happy birthday baby girl

Text by Elizabeth Arlow


The bedroom of my adolescent years was a bit of a shit show to be quite honest: I somehow convinced my parents that I needed a hot pink “accent wall”; taking after my father, I had nostalgic tchotchkes littered around my room from trips to Wonderland and various adventures with my best friends at the time (we nicknamed our platonic threesome MILD, I’ll maybe get into that another time); box after box of sneakers I would purchase Friday afternoons with my earnings from my mall jobs; stacks of miscellaneous burnt CDs full of overdubbed music I had ripped from Napster and LimeWire; and a poster of Aaliyah sitting in a blue patterned dress with her signature side-swept bangs and Mona Lisa-esque intensity.

Walking into my now-boyfriend’s home, one of the first things I noticed was a cardboard-backed poster of Aaliyah leaning against his dining room wall; yes, it was the same one I had in my bedroom in the early 2000s. Serendipity, right?

This year’s anniversary of Aaliyah’s birthday feels dark: googling Aaliyah is a bit like opening a Pandora’s box, with both a strong nostalgic odour and a nauseating theme of gender-based inequality and violence;

Let us not forget that Aaliyah was illegally married to the “Fiesta” and “Trapped in the Closet” artist who will remain unnamed, at the age of 15.

In an amateur youtube two-part video compilation with upwards of a combined 970,000 views (!!!), user “ThreeRock” purports that Beyonce and Aaliyah may have had a long-standing feud. Citing a speculative love triangle between Jay-Z and the two female artists, “hidden messages” in Aaliyah’s use of imagery, the coincidental introduction of Ashanti eight months after Aaliyah’s death, among other suspect “clues”, ThreeRock puts forth many conspiracy theories apparently “connecting” Aaliyah’s death to the infamous Illuminati. I’m no Shane Dawson and I would place money on an Illuminati-like organization putting their hand into the proverbial pop culture pot, but this wreaks of a toxic-masculine attempt at pitting two successful female artists against one another. There is more than one Seat at the Table.

Addressed in this Complex article from 2016, Aaliyah’s full discography is not available on your favourite (or any) streaming services thanks to her messy Uncle cum manager. Men really do fuck with women, even posthumously.

I can’t say I’ve ever “celebrated” or even taken note of Aaliyah’s birthdate or death; this text came about after I stumbled upon Anderson Ballentyne’s Instagram account that boasts analogue photos and negatives of largely 90’s hip hop and R&B artists, including Aaliyah. I subsequently got into an Aaliyah-related Google hole. Serendipity again? I can however, distinctly remember sitting on my double bed in my aforementioned adolescent bedroom, watching coverage of the plane crash on my miniature, white plastic tv/vcr combo, morosely glancing over to the poster of the now late Aaliyah.

On this 16th day of January, 2019 which would have been Aaliyah’s 40th birthday, I’m reminded of my adolescence; the strange combination of events and characters that play both large and little parts in our lives and the lives of others. And ultimately how much I wish I could stream Aaliyah’s music, or at the very least find my scratched and worn copy of her self-titled album.


Elizabeth Arlow lives and works in Toronto. She is the Owner & Director of Bodega Thirteen. Follow her thoughts and like her images.