UTC)
to bad that is a L I E there can be two talented queens thank you. Granted no one is on beyonce's level currently so...
withoutyoursmil 25th-Aug-2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
highly doubtful
teaaet 25th-Aug-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
totally agree
guccipostagurl 26th-Aug-2012 12:42 am (UTC)
Nah Beyonce would still be huge but Rihanna probably would not have been as big and Ciara,Ashanti etc wouldn't even exist.
frenchverbs 26th-Aug-2012 12:44 am (UTC)
LMAO. Why are you completely ignoring that DC was huge when Aaliyah was alive and Bey was the standout?
bee_xx3 26th-Aug-2012 01:00 am (UTC)
kimberwyn 26th-Aug-2012 02:18 am (UTC)
ishachan 26th-Aug-2012 02:25 am (UTC)
I totally agree. I feel the exact same way about Selena and Jennifer Lopez. Aaliyah was starting to do all the things that Beyonce has done today.
xoxotalli 26th-Aug-2012 03:03 am (UTC)
No way. First of all, Beyonce was in a group so fans were okay with supporting female solo stars as well as Destiny's Child. And after DC3 got their hits, it just became inevitable that Bey would be a solo star and the public would support her. I think if Aaliyah had stood in her way, Beyonce would have obliterated her and I don't even like B.

But if Aaliyah played her cards right, i think she could have stood in Rihanna's way, but I think Aaliyah would have become irrelevant by about 2005 or 2006, so I don't think she could have done anything once Rihanna got Umbrella and became HUGE.

Sad2say, but bb girl would have fizzled out eventually tbh. It kills me to admit this as an Aaliyah fan. But at least she has
More individuality than all these other girls put together.

Edited at 2012-08-26 03:07 am (UTC)
degele 26th-Aug-2012 03:34 am (UTC)
people always say this, but i do NOT understand it. beyonce had DC which still would've made her just as popular. aaliyah is cool and all, but beyonce and sing and dance circles around her. come on now.
girltype 26th-Aug-2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
I do to! I tell people if Aaliyah was still around there would be no Beyonce.
nt4michelangelo 25th-Aug-2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
probably not
kimberwyn 26th-Aug-2012 02:18 am (UTC)
sir 25th-Aug-2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
bradentastic 25th-Aug-2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
I don't think she'd be worldwide popular because I think she would have transitioned into a more independent, experimental form of recording. Her last album was so ahead of her time and she always had very eclectic taste. I think while she may not have been the most popular, she would have been one of the most interesting.

I'm still upset we never got a Trent Reznor collab like she wanted.
likegunfire 25th-Aug-2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
she really would have been ciara/ashanti/mya-level of famous

no way she could compete with beyonce or even rihanna. she wasn't versatile enough
friarsfire 25th-Aug-2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
I am not gonna speculate on how famous or successful she would have been but her not being versatile is a not the case. She served us "One In a Million," "I Care 4 U," "The One I Gave My Heart To" in addition to her rap/R&B collabs. Her music was great, is timeless and ecletic.
likegunfire 25th-Aug-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
All of those songs fit into the same genre, though
idt her voice could have handled crossing into dance music or pop. I cant't imagine her doing single ladies or only girl or anything like that
jeugd1 25th-Aug-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
She would not be concentrating on music I think, she was signed to 8 movies when she died
devilsadvocate 25th-Aug-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
No I think she would have been a Beyonce Azealia Banks hybrid, but way bigger than Beyonce and way before Azeaelia came out.
glittersecrecy 25th-Aug-2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
rinanina101 26th-Aug-2012 12:13 am (UTC)
if it were in terms of talent, aaliyah would soooooooooooooo beat rihanna. but like you said, she probably wasn't versatile enough. i can't imagine aaliyah singing we found love or something
fashionbb 26th-Aug-2012 05:32 am (UTC)
People keep forgetting. Rihanna wasn't that popular starting out. Like yeah, she was known but she definitely wasn't huge. It was her 180 degree image/music change that pretty much pushed her to mega stardom.

Also versatility is a huge part like you say. I kind of feel Aaliyah was in her own lane and not as versatile. Rihanna is kind of the epitome of it. She is always changing, and successfully doing so.
insideout 25th-Aug-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
Nothing against the OP, but what is the point of even writing an article about this? We will never know, let her rest in peace!
mahgie 25th-Aug-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
I didn't write the article, and I asked the same question as the question posed will never be answered..however I thought it'd make an interesting post and today is the anniversary of her passing, thought she should be mentioned.
insideout 25th-Aug-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Yeah I just looked back and saw your comment. I agree, the article is insulting!
phillymademe 25th-Aug-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
i've said this before, but i feel like she would have turned into a Mandy Moore type. doing a lot of movies and releasing albums here and there.
chuckisfuckis 25th-Aug-2012 10:57 pm (UTC)
I agree.
glass_houses 25th-Aug-2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
I love Mandy Moore's music. She's so damn good.
browneyedguuurl 25th-Aug-2012 11:43 pm (UTC)
No lies detected.
odeeryme 27th-Aug-2012 12:12 am (UTC)
I love her too tbh. Her Umbrella cover was magnificent
_quietriot_ 25th-Aug-2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
I agree.
chilli_cheese 25th-Aug-2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
omg I loved that video in your icon. I remember all the girls used to do the dance.
andres01234 25th-Aug-2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
Mandy's "Wild hope" album is one of the best albums in the last 10 years
guccipostagurl 26th-Aug-2012 12:44 am (UTC)

I'm really happy for Mandy and how she evolved as an artist.
sanditar 25th-Aug-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
your icon op

bradentastic 25th-Aug-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
is that my queen kylie??
sanditar 25th-Aug-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)

sanditar 25th-Aug-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)

mahgie 25th-Aug-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
thank you:)
sanditar 25th-Aug-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
oh, about the article: i think she'd acting with some albums in between. who knows.
meepstah 25th-Aug-2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
monpochi 26th-Aug-2012 12:25 am (UTC)
The Aphrodite costumes of Kylie's always astounds me... just so flawless.
mentiritas 26th-Aug-2012 03:35 am (UTC)
Kylie is so impossibly flawless, goddamn.
ivybgreenflower 26th-Aug-2012 11:49 am (UTC)
my queeeeeeeeen <3
eldvno 25th-Aug-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, end of discussion.
divaty 25th-Aug-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
People tend to forget that Aaliyah got dragged hen she was alive.
friarsfire 25th-Aug-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
Idk this. Receipts?
divaty 25th-Aug-2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
I remember that the month before he died she had a story in Vibe magazine, so right after she died all the letters to the editor where dogging her. It was horrible timing. The R. Kelly thing was always brought up, her "lazy eye," her singing voice, her acting ability, her relationship with Damon, just the usual stuff, but it was before blogs and twitter so it's easy to forget. She had her haters like everyone else.
mahgie 25th-Aug-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
don't remember too much dragging except for the rumor about how she always wore sunglasses because she had a lazy eye
glass_houses 25th-Aug-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
bunny_lita 26th-Aug-2012 01:26 am (UTC)
People talked all kinds of shit about her and R. Kelly and how she dressed and the sunglasses and her voice.
srparker328 25th-Aug-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
really, now, with this post.
britneyspears 25th-Aug-2012 10:57 pm (UTC)
what a r00d article on the anniversary of her death tbh (no shade to the op ofc, just the author)

and the answer is no
dirrtypony 25th-Aug-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
i think if she didnt pass she would have slowly moved to more acting then singing tbh.
lucky_latkes 25th-Aug-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Honestly, no. I don't believe she would have had crossover success like Beyoncé, Rhianna, or even Nicki to some degree. She would have been popular, but only to, and I hate to use this phrase, "urban audiences". Like Melanie Fiona now, Ciara and Ashanti at their peaks, and what Ameriie has been thirsty for for idk how long. I don't think she would have had the same appeal as what's huge in mainstream right now.
likegunfire 25th-Aug-2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
amerie will have a comeback. i'll make sure of it.
sweetmizre 25th-Aug-2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
Good luck
lucky_latkes 25th-Aug-2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
Gurl, you better start taking over her pr now then.
sugarcrawler 25th-Aug-2012 11:32 pm (UTC)
amerie? amerie who?

jk. but uh..sorry i really dont think that will happen :/
fauxparadiso 25th-Aug-2012 11:47 pm (UTC)
Gurl, One Thing was literally the one #1 thing in her entire discography.
phillymademe 25th-Aug-2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
it kills me that Melanie isn't much bigger.
fakevoices 25th-Aug-2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
in other words, she was not white people friendly?

glad i'm not the only one who has thought about it
withoutyoursmil 25th-Aug-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
lidahbidah 26th-Aug-2012 12:39 am (UTC)
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