It hasn’t hit me yet that 2001 was ten years ago. By far, it was the worst year of my life. My grandfather was already sick, then suddenly we found out my grandma was sick. She was the love of my life and passed away only a few months after we found out she had cancer. September 11th happened, turning the world upside down. But before my beloved Grandma passed, and planes crashed in to the World Trade Center, Aaliyah died.
Her death was the first celebrity death that really shook me. I remember waking up on a Sunday morning, my sister sitting at the kitchen table and saying “Aaliyah died in a plane crash.” I thought she was joking. There was no way Aaliyah, one of my favorite artists, only 22 years old, was dead. In the days after her death, I was glued to 106 and Park. She had just been on the show a few days earlier, and Free and AJ were just as shocked as the rest of us. I remember feeling sad, but I will never forget the first time I watched the “I Miss You” video, where celebrities who knew her or wanted to pay their respects, appeared in the video. I sobbed watching the video, crying for the loss of Aaliyah and also the loss in my own life. It was a lot for a fifteen year old. Listening to that song can still make me cry.
Drake always talks about his love of Aaliyah. We’re the same age. People in our age group remember when she was the coolest girl on the planet. We wanted to dress like her, have her style and swagger, and dance like her. Just as her career was really starting to take off, the unthinkable happened.
What I remember the most about Aaliyah was her hair swooped over her left eye. As a kid, I thought she really had a problem, like one eye was crossed or something, but it was just her style, and she had a style that was all her own. She dressed like a tomboy, wearing baggy pants, over-sized jackets and shades, but she’d pair it with a midriff top and still be girly. She showed millions of young girls that you didn’t have to be half naked to be seen as attractive. Aaliyah released her first single when she was 14, she was always able to balance the line of age appropriate and mature. As she got older, she dressed a bit sexier, the dance moves got a bit more suggestive, but compared to what young female artists are wearing and acting like today, she was tame. I remember thinking her pants were way too low in the “Try Again” video, only to have it be the style a few years later. She was a trendsetter and truly an original.
It didn’t matter if she was front and center in her own video, or just chilling in the background of someone else’s video, she was always cool. With songs like “If Your Girl Only Knew“, and “One in a Million” she sang to beats that audiences had never heard before, created by up and coming producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott. She wasn’t afraid to take a chance on a new sound. Today, at 25 years old, I still listen to Aaliyah records and feel like I could be just as cool as she was. Before anyone used the term swagger, she had it.
I really became a fan when “Are You That Somebody?” came out in 1997. I was 11 years old, and learned the whole dance. She was so cool in that video, with the eagle on her arm, the huge troupe of dancers behind her, and that flamingo type dance she did at the end. Aaliyah danced like it was effortless, like she didn’t have to think about the movement at all. In the “Try Again” video she was doing crazy complicated choreography and then stepping with a cane at the end. It was something I’d never seen before. She and her choreographer, Fatima, would always come out with something different and complicated that would challenge me in my basement. Dance was something she loved, and I loved her for loving it.
Besides the music, and the dance, and the fashion, Aaliyah seemed like a really cool, down to earth person. I wanted nothing more than to just be her best friend. I watched her MTV Diary episode so many times, and after her death it just became eerie to watch because it was filmed only a few months before she died. It’s so heartbreaking to watch how happy she was, surrounded by her team (some of whom also died in the plane crash), and that she was looking forward to going further with her career. She didn’t seem like a diva, she seemed like a young girl trying to deal with fame and someone who appreciated all the blessings in her life.
I will always remember Aaliyah as one of my favorite artists from my childhood. She was the girl I looked up to, wanted to be like and was a role model . Who knows what her life would be like today, ten years later, at 32. Maybe she’d be a worldwide superstar like Beyonce, maybe she’d be an actress, or maybe she’d be married and have a family.
Today, I will remember the artist who’s music can still make me dance, make me smile and make me cry. Aaliyah’s music will live on forever, and she will always have a place in the hearts of her fans.
One in a million.