Even sixteen years later, it’s safe to say that Aaliyah would still command audiences. Although we don't know exactly what her output would have been — she had four albums and two films in a seven-year career -- it seems likely that she was just getting started.
As she had begun to do more films near the end of her life, it’s possible that she may have continued to go back and forth between film and music and modeling as well. In 2017, Aaliyah would have been a one-in-a-million multihyphenated star — with a huge social media following and a carefully curated presence. Her fans (many of whom were barely adolescent during her reign) collectively campaigned for MAC to introduce a line inspired by the late singer, and it was recently announced that it will be launched next year. Would she have been at every Grammy Awards? Not likely. Would she have come to the launch of a cosmetics line that her fans campaigned for? Absolutely.
So maybe it wouldn't be Lauryn Hill levels of disappearing acts, but Sade’s you’ll-see-me-when-I’m-ready could have been her style.
Would her music be good? Commanding an audience is one thing. But quality of output is something else. Again it’s impossible to correctly predict if her music would have continued to bring heat. But let’s remember a few things. First, for her most successful work, she was essentially the vocalist of a three-person group with Missy Elliot and Timbaland. When the three of them went into the studio, there was nothing but chart-topping flames. Also Aaliyah was a member of a special class of artists, including Brandy, Mariah, Boyz II Men and Mary J. Blige, who continue to have relevance today. And of course when it comes to musicians from that era who still matter, there’s also...um…you know who: R. Kelly.
There’s no way that Aaliyah’s name will ever stop being intertwined with R. Kelly's. And the same would hold true—even more so—had she lived. After news broke of their alleged marriage, Aaliyah shut down all discussions about Kelly. When a reporter asked if she was in touch with him and if she planned to work with him musically, her voice was soft but firm: no and no. But that was then. And this is now. Unless she decided to go into true seclusion, she would have continued to be asked about her relationship with Kelly, particularly if the news about his continued alleged behavior still followed him. Considering how firm she seemed to be about shutting Kelly out of her life as she continued to grow and mature, is it possible that she would have talked about her time with him? It’s hard to imagine how she would have decided to. One good hour on Oprah’s couch and she could be done with it.
Who would have been on her arm? Considering how men flip out for her in death (see Drake’s tattoo), she would have still been a sought-after wifey in 2017. At the time of her death, Damon Dash insisted that they were discussing marriage, although publicly she insisted they were just friends. (To complicate that story, Damon Dash and his future wife, Rachel Roy, aka maybe-Becky-With-Good-Hair already had a child together when he was dating Aaliyah, and the two reunited after her death). Aaliyah was a trifecta of beauty, brains and talent — her beau would have to have the trifecta too. Now maybe there’s a situation where they may have been a Beyoncé rivalry. Aaliyah Carter? You never know.
In 2017, Black celebrities are expected to make their political stances known. It’s a time when literally every single day there is a moment or a situation that can be unpacked and discussed — whether it’s the removal of a national monument or the supportive rally for a football player kneeling during the national anthem. How would Aaliyah have responded to the news of the day? During her career she was known for entertaining — not for expressing her opinion on current events. In her defense, she was a teenager and then in her very early twenties during her career. Considering the scandalous situation early in her career, it’s likely that she would have continued to steer clear of the spotlight in that way.
Imagine it. In 2000, Aaliyah is killing the game, particularly for the young crazy-sexy-cool set. Meanwhile, Destiny’s Child is nipping at her heels, releasing The Writings On The Wall, which would be a multiplatinum album for the group. And just a year after Aaliyah’s death, Beyoncé would kick in the door with Crazy In Love. Many have speculated: Would Beyoncé have become Beyoncé if Aaliyah had lived? The short answer and the long answer are the same: Don’t be ridiculous. First of all, there is room for more than one entertainment in any genre. Second, Beyoncé was always going to be Beyoncé no matter who she was up against. Her dad had her jogging and singing at the same time for a reason. And finally, although many don't want to hear it, Aaliyah was not in the same lane as Beyoncé. Aaliyah was beautiful and talented and mysterious and sweet. A powerhouse vocalist and outstanding dancer, however, she was not. Bey and Aaliyah could have coexisted in the same space and could have even worked together. This is a situation where someone becomes, in death, something that they were not in life. There’s no need to do this with Aaliyah. She was everything she was meant to be until the day she passed on.
(Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns)