If you are a person of a certain age and musical tastes, you no doubt remember exactly where you were when you learned of the tragic death of entertainer Aaliyah on August 25, 2001. It was the kind of seismic cultural shift that forever impacted a generation already deeply influenced by the singer’s music, image and presence.
A mere 5 years old at the time, one wouldn’t presume Normani would be as deeply affected by Aaliyah’s death as the late singer’s generational peers and elders. Nevertheless, the “Motivation” singer—and daughter of an ardent fan who exposed her to Aaliyah’s music as a toddler—aptly described the universal grief of that moment as well as the late entertainer’s indelible imprint in a tribute published by British Vogue the commemorate the 20th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death.
“When the tragedy happened, I was so young, but it was a moment I’ll never forget,” Normani writes, recalling a moment many of us remember vividly. “You could feel it in the air. It was as if the world paused.”
“Aaliyah paved the way for women, Black women in particular,” she later notes, giving Aaliyah well-deserved credit for her enduring impact. “I am forever grateful for the Black women that inspire everything that I do, allowing me the opportunity to see myself to the point that I believed that I could do it too. Although I wasn’t able to witness Aaliyah’s greatness in concert, or in person, I’m so grateful that I got to experience her gift. Her music continues to live through me. It continues to live on.”
Aaliyah’s influence on Normani’s own career has been readily acknowledged, most notably in her latest single, “Wild Side,” which gave an audiovisual nod to Aaliyah’s hit single “One in a Million.”
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“It’s the biggest compliment any time I get compared to anybody that I’ve grown up idolizing. It means a lot to me, particularly when the artists or families themselves express that they respect what I do,” Normani writes, noting that her own motivation (pun intended) comes from type of experimentation and innovation that was a hallmark of Aaliyah’s work with Missy Elliott and Timbaland. “That little girl in me is so fulfilled, and screaming even though I’m trying to keep my calm. It validates that I’m on the right track,” she adds.
As Aaliyah’s enduring fanbase remembers the artist fondly known as “Baby Girl,” Normani’s words no doubt echo the feelings of many:
“The world lost one of the greatest of all time...She was a voice for so many. And she wasn’t done yet. She was just getting started. It’s unfortunate that it takes moments like that to realize the reach and impact that she had; how many lives she touched. She changed music forever. It’s everything that I strive to do, in my own way. She is the blueprint.”
You can read Normani’s tribute in its entirety on British Vogue’s website.
Corrected: Thursday, 8/26/21 at 7:25 a.m., ET: An earlier version of this article listed the date of Aaliyah’s death as August 25, 2021. The error has been corrected to reflect the actual date of her passing, August 25, 2001.