Being on the verge of superstardom is not all glitz and glamour. Just ask Aaliyah. The 22-year-old singer/actress is readying for a fast-paced day of interviews and photo shoots to promote her eponymous third album, released this week by Blackground/Virgin.
The Detroit native made her first mark on the music scene back in 1994 with her debut, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” Since then, “Age” and 1996’s “One in a Million” have sold more than 3 million copies, according to SoundScan.
Then came “Romeo Must Die.” The 2000 action film, starring the singer and Jet Li, heightened her profile considerably. The film’s soundtrack, which sold 1.5 million copies, didn’t hurt either.
“I took a conscious break from the public after ‘One in a Million,'” Aaliyah says of the five-year gap between albums. “I wanted to take the time off to relax, rejuvenate myself and think about what I wanted to do for the next album. It took a little bit longer than I anticipated, with the other projects, like ‘Romeo,’ coming up. But I did little things to keep myself visible so people wouldn’t forget about me.”
With five years and a breakout film role under her belt, the artist isn’t letting the pressures of stardom overwhelm her.
“There is always a bit of pressure to do a good album — to do good work, period,” Aaliyah says. “I really put a lot of pressure on myself, more so than other people. But I try not to let that overwhelm me to the point where I can’t even do good work. I just put it aside and do the best that I know that I can.”
Aaliyah again pressured herself while recording the new album and filming Anne Rice’s “Queen of the Damned” in Australia at the same time. On Aaliyah, she once again teamed with Timbaland — who was responsible for her chart-topping “Try Again” — as well as a host of up-and-coming producers and songwriters.
“Tim and I have an amazing chemistry, so we had to work together — it was a given,” the singer says. “I also love what the kids in Rapture and Key Beats were coming up with. I thought that they were able to give me what I wanted because they’re very innovative, very cutting-edge.”
“When we all come together to work, it just happens. There is no one thing that influences us; it just comes from within. I never want one particular thing to influence me to [the point] where I do something that’s not me. I’m adamant about staying true to myself, which is why we all really loved working in Australia — because we got to get away from what was going on over here.”
“We Need a Resolution,” the lead single from Aaliyah, is already creating a stir, currently at No. 61 on The Billboard Hot 100.
“I wanted that to be the first single because I felt it was a good way to come back out after ‘Try Again,'” Aaliyah says. “‘Try Again’ was a very upbeat song — very in your face. While this isn’t a ballad, ‘We Need a Resolution’ wasn’t an upbeat song either. It’s midtempo — very sexy and very smooth — yet I felt that all radio formats could get into it because you can still dance to it.”
Aaliyah teamed with director Paul Hunter to conceive the single’s accompanying clip. “We wanted to do the ‘One in a Million’ of now,” she says. “That video was very simple, but it was beautiful. I’m older now — I’m 22, and I’m grown — so that’s what we did.”
Beyond the single, Aaliyah is filled with songs that chart her creative growth. “I Care 4 U,” a smoky old-school ballad, was recorded about five or six years ago. “We did it right after I finished ‘One in a Million,'” she says. “The album was done and mastered, so we figured we’d hold onto it for the next album. It’s just one of those timeless songs. I also love the fact that it’s a female saying: ‘Don’t cry, I’ll wipe your tears. I love you, just give me the chance to show you.'”
Other standout cuts include “Never No More,” which tackles the issue of domestic violence with an honest, sensitive touch. “I wanted a song on the album that spoke about a heavy topic, but not in a preachy way,” the artist notes.
Although filming “Queen of the Damned” delayed the release of “Aaliyah,” the singer/actress enjoys balancing her two passions. “Music is first to me — that’s my heart — but I’ve acted since I was young,” says Aaliyah. “I wanted to take that step at some point in my career, but I wanted it to be the right time and the right vehicle — ‘Romeo’ was it.”
In addition to landing her the role in “Queen of the Damned,” Aaliyah’s performance in “Romeo Must Die” also led to her upcoming roles in the sequels to “The Matrix” and a remake of 1976’s “Sparkle” — the story of a Supremes-like group’s rise to stardom — which Whitney Houston is producing.
“I want people to look at me as a music artist and enjoy my music, and then look at Aaliyah as an actress as well,” she says. “There will be times when I do a song on a soundtrack, and then there will be times when I won’t do music, and I’ll just be in the movie acting. I feel that I’m versatile, and I want that to be seen.”