20 years after Aaliyah’s death, her story only feels more tragic

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Aaliyah, the R&B singer born as Dana Haughton, best known by her nickname Baby Girl but initially started her music catalog with the release of her album “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” in August 1994.

Aaliyah’s alleged abuser, R. Kelly, automatically sent royalties to the producer’s album. This meant that streaming any song from Aaliyah’s debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” only allowed for listening, which meant that no album by Aaliyah was available for streaming. In the future, it sounds like listening to her self-titled album from 2001 will still be like listening to a forward-looking and futuristic article that declared Aaliyah as one of the most celebrated pop artists in her lifetime.

It seems likely that the victim, who is first known as Kelly, and the indictment against Kelly, also known as Jane Doe 1, appears to be Aaliyah. The trial against Kelly for charges of sex trafficking and racketeering began on August 18 with the opening statements. Kelly Sylvester Robert, who was born Kelly, is at the center of Kelly’s trial.

The narrative of R. Kelly and Aaliyah was presented as a love story, rather than a tale of abuse. Nevertheless, that was not how their story was widely portrayed for a significant period of time.

Kelly and Aaliyah were married in an illegal ceremony in 1994 when Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15. This fact was quickly annulled and both Aaliyah and Kelly have consistently denied it, with Kelly continuing to deny it during his trial.

Only a couple of years back, conversations regarding his actions towards Aaliyah did not generate the same level of moral indignation as they do now, following the revelation of Kelly’s ongoing abusive partnerships and alleged involvement in a “sex cult” that came to light in 2017 during the Me Too movement. Additionally, accounts from Aaliyah’s acquaintances, relatives, and romantic partners imply that Kelly subjected her to severe mistreatment following her demise in 2001.

Fans of Aaliyah turned a record store mural of the singer into a shrine after her death.
Steve Grayson/WireImage

Somehow, Aaliyah endured a tragedy in her past and became an icon without him having any rightful ownership over her; Kathy Iandoli, a journalist, writes about this in her biography “Aaliyah as Known Better: Girl Baby 2021,” Theirs was not a love story that defied age.

It should also be clear that Kelly, as an adult in the room, should have a clear understanding of the responsibility for any romantic relationship that may develop between them. It is likely that it would hurt her the most if any romantic relationship were to occur between them.

Kelly’s mistreatment of Aaliyah has been regarded as a disgraceful reflection on Aaliyah rather than a reflection on Kelly. Furthermore, their undisclosed marriage was perceived as an entertainingly dramatic celebrity scandal following their relationship, both prior to Kelly’s 2006 arrest for child pornography and during his subsequent efforts to rebuild his career in the ensuing years. This perception persisted until the revelation of his alleged involvement in a “sex cult” in 2017. Conversely, their secret marriage was viewed as an amusingly sensationalized celebrity scandal in the aftermath of their relationship, both before Kelly’s 2006 arrest for child pornography and throughout his professional recovery in the years that followed, until the news of his alleged involvement in a “sex cult” emerged in 2017.

The press skillfully downplayed the whole incident, mentioning it publicly every time, and creating a seven-year gap between Aaliyah’s death and the distancing of herself from Kelly. She stopped working with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, embracing a new sound. After the news of their marriage went public, Aaliyah worked hard to move on from Kelly.

The world would greatly admire her sexuality, which in turn would become the focal point of her appeal, while her youthful innocence would play a pivotal role in shaping how the world perceived her sexual nature. Interestingly enough, the narrative surrounding R. Kelly’s actions towards Aaliyah would establish her image, albeit in a peculiar manner.

So, when we talk about Aaliyah today, we find ourselves faced with the task of untangling the abuse from Kelly’s image — whether it’s possible to do so even after her death 20 years ago.

“It was essentially akin to hearing an R. Kelly record, but with a young girl singing”

Aaliyah was 12 years old when Kelly brought her into the studio to sing and her manager, Hankerson, introduced her to Barry Hankerson, who was Kelly’s uncle and Aaliyah’s manager.

Aaliyah began her debut work when she was 14 years old in 1993. Kelly and Hankerson agreed. She sang with her aunt Gladys Knight in Las Vegas concerts when she was 12 years old. She appeared on Search Star at the age of 11. Aaliyah had already been pushing to break into the industry for years when she was 12.

R. Kelly created something exceptional: Many critics believed they understood what. The album garnered Aaliyah acknowledgments at the American Music Awards and the Soul Train Awards, and it premiered at No. 24 on Billboard in May 1994. It was a tremendous success.

In 1994, the LA Times stated, “Securing radio play for a track by a new musician is challenging — unless it showcases R. Kelly performing all aspects except the main vocals. Supporters adore nearly everything he produces, and ‘Back & Forth’ serves as a close substitute for a fresh R. Kelly track.” Aaliyah’s ‘Back & Forth’ maintains a prominent position in the pop Top 5 partially due to R. Kelly. Not only did he oversee the production and composition of ‘Back & Forth,’ but he also handles the rap sections.

A young girl had a Robert album, enjoying the overall sound and production, but it was clear that the subject matter was not sexual. In 2014, Jeff Sledge told Vibe that the album by the singer Kelly R. Sounded like a little girl singing, but it was essentially a listening experience. The album still had a similar vibe to Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” as everyone knew and recognized Aaliyah’s distinct voice and established herself even further after that album.

Kimya said, “They already had an image set for her.” She insisted that Kelly and Aaliyah both wear it, but Rainge didn’t like how Aaliyah’s vest fit, particularly the back. He also produced a leather vest for her and wore a miniature version of it on his album covers and tours, along with an Illinois license plate. He would be dressed in oversize sweatsuits in her videos, revealing her midriff, as Aaliyah insisted Kelly recalls stylist Rainge Warfield. In her album “Baby Girl,” it seems that Kelly intended to present Aaliyah to the world, not just as a miniature version of himself.

The gossip media started to raise a collective eyebrow. They were frequently seen together in public. They claimed to be the closest of friends. After her album release, they started dressing similarly wherever they went, which happened to be quite a few locations. Kelly not only demanded that Aaliyah dress like him for her music videos and album creation, but also in other instances.

“The two are clearly close,” mocked YSB magazine in 1994. “It’s not surprising that they were believed to be cousins. NOT!”.

“When Aaliyah and R. Kelly showcased coordinated attire,” stated Sherry Carter on BET’s Video Soul Gold, “It appears that everyone assumes you two are either romantically involved, family members, or close companions.” “Let’s clarify the truth.”

“I should go and acquire myself a white Jeep,” Kelly quipped, referencing the OJ Simpson Bronco pursuit. “Oh dear.”

Aaliyah replied, “Actually, no, we’re not family.” “Not at all. We’re simply extremely close. This person is my closest companion in the entire world.”

Later, Carter asked Aaliyah how old she was. She refused to say, and she would continue to refuse until she turned 16.

The speculations were refuted by both Kelly’s team and Aaliyah. It transformed into, “Are R. Kelly and Aaliyah clandestinely wedded?” The narrative started to develop as Aaliyah’s first album year progressed, the “Are R. Kelly and Aaliyah covertly involved?” Story.

Then in December 1994, Vibe released their marriage certificate, and the speculation turned out to be true.

“I comforted Aaliyah’s mother as she wept, expressing that her daughter’s life had been devastated. Aaliyah’s life was forever altered by that experience.”

It appears that what has happened here is that Kelly’s child sex tape story, which was first reported by journalist Jim DeRogatis in 2000, has been explosively covered in the most recent Lifetime docuseries in 2019. It is fair to say that there has been a significant amount of reporting on the illegal clandestine marriage that has been going on for nearly 30 years.

DeRogatis states in his 2019 publication Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly, “Almost all of my sources affirmed that [Aaliyah] and Kelly initiated sexual involvement during her initial recording sessions.” Aaliyah was only 14 years old at that particular time. Jovante Cunningham, a former backup vocalist for Kelly, reveals in Surviving R. Kelly that she once witnessed Kelly and a 15-year-old Aaliyah together on their tour bus, where Kelly engaged in “inappropriate actions that are unsuitable for an adult to perform with a minor.”

Aaliyah, who is pregnant, became connected with Kelly because they both got married. In the trial of 2021, Kelly’s book “Surviving the Soulless Man Behind the Man” features statements made by Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former personal assistant.

In order to obtain one without requiring her parents’ approval, Aaliyah sought permission to undergo an abortion, enabling Kelly to lawfully grant her consent. Jane Doe attested to the fact that Kelly proceeded with the wedding. During Kelly’s trial in 2021, she disclosed her suspicion of being pregnant, informing him about it while he was on tour in Miami. As per Smith’s account.

On August 31, 1994, Aaliyah, who was 18 years old at the time, flew from Maywood suburb to Chicago with R. Kelly. They had a quickie wedding in a suburban wedding hall, where an official claims that Smith bribed him to obtain false documents for the marriage license.

To ensure that she would never have to, they proceeded with Aaliyah informing her family that she had no desire to encounter Kelly once more. The marriage was dissolved on September 29, 1994, and her family assumed control of the situation. According to Smith’s account, Aaliyah went back to her family in Detroit the day after the wedding and recounted the events to them.

Two children, who had a deep affection for one another, found themselves in a situation where they were in over their heads. It was simply a clear example of a misguided decision, and it appears that the family dynamics were not fully comprehended at the time of the marriage.

“Rob committed an error,” Smith states in Soulless. “That’s how the family perceived it.”

A member of Aaliyah’s family in Soulless says, “We are fortunate to be a family, you can’t imagine how ignorant ‘Just, it was.” We simply thought this guy, who is 15 years old and as stupid as a big dumb person, is just ‘thought We”.

During an interview in 2013, DeRogatis stated that Aaliyah’s life was never the same after her daughter’s ruinous encounter with Kelly. DeRogatis mentioned that Aaliyah’s mother cried on his shoulder, expressing the harmlessness of Aaliyah. It appeared that the people closest to Aaliyah, who were once supportive of Kelly, had a change of heart after the marriage ended, although it did not last long.

Dash, speaking more directly, stated in Surviving R. Kelly that while he was dating Aaliyah at the time of her passing, she was deeply affected by her association with Kelly and was unable to fully disclose the extent of the trauma she experienced. Instead, she simply referred to him as a malevolent individual. This revelation was made during a 2019 conversation with Nick Cannon.

“It’s captivating to envision Aaliyah as a stunning Lolita”

Scandalous celebrities are often portrayed as a simple and entertaining story, referencing popular culture. The media treated the story of Aaliyah as both a scandalous celebrity scandal and a fun pop culture reference. The man assured the young girl that what happened between them was just a number and not about age, but this only worsened the judgment on Aaliyah’s image, being referred to as the so-called “Lolita.” The media treated their unconventional love story as the best possible interpretation and the worst possible judgment. It became clear that something happened between them when their marriage certificate was published, even though it happened after Aaliyah’s age of consent. Any sexual contact between Aaliyah and Kelly in 1994 would have been considered statutory rape at the very least.

It seemed easy to establish your own coolness by dismissively tossing aside something, but neither Aaliyah nor Kelly had anything to do with the scandal of their marriage. The debut album by the girl group called Y?N-Vee was swiftly forgotten, as lamented in a 1994 review by the Tampa Tribune, “This recording makes as much sense as Aaliyah marrying Kelly R.” The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to Kelly’s love for Aaliyah as “life” in a cheeky review from 1994.

Contemplated i-D in 1995, “It’s alluring to envision Aaliyah as an exquisite Lolita ensnared by a scandalously fated romance; it enhances the excitement of listening to her romantic songs.” Expressed Vibe, “Clearly, entertainers have been deceiving about their ages since the beginning of time.” And if Aaliyah and R. Kelly’s matrimony is genuine, then her pseudo-Lolita persona becomes a reality. And R. Kelly’s sexualized persona becomes even more ambiguous. But that’s the nature of the entertainment industry: illusions and deceptions, microphones and sound tests.

Aaliyah moved to a certain place due to her responsibility, and a song she was associated with became a hit. The world was pleased to give him credit for the song, and he produced it while Aaliyah dressed up in a number called “Nothing Ain’t “Age.” Kelly wrote the song, which created a beautiful pseudo-Lolita image of Aaliyah and placed it in the first position.

USA Today asked in 1994, “Exactly how young is recently married Aaliyah?” The article proceeds to caution about serious outcomes for Aaliyah if she is below the legal age: “If she is 15, there are certain issues,” states Louis Barnes, the marriage bureau’s representative. “She could face imprisonment.” According to the state, she must be at least 16 years old with parental approval. No potential repercussions for Kelly are mentioned.

The article in Vibe broke the story that Aaliyah’s story is paradoxically presented as a young temptress, while Kelly himself is depicted as more mature and wicked.

Brown suggests that Aaliyah possesses a mature mindset, while Robert is characterized as being childish. Brown disparages Aaliyah and her choices, claiming that at the age of 15, one experiences hormonal changes without the ability to think logically. Jamie Foster Brown, the editor of Sister2Sister magazine, who had been reporting on Kelly for a significant period of time, is quoted in the article.

Kelly, the grown-up, continued to thrive in her profession after the scandal. Mature-minded/Lolita-esque-temptress Aaliyah saw her career decline.

She was blamed for the marriage scandal, as she was the little girl who was tempted by a grown man into jeopardy. Meanwhile, Aaliyah’s picture was shown at the 1995 Soul Train Awards, and the audience booed. In 1995, Kelly’s self-titled album went quadruple platinum, and he received his first Grammy nominations.

In 2014 on The Ryan Cameron Morning Show, Jomo Hankerson, her cousin and executive at Blackground Records, expressed, “Aaliyah was unfairly portrayed as a villain. This caused challenges during the transition to her second album. … It was difficult for us to enlist producers for the album. She was only 16 or 17 when working on her second album. I simply couldn’t comprehend why they held animosity towards Baby Girl.”

“She didn’t sing like a young girl, and she didn’t behave like one, either.”

Aaliyah managed to obtain that second album despite the industry’s hesitancy to collaborate with her. In order to produce the album, she enlisted the emerging talents of Missy Elliot and Timbaland. While maintaining her tomboy persona, which Kelly had established for her, she managed to evolve it into a more sophisticated and less exact imitation of her previous mentor.

Aaliyah achieved success with Kelly’s credit in no time at all. Her single “If Your Girl Only Knew” reached the top 10 on the Billboard charts. Her album from 1996, “One in a Million,” went double platinum. Aaliyah became an even bigger hit once again, with another massive success.

“Commencing the album review of The Voice, it becomes apparent, you can infer,” stated the reviewer. “She has made a comeback, and it is clear — without any resemblance to R. Kelly.”

It all started in 2002, when a style that could be considered a R&B avant-garde, known as “Million in One,” helped invent a new and distinctive sound. Kelefa Sanneh argues in a New York Times article from 2001 that Aaliyah’s album, “Slant,” would undoubtedly be one of the most influential R&B albums of the ’90s. It was a fusion of electronic beats by Timbaland and Aaliyah’s cool and precise voice, reaching out to hip-hop while still staying true to R&B. It was something new and recognizable, similar to Marvin Gaye-inflected R&B, but with Kelly’s own unique touch. It was like nothing else at the time.

Aaliyah also embraced evolution. She confidently rocked the baggy, low-slung pants chosen by Kelly, which showcased her midriff. However, she managed to infuse the look with a greater sense of femininity and authenticity, aligning it with her personal aesthetic. Her appearance in a Tommy Hilfiger advertisement, wearing low Tommy jeans and a small bra top, solidified this iconic look.

Aaliyah is one of the few recognizable musical icons who created one of the most lasting fashion looks of all time by combining androgyny and femininity with masculinity. She had a top crop and baggy pants, both in the color purple. Prince had suits that were stiffly ironed, Nina had fedora and glove, and Michael had wrote Vice in 2016.

In 2008, Kelly R. Was charged with child pornography and went on trial for it. The story of Kelly R. And Aaliyah’s unconventional love would haunt her to some extent, both through her death in 2001 and beyond. Even after Kelly R. Moved away, the image and sound of Aaliyah would continue to haunt him. However, he couldn’t escape the idea of their peculiar love story.

What do you know about the way the story was told? They were in love, but he wasn’t just some old man in love with a young girl. It was clear that the reality of what it was also clearly depicted in the biopic Lifetime’s Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, which Wendy Williams executive-produced and was promoting. He loved her, and she loved him.

Aaliyah, who was older than her years, consistently took responsibility as the one who instigated scandalous acts, while Kelly, a hapless individual, passively succumbed to her seduction. Every time the story of Aaliyah and Kelly’s fake marriage was recounted, it appeared that Aaliyah was the one in control.

R. Kelly, the R & B vocalist, was secretly wedded to her mentor, the young celebrity was reported to be a child bride, either: she didn’t behave like one, and she didn’t sing like a little girl — even then, she had a more powerful voice and a more sophisticated approach than most pop singers. ‘Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,’ her initial album, which sold a million copies, was released in 1994 when she was 15. “In 1994, when she was 15, she released her first album, ‘Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,’ which sold a million copies.,” Began a New York Times article shortly after her death. Aaliyah’s career started and concluded with people discussing her age.

Just two years ago, Kelly’s child pornography tape had become public, and Iandoli thought the collaboration with R. Kelly was wildly inappropriate. Iandoli describes the lyrics of the duet released by Ciara, a seductive R&B singer, as a writing feature on Baby Girl.

Ciara’s group, furious, warned Iandoli about a defamation lawsuit. “She’s not Aaliyah,” they informed Iandoli.

Iandoli writes, “it felt incredibly incorrect,” the disgrace of marking it if mentioned by Aaliyah as part of [Ciara’s] team. The blame was once again placed on the teenage girl, not the predator.

The blame rested on Aaliyah. It was not their responsibility. Whether that individual was R. Kelly or grown-ups in her crowd, whenever someone objectified her sexually, Aaliyah was perceived by the public as a teenager with inherent sexual connotations. This notion had become widely acknowledged and deeply ingrained in her public image, portraying Aaliyah as the one to be held accountable in her association with R. Kelly.

“I was attractive at 10. I had a bit of allure working for me back then.”

The juxtaposition of Aaliyah’s public understanding of herself and her intertwined sexuality became fundamental in the way she talked about people.

She exclaimed, “I was feeling warm, I was wearing this attractive little outfit.” Aaliyah playfully recounted her childhood experience on Star Search, at the age of 21, during an interview on The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn in 2000. “I believed I deserved to be the victor,” she states.

“What was your age?” Kilborn inquires.

Aaliyah informs him that she was ten years old.

“I don’t believe you’re supposed to be warm at 10!” Kilborn protests.

She says, “Back in those days, I had a slight attraction to working. I was hot at the age of 10.” Aaliyah overrules him, laughing. She describes herself as a child with her mother’s photograph. “It comes through in the camera and the pictures.” She says, “I got this kind of sexual appeal from working, you know.”

Aaliyah, also known by her endearing nickname “Baby Girl,” was described as “precociously sultry” before her untimely death. The New York Times article breaking the news seemed to suggest that the rest of the world was captivated by her unique mindset, which was deeply intertwined with her childlike innocence and attractiveness.

A sample of a baby crying was laid over Aaliyah’s vocals in the verse of “Somebody?” Known better as “Aaliyah,” after Timbaland rapped his guest verse. It became one of her public monikers because they had all become so close, then Elliot Missy and Timbaland called her Baby Girl as a mark of affection in private. Only after she left, it became widespread and she got the nickname from her father.

This seemingly wholesome professional relationship was characterized by conflicting undertones. In 2011, Timbaland confessed that he developed strong feelings for Aaliyah, who was only 16 years old when they met. Despite being aware of the age difference (23 years old), he made sure to never cross the boundaries that Kelly did, always maintaining a protective and brotherly role towards Aaliyah. “The moment I laid eyes on my wife, I knew she was the one I would marry because she bore a resemblance to Aaliyah,” he remarks.

Therefore, Baby Girl’s youthful association with the intertwining of her ideas and her developing sexuality is another example of how she is perceived as a sexual object. However, there is no evidence to suggest that anything inappropriate ever occurred between Aaliyah and Timbaland.

It wasn’t considered a hurdle to treat her as a sexually attractive object, that’s her fact; it was understood that her youth was a part of her sexual availability. Aaliyah was caught in a different version of that trap, where she wasn’t allowed to be young, but expected to be fully mature as an adult. While Beyoncé was expected to age at the same rate, the world was obsessed over Britney Spears at the same age. All girls, regardless of their race, are not granted the space to experience girlhood. Black teenage girls are often expected to be virginal, innocent, and pure, while white girls are argued to be expected the same.

It’s worth interrogating the extent to which Aaliyah’s youthful and sexy image, resulting from her career and the alleged predator child launched by Jason King, a scholar in the 2014 Poetics Wax, has made her a marketplace predator. While I’m mostly hearing about Kelly R.’S alleged predator activities in the commercial marketplace, I’m struggling to listen to it without the context.

It complied, and the remainder of American culture readily embraced it. He established a storyline, but subsequently R. Kelly instructed the world to perceive a minor as a sexual entity.

She had already taken the guilt upon herself for the guilt of the rest. The subsequent shift of blame onto Aaliyah meant that the rest of the world could enjoy the spectacle of her sexuality without guilt. She was the one who kept repeating that age ain’t nothing but a number, only saying that if she was even told to sing and write lyrics by Kelly. If viewers found her sexy, it was not their fault, but rather something inherently seductive about Aaliyah’s childishness. What made Aaliyah’s vision of herself as Lolita so enticing to viewers.

She remained alive while we discussed how her consent to help had changed over the past 10 years, questioning whether the cultural reckoning would completely transcend him. We will never see what tragedies of her early death she had been able to witness, and one of those tragedies is the iconic image of Aaliyah, which instantly screams out and establishes her as the most futuristic pop star to remake herself as a tomboy style, launching herself even further into stardom. Aaliyah was able to use Kelly’s help to escape and become a great part of what made her.