*When Aaliyah went to No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Try Again” on this day 20 years ago, the Timbaland-produced track also made history as the first “airplay-only” song to reach the chart’s top spot, meaning it ascended from its entry at No. 58 strictly on the strength of radio airplay, not commercial sales figures.
Timbaland wrote the song with Stephen Garrett, who was in the R&B group Playa (seen below with the braids). Garrett died in 2008 from a rare medical condition at age 33.
Before “Try Again,” Timbaland and Garrett previously teamed to write “Pony” for Ginuwine and “Are You That Somebody” for Aaliyah.
“Try Again” was released on February 22, 2000, as the lead single for the soundtrack to the film “Romeo Must Die,” which featured Aaliyah in her cinematic debut opposite martial arts star Jet Li. The film’s plot is loosely based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but set in Oakland, California with the feuding families African-American and Chinese. Li plays a former police officer who travels from China to the U.S. in order to avenge his brother’s death. He falls in love with a rival mobster’s daughter (Aaliyah) and they struggle together against both the Chinese and the American mobs.
Aaliyah served as an executive producer of the soundtrack and contributed four songs in total, including “Come Back in One Piece” featuring DMX, “Are You Feelin’ Me?” and “I Don’t Wanna.”
Engineer Jimmy Douglass said that “Try Again,” recorded at Sound on Sound Studios in New York, was originally “written to inspire young people, but [label head] Barry [Hankerson] heard it and told them, ‘It’s got to be about love.'” The melody and hook ended up being the same as the original version, only the new lyrics were about trying again at love following heartbreak.
The song’s intro has Timbaland famously borrowing from the opening line of Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul.”
(At the 2:36 mark)
The music video for “Try Again” was directed by Wayne Isham, who had worked with everyone from Michael and Janet Jackson to Darius Rucker to Madonna. The “Try Again” video starts off with Jet Li entering a hall of mirrors, where Timbaland also appears. Aaliyah handles the song in a low-cut bra and low-rise leather pants.
“Try Again” music video
The video for “Try Again” made its television debut on MTV during the week of March 5, 2000. That was followed with a premiere on VH1 during the week of March 19, and on BET during the week of April 3. By the week ending May 8, the video was the number one most played on BET.
Below are clips from Aaliyah’s media tour to promote the single and film:
On MTV’s “Romeo Must Die Kickoff Special” – with Timbaland
On “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”
On “Top of the Pops”
Aside from “Try Again” becoming the first song in history to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 based solely on the strength of its radio airplay, which happened on June 11, 2020, it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 43rd Grammy Awards, and the video won two MTV Video Music Awards for Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film.
Aaliyah Arriving To 2000 MTV Video Music Awards with her Brother Rashad
Aaliyah Winning 2000 MTV Video Music Award
And in 2013 Dr. Danny from “The Mindy Project” does a dance routine to it as a secret Santa gift for Mindy.
Aaliyah had just completed filming her second film “Queen of the Damned” when she died in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001, along with eight members of her crew. They were returning from the Bahamas after filming the video for her single “Rock the Boat.”
Below, Aaliyah’s brother Rashad talks about stepping in to complete post production on “Queen of the Damned” in Aaliyah’s absence.