TW: Underage Sexual Matters; Underage Grooming
Aaliyah Haughton (better known by her mononymous stage name, Aaliyah) remains a large part of R&B culture and history, 27 years after her debut into the music world. Aaliyah is known best for her hits like “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” (1994), “Back and Forth” (1994), and “Try Again” (2000). While Aaliyah’s many accomplishments remain as her career highlights, there were very public matters that were wrongfully scrutinized – as with any celebrity. This includes the highly criticized marriage between her and Robert Sylvester Kelly – stage name as R. Kelly) – when she was just 15 and he was 27. This marriage is currently being highlighted in R. Kelly’s trial on the week of her 20th death anniversary. Unfortunately, she was taken from the world and culture at the age of 22 during a tragic plane accident.
Aaliyah released her first album at the young age of 14 after being signed by her uncle Barry Hankerson. The album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number shot to success during its 1994 release. The album received multiple Billboard Hot 100s and Top 10s spots. Aaliyah recalled being nervous about the release, particularly the single “Back and Forth,” which ended up receiving a gold record achievement. Her second album, One In A Million, was released two years later. This record received a multi-platinum and even caught international recognition. This expanded Aaliyah’s career, allowing her to tour three different continents outside of North America. One In A Million featured a collaboration between music producer and artist Timbaland and rapper Missy Elliot. The second album did not only create a larger platform for Aaliyah but created an ongoing bond with Timbaland. The newfound bond between Timbaland and Aaliyah led to him producing many of her songs from then on. Aaliyah also released multiple singles for film productions including Dr. Doolittle’s “Are You That Somebody,” Romeo Must Die’s “Try Again,” and Anastasia’s “Journey to the Past.” The song “Journey to the Past” landed Aaliyah her first Academy Award nomination for Best Song. Romeo Must Die was Aaliyah’s first acting debut as well alongside big stars such as Jet Li, DMX, and Isaiah Washington. Aaliyah continued to act and create music throughout the years. She starred in several movies and released a third album by 2001. One of the movies she was set to star in before her death was actually a true story in which she pitched herself, and landed the lead role. The third album was the self-titled Aaliyah which had an extremely successful debut. The album debuted at number 2 in the United States and sold more than 2.4 million copies internationally.
The aforementioned marriage between R. Kelly and Aaliyah was not only wrongfully scrutinized in the public eye but was surrounded by questions. The marriage was considered illegal, as Aaliyah was only 15 years old and a minor. Within recent years, there has been an influx of information regarding the two’s marriage, likely due to the many allegations R. Kelly has been faced. Aaliyah met R. Kelly through her uncle, Barry, when he had signed her to the same label. Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number was ironically produced by R. Kelly. Their marriage certificate was released to the public in 1995 and it revealed that while Kelly’s age was correct, Aaliyah’s was falsified listing her as 18 years old. Aaliyah chose to expunge the records after the marriage split and R. Kelly respected her wishes not to disclose any information of the marriage. This may be due to the fact R. Kelly has been facing serious allegations from many women, and Aaliyah’s marriage does not fall short of that. In Kelly’s trial, there has been testimony of him grooming Aaliyah, which is not necessarily surprising given the ages of the two during their relationship. Her first album was successful, but the Kelly influences of sexuality and sound were predominantly noticed during its release. Her musical sound was not only influenced, but public eyes noticed that Aaliyah’s style was even mirroring Kelly’s. The public wrongly scrutinized Aaliyah herself in the relationship, almost ignoring the fact that the marriage was illegal, and driven by an adult force (Kelly). Furthermore, the public also defined this underage “love story” as a reflection of Aaliyah’s character, rather than a case of grooming a child and potential statutory rape. Unfortunately, these issues were not consistently focused on by mainstream media simply because the world of fame normalizes unruly or outlandish behavior. However, there were some that publicly questioned it, but did not drive official investigations until years later when R. Kelly had a mountain of allegations regarding underage abuse, sex trafficking, and more.
Aaliyah remained on the top of the charts and became a household name after her 1994 debut. Sadly, seven years after she gained stardom she was in a fatal accident. On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah was a passenger on a small plane that crashed after leaving the Bahamas. The plane crashed not long after the takeoff that was set for Miami, Florida. Aaliyah, six passengers, and the pilot all had died during impact, and the last passenger passed away at a hospital in the Bahamas. Aaliyah died at only 22 years old, yet 27 years later is still idolized and remembered.