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Why Everybody Loves Covering Aaliyah

How Her Royal Sweetness's melodies transcend genre.

by Jo Fuertes-Knight
Mar 20 2014, 12:13pm

The first rule of covering an Aaliyah track is to just not, WTF is wrong with you? She was an angel and her legacy should be as diligently preserved as the gravestone of an Italian mobster. Slightly leftfield pop chanteuse, BANKS, has flouted this rule and is the latest to do a 'Liyah cover, taking on her seminal, Timbaland-produced "Are You That Somebody?" for BBC's Live Lounge. Luckily she's stamped enough of her own personality on this quivering make-over for me to not remove her from my Christmas card list forever, but still.

The timelessness of an Aaliyah melody and her penchant for forward-thinking production has meant, rather than live on only through crudely airbrushed murals, her music continues to influence. Her affect on the slick new incarnation of R&B these past couple of years, via the likes of Cassie, Jhené Aiko and The Weeknd, is obvious, but her restrained, uncluttered song structure and vocals have made her a favourite to cover with some more unlikely artists. With tracks that are sweet without being saccharine and simple without feeling shit and repetitive, it's not hard to see how Aaliyah's legacy is as strong as ever, during a time where the lines of musical genres are becoming more and more blurred.


I don't fuck with The Gossip at all and can imagine Beth Ditto has one of those personalities that if I had somehow wound up talking to her at a party, I'd have to urinate down myself just so I could stunt roll out the conversation BUT...this is alright. Hammering home the fact that volume does not equate to talent, Ditto reigns in her trademark fog-horn voice to do her "favourite song of all time" justice.


And another one for "Are You That Somebody?", this time by Falcone, aka NYC singer-songwriter Aaron Alexis. Falcone transformed everyone's-fav-Liyah-track-to-cover, in honour of what would've been her 35th birthday this year, into an anthemic and camp as fuck helping of electro-opera. Sounds shit, right? Surprisingly, though it could play over the credits of a Twilight spin-off, it's quite pleasing. Which, I think, is testament to the fact that even without the baby gurgling and Timbaland dad-noise loops it's a song whose strength, again, lies in it's simplicity.


“Not only was I one of your biggest fans but I was truly in love with you. I loved the way you carried yourself, the way you dressed, the confidence with which you addressed passion and relationships in your music. I said to myself that even if we never met, I wanted a woman in my life just like you.”

Just wanted to put Drake in here because, LMAO, way to look like a walking restraining order Drizzy.


On paper The xx, with their haunting, slightly vampiric sound, seem a bit too doom-laden to be going near any Aaliyah tracks. Like, I don't here the first plucks of "Intro" and think ~laid-back and sexy~! Yet their fondness for creepy reverb and sleek production lends itself to Aaliyah melodies perfectly. Naturally, The xx rework of "Hot Like Fire" is less slow-grinding in Hilfiger jeans and more staring through your bedroom window while you're sleeping, smelling a lock of your hair they keep as a keyring. Anyone else want to hear Oliver Sim covering "Rock The Boat" with all the intensity of a man that's just buried his girlfriend under the patio?


Not a cover but I'm including this because fuck you. Titled "Aaliyah" because it is a more Aaliyah track than anything Aaliyah put out (stay with me), it makes me feel warm and fuzzy imagining that if she was alive she could be having some studio down time in London experimenting with songs like this — I mean, she was a UK garage fan. Bolstered with simple vocal loops it's accompanied by Katy and Ware nailing Aaliyah's slavishly tempered singing style ie. the ability not to fucking shout-sing. I know it's easy to get into a stasis of Aaliyah grief, weeping and releasing doves over sweet ballads like "Miss You", but it's futuristic, glossily produced cuts from her final album like "Extra Smooth" and "Loose Rap" that has me lamenting the music that could've been.

Follow Jo on Twitter - @FUERTESKNIGHT

The Noisey Guide to Aaliyah

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