Thursday, 31 May 2012
ARTICLE: If Aaliyah Was Still Alive, Would Beyoncé Be As Successful?
It is a question that has circulated the web for over half a decade. With the loss of one of R&B's most promising stars and the subsequent undeniably stratospheric rise of Beyoncé's solo star, many have often wondered whether the latter came as a consequence of a former and whether the now titled 'Queen B' would be as successful if Aaliyah had not passed away in 2001.
While it is fair to consider it a question with merit, one must also wonder as to the motivations behind it. Indeed, one often finds that the 'stan' allegiance of those posing it is somewhat... expected. However, this article has no intention of exploring this issue as a means of criticising them or 'calling them out', so to speak. In fact, it shall attempt to put forward an argument that lacks as much stan bias as possible, with only the use of facts, statistics, as well as media and public opinion.
First, in order to hypothesise as to where Aaliyah would be career-wise in 2012, allow us to discuss just how successful both Aaliyah and Beyoncé were at the time of the former's passing. It is undeniable that Aaliyah's One In A Million performed better than Destiny's Child's eponymous debut; with the former being certified double platinum within a few months and being ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the decade, while the latter had only one hit and took far longer to ship just one million copies.
However, Destiny's Child's luck soon changed with the release of their second record, The Writings on the Wall. It was home to the group's first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, spent most of 1999 in the top 40, and by November 2001, had been certified eight times platinum. It has since gone on to sell over 17 million copies worldwide. Additionally, DC's third record, Survivor (which was released in the same year as Aaliyah's self titled third offering), had two #1 hits and sold almost eight million copies worldwide by the end of the year. To date, it has been certified four times platinum in the states and has shipped fifteen million copies worldwide.
Comparatively, Aaliyah (released shortly before the star's premature passing), while being better received by critics (it scored 76 on metacritic, higher than Survivor's 63), sold only one million copies in five weeks. However, upon Aaliyah's death, the record saw a still unmatched 800% increase in US sales, with over 300,000 copies sold in a week. It spent over 68 weeks on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell almost three million in the states.
What these sales demonstrate, more than anything, is that, prior to her death, Aaliyah's reach only truly extended as far as US shores. Her sales were heavily weighted in her home nation's favour, with One In A Million taking over twelve years to sell eight million copies worldwide and Aaliyah (the star's final album) taking ten years (and the sales-boosting effect of her tragic death) to sell thirteen million worldwide. Additionally, while she had numerous hits states-side, Aaliyah scored only two top ten hits outside of the US before her death.
In comparison, Destiny's Child saw considerable worldwide success. While their self titled debut album may not have performed well, its first single, No, No No, was a top five hit in several countries in Europe. Similar success followed songs like Bills, Bills, Bills; Bug a Boo; Say My Name and Jumpin' Jumpin'. This is in addition to the worldwide smash hits Independent Woman, Survivor and Bootylicious. When you also take into consideration the considerable worldwide sales of The Writings on the Wall and Survivor, it is quite clear that, in terms of worldwide success, Destiny's Child (and, therefore, Beyoncé) trumped Aaliyah.
Indeed, how could one argue Beyoncé's considerable success came as a result of Aaliyah's death, when, clearly, the former was arguably more successful at the time? Wouldn't it be more logical to argue that, in fact, their careers would have continued on in a similar trajectory?
When the question of whether Beyoncé would be as successful if Aaliyah were still alive is discussed, another issue often pops us: that of how talented the two ladies were at the time. Indeed, it is often argued that the latter was considerably more talented than the former and would, therefore, be considerably 'bigger' if she were still alive. What these people often forget, however, is that, Aaliyah's live performances rarely received the critical acclaim that Beyoncé's did at the same age.
At 21, Beyoncé was the better vocalist and, arguably, the better dancer. One has only to compare Aaliyah's final performance on Jay Leno of More Than A Woman and Beyoncé's Crazy In Love showing at Star Search in 2003. While Aaliyah's choreography was perhaps more intricate and complex, Beyoncé's 'fire' was undeniable, lending the performance a certain energy that set her apart from most of the female artists of the time.
Allow us to also use the example of Beyoncé's now famed 2004 Grammy showing with the legendary Prince (when she was only 22, the same age as Aaliyah at the time of her passing). Since cited by many as being one of the 'greatest Grammy performances of all time', some even argue that it is B's best showing to date and that it might even be just one of the best performances in history.
We have yet to find a performance of Aaliyah's that was so recognised by both the media and the general public. Yes, she was one of the better performers of her considerably talented generation, but it is arguable that Aaliyah was not, as some claim, the better performer. And, if we are going by where they stood talent-wise at the same age, and the rate at which Beyoncé has since improved over the last nine years of her solo career (with almost every performance after that time being lauded by the public and critics alike), it is possible to claim that Beyoncé would have still been the better performer in 2012.
What must also not be ignored is the fact that, during the nineties (the peak of Aaliyah's career), she was consistently being outsold by similar artists like Brandy and Monica. As well as having won over 100 awards throughout her lengthy career, the former is currently ranked by the RIAA as being one of the best-selling female artists in history. Brandy's sophomore effort, the critically acclaimed Never Say Never, sold 14 million copies worldwide, with over nine million of that being sold worldwide.
The current state of her career, however, is very different. Brandy's latest record, Human, saw her lowest sales to date, with less than 200,000 copies having been sold, total. And, it must be pointed out once again, that this is an artist who was one of the biggest of the nineties, and one whose star shone a light brighter than Aaliyah's. Why would Aaliyah's situation be any different in 2012? If anything, wouldn't it be more logical to argue that Aaliyah would, in fact, be worse off than Brandy (and Monica) in terms of her music career?
It is entirely possible that Aaliyah, judging by the avenues she was taking at the time of her death, would be one of the best known black actresses of today. Indeed, her role as Trish in the box office success Romeo Must Die garnered her critical acclaim. In fact, we'd go so far as to argue that she was a far better actress than Beyoncé, and would have continued on in a similar fashion.
Perhaps Aaliyah would have pursued that acting career; a wiser option in a post-Beyoncé world, and one that many an artist should have considered after Dangerously in Love was released. We have little doubt that she would have proved successful, being more talented in that area and having garnered the acclaim necessary to score notable roles. In fact, the role of the eponymous character in Honey (the film that saw Jessica Alba reach the career highs she enjoyed post-2005) was initially intended for Aaliyah.
However, if we are only discussing a career in music, claiming that Beyoncé's success would have been hindered by Aaliyah's continued presence is one foundered in hypothesis; and one without any factual basis. At the time of the latter's death, Beyoncé was more successful worldwide and, at 22, was also arguably more talented. Additionally, the subsequent downfall of Aaliyah's more successful peers, Brandy and Monica, lends credence to the claim that her music career would have followed a similar trajectory.
Allow us to add one further point; one mired in personal opinion. It appears that Aaliyah's name is mentioned after each significant milestone Beyoncé passes. Whenever she wins an award or is recognised by a noteworthy organisation or committee, certain 'stanbases' ask the same question, knowing that it is one based in theory, and is, therefore, more difficult to disprove. It is arguable that, knowing that very few female artists can stand up to Beyoncé (and it is suspicious that those that support those artists never seem to ask this question), they use Aaliyah as a symbol of all the hopes they have for their favourite (whom, they are well are, will never actualise those hopes). This is far from fair as it leads to the star's memory being insulted by those who see fit to do it. Would it not be more just to allow Aaliyah's legacy stand alone, to not be denigrated in favour of arguing a moot point?
After all, over ten years later, Beyoncé is still one of the biggest stars in recent history. And, if there is anything the princess of R&B deserves after all this time, it is to be allowed to rest in peace.