Aaliyah sounded like the future. 20 years after her death, we keep looking back

8 min read
fairly easy
Twenty years after Aaliyah's death, her record company is releasing all her albums to streaming services, starting this month. For many music fans, it may bring closure to a chapter that has lacked an ending for years. For others, it allows space for reassessing a brief but spectacular career -- and where it could've gone.
In the run-up to an Aaliyah-themed drag show at a Brooklyn gay bar this month, drag performer Dèvo Monique is concentrating on "commissioning a look."

The look, which they are keeping secret until the big night, will be unveiled at Metropolitan Bar, where several New York City drag queens will take the stage in various states of Aaliyah dress. To Dèvo Monique, it shouldn't be something that replicates one of the late singer-actress' iconic looks — maybe her vampire drag in "Queen of the Damned," or an all-white leather pantsuit à la her "More Than a Woman" video — but something she'd wear today if she were still alive.

A hallmark of drag is paying tribute to Black women from Detroit. Diana Ross' LGBTQ anthem "I'm Coming Out" was born after producer and musician Nile Rodgers' trip to a New York City gay club, where he saw numerous drag queens dressed in costumes inspired by Ross, performing her hits. Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and "Think," too, are drag staples. But Aaliyah is not known for bouffant wigs or beautiful gowns. A show honoring her has to be different.

"Aaliyah is known for [being] sporty and also for being very futuristic. So how do you mix sports and futuristic-like looks? Do you do like a complete Tommy Hilfiger-like look?" Dèvo Monique said, referencing the singer's penchant for pairing the American designer's crop tops with baggy jeans. "Or do you do the iconic sparkly bras and the latex pants?"

In describing Aaliyah, Dèvo Monique sometimes speaks of her in the present tense — she is known for sporty looks, they said. But they also refer to her as someone who was "always looking to the future."

"I don't think any brown girls were doing what Aaliyah was doing. Like, I love Beyoncé, and I love Destiny's Child, but Aaliyah was trying new harmonies and new production styles," they said. She "was really pushing the idea forward [that] not only music could go, but where R&B music could go."

Today, it can feel like Aaliyah is back on the scene. The…
Read full article