Where music is concerned, the 90s and early 2000s was an especially good time to be a little Black girl. From TLC to Destiny’s Child to Da Brat to Whitney Houston to Lauryn Hill – the list containing too many to mention – the songs and sounds of young Black women filled the music stations you listened to and watched.
Looking back, I laugh. These groups and solo artists were singing songs that were way beyond my years as a pre-teen who would stand in front of the mirror or clear out my bedroom or the living room, “performing” for an imaginary crowd. Sometimes for real crowds too – including my very patient parents and siblings, and sometimes even a talent show or two. These are the moments from childhood we too often forget to remember – moments of wonderful childish enthusiasm.
I remember specifically when Aaliyah’s Try Again video came out. I would practice for hours on end, trying to get the moves right. I did it this morning too and burst into laughter. It’s good to know that my childish enthusiasm still remains. The memories of the song now extending far beyond those childhood years. It would be an anthem in moments that I needed encouragement in romance, in life, etc.
And not just Try Again but We Need A Resolution, One In A Million, More Than A Woman, Are You That Somebody?, etc. – you get the point. So although Aaliyah passed away fourteen years ago when I was a pre-teen, I still consider her one of the artists I “grew up with,” as much as I grew up with the artists who were truly before my time.
But it wasn’t just Aaliyah’s music that took a hold, it was her style, her seemingly chill persona. Indeed from the way she seemingly, effortlessly performed the choreography in her music videos, to the demeanor in her interviews, she just oozed a certain natural and easygoing beauty and charm that few others matched.
It’s an effortlessness that I still look at with awe whenever I watch her old material. Now being a few years older than the star when she died, I still look at her as someone whose popular culture contributions still impact me in particular ways – especially that easygoing style and charm. She was to me, the original “cool girl,” when cool girls were actually you know, cool.
Although I am often pridgenholed, and indeed I pigeonhole myself into the sort of person who doesn’t care much for celebrity culture. And much of the time, I don’t. So when I pay attention to someone who is a celebrity and who creates, it is their production I am usually attentive to, and Aaliyah is no different. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t something about her being that touches the soul.
Admittedly, there is a certain romanticism of her from the grave. The “what might have been,” seems to haunt many who knew her personally, as well as her fans. It’s difficult not to wonder how unimaginably prolific she might have become, had her life not been cut so short, so young. But too much attention to the “what might have been,” negates the contributions that she made musically, and in our collective memories of her – memories that followed us from childhood to adulthood.
Aaliyah still matters because when we need a pick me up song, Try Again still comes to mind. And when we’re in longing, I Miss You is often found on repeat. So on and so forth. Her music – as good music often does – was not just the length of her lifetime. And also as good music does, it tends to stir emotions we associate with our individual and collective memories.
At 22 years old, Aaliyah was gone. Had she lived, she would have been 36 years old this year. While the, “what might have been,” is easy to hold onto,” her legacy is not one of what might have been, but one of what is. She is one in a million.