“This woman was made of steel”: the life and legacy of Aaliyah


“This is a book written by an Aaliyah fan, for Aaliyah fans,” music journalist Kathy Iandoli writes in Little girl: better known as Aaliyah (Atria). Even 20 years after the singer’s death in a plane crash, Aaliyah continued to make an impact on music, fashion and culture. But in a time of re-examination, Iandoli saw an opportunity to “really hold a magnifying glass to the narrative and show who she was: an incredible talent, an incredible singer and songwriter, and a survivor,” the writer said, making reference to Aaliyah’s secret. marriage, at age 15, to R. Kelly, who now faces trial on, among other charges, widespread sex crimes. “She was always so sweet and delicate and angelic,” says Iandoli, “but this woman was made of steel.”

Vanity Fair: What made you decide to tell her story?

Kathy Iandoli: As a journalist, I’ve been writing for over 20 years now, and the thing I always keep in mind is that I remember being that young girl who watched MTV, BET, and VH1, and just the fandom that brought me to journalism. It wasn’t school J; it was being a fan of artists and music. The first book I did was with Prodigy of Mobb Deep. The next one I did was God save the queens, about women in hip-hop. When I’m done God save the queens, [I was] thinking, what was another moment, or who was another artist, that shaped me – because all the women in hip-hop shaped me, hip-hop shaped me, but Aaliyah was there ‘one of the artists who made me who I am today.

Over the past two decades, the conversation that surrounded Aaliyah has been so rambling. Now we get the more negative parts of the highlight reel, and I wanted to not only reverse the narrative, but also hold a magnifying glass for the narrative and show who she was.

Were you able to speak with the family? I know they’re very protective, that’s understandable.

I asked permission from the family. It’s a weird legal situation involving the succession of Aaliyah, and I learned the complexity of that after Prodigy passed away, because you have the human and then you have the personality, the artist, the image. . There’s a lot I dig into the book that explains why they’re two very distinct entities and why getting a blessing isn’t always a priority when trying to bring out the essence of fame, the story. But I’m wondering why they can’t talk about certain things or what their concerns are about certain things, and I look at that in the book, and a lot of that involves legal issues. So I did my due diligence asking because that was the first line, like I wanted it for myself as someone who respected his family, but it didn’t work. But I didn’t want that to stop another part of Aaliyah’s glorification, so I continued. I have spoken to people with whom she has worked. I did what I had to do while holding her in high regard, and sometimes that involves having to tell parts of the story that have kind of been covered up for so long. I think that to have a panoramic view of its dynamism, you have to show the peaks and the valleys.

Do you remember the first time you heard Aaliyah and fell in love with her and her music?

Oh my God. It is a very, very special moment. MTV premiered the “Back & Forth” video; that was in 1994. I’ll never forget when she does this dance where she covers her face and then lifts an arm, and now it’s like, “Throw your hands up in the air and wave them like you don’t. you didn’t care. “I remember watching that part, and I was 15. I was like, Oh, my God! When she kept saying, ‘This is’ LIYAH’, and I was like, she’s so cool. I ended up begging my mom to take me to the record store. From there the intensity only grew. I had her Tommy Hilfiger ad in my locker in high school. I mean, the One in a million project, just, my God. Then time Dr Dolittle and Romeo must die, just like Aaliyah’s career, the intensity has continued to grow.

Was there something in his story that you wanted to dispel that you learned?

Ah, 100%. I think the way Aaliyah was written in that part of the story was kind of this teenage girl with raging hormones. It was never a question of how she was treated or duped. We never talked about how she fell victim to the circumstances that so many young girls fell victim to, but also how the music industry and the media create this environment where you had members of it. a group of 27 year old boys singing love songs. at 13 in the public. There is a general lack of protection for young black girls. This is how all the articles and the media presented the whole situation as if it was Aaliyah’s dirty little secret and not R. Kelly’s. When you factor in all of this information and read all the legal documents, you really get a full picture of what happened, including how Aaliyah was blackballed after this and R. Kelly was not. , it just changes the whole story of [how you understood it as] a young fan reading in Atmosphere magazine on this marriage certificate between the R&B Pied Piper and the R&B Princess. We had no idea.


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