Remembering: Aaliyah is still one in a million

I turn on MTV and see Rihanna’s new video, “Disturbia.” Its dark edginess has it at the top of the charts, and she reminds me of another pop star — Aaliyah. She had that same sweet but mysterious thing working for her, too. Aaliyah should be my age. She should be releasing a new album. She should be here. But she’s not. Aaliyah died in a plane crash — Aug. 25, 2001, forever 22 years old. And sometimes it feels like she’s been forgotten. It seems as though she was just famous enough to make headlines but not a big enough celebrity to be remembered after a year or two passed by. I didn’t know her, but sometimes I miss her. She always came around at the perfect time, with just the right summer song. When she died, I cried until my eyes were dry and sore. I was confused by my grief. I mean, really. Crying over a singer? But it felt like I’d lost a friend. I know I’m not alone in this. Even though we don’t personally know them, entertainers connect with us through their work. And when they die, especially unexpectedly, we cry. Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Tupac Shakur — each had his following, and each his mourners. Through her music, I felt Aaliyah was singing the songs of my teenage years, tearing pages out of my lovesick diary. Turn me inside out/Make my heart speak/Don’t want no one else/You are all I need. Her beats were bass-heavy, hard enough for guys to like. But Aaliyah’s love-laced lyrics represented for the ladies. She truly represented a marriage between hip-hop and R&B. I’ve read Internet blogs that dis and doubt Aaliyah’s accomplishments. Some were confused when Fader gave her the coveted cover of the magazine’s icon issue earlier this year. She’d been discounted as one of R. Kelly’s young girls, a mediocre star with only posthumous success. Sure, she was no Madonna or Janet Jackson, but she does qualify as a young icon. Her influence and inspiration permeate today’s pop music and culture. Long before it was the norm for R&B pop stars to close deals with clothing lines and cosmetics brands, Aaliyah was modeling for Tommy Hilfiger. Before her death, she was supposed to star in the “Matrix” sequels. Timbaland, the acclaimed producer partly responsible for the mega-stardom of Justin Timberlake, worked with Aaliyah first. He called her his muse. Fans of Aaliyah quickly became admirers of Justin. Pop tarts such as Ciara and Cassie not only borrow from Aaliyah’s fluid dance moves, but they use her modest and sexy style, too. Aaliyah never showed too much. Her style was half-tomboy, half-girly. I see a lot of pop stars who have borrowed from her street-sweet style. I wonder where she would have taken her music, how much she would have grown by now. We will never know, but we can still be comforted by her music — three albums and a dozen or so random singles. That’s the awesome thing about celebrities: They have a never-ending lifeline through their movies, music and interviews. I can put on an old album such as “One in a Million” and still get lost in Aaliyah’s breathy, sugary voice. In a way, I can just press “play,” and she becomes again unforgettable. At least to me.


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