Ten years after the tragic death of one of R&B’s most beloved figures, Aaliyah Dana Haughton, BET attempted to celebrate her memory with Aaliyah: One in A Million, an hour-long tribute to the fallen star. The network promoted the special with the promise of rare photos, exclusive interviews with loved ones and never-before-seen video footage. Though we’re familiar with their history of missing the mark (the 2011 BET Awards being the most recent example), we were hopeful and even appreciative of their efforts, as they were the only network honoring the star with such an extensive program. Needless to say, they fell short. Damon Dash’s and Timbaland’s interviews notwithstanding, the special seemed lazy and rushed.
Here are 5 things we wish it would have covered:
- An Actual Performance…or Two
I don’t know about you, but when I think of a tribute, I think of people honoring an icon using the vehicle that said artist loved the most: art. The interviews were revealing and touching at times but as that’s all the tribute offered (save her music videos that we’ve all seen and minimal rare footage of Aaliyah), that’s not enough. A dance tribute with Fatima at the helm is something we could have cherished, enjoyed and (after learning every step) emulated. More so, it would have helped stir up in our hearts the feeling Aaliyah gave us when she was alive; the magic and joy we all felt each time we watched her dance.
The special undoubtedly was compromised by the significant number of videos BET aired, which came off as a time filler. Don’t get me wrong; we love every clip from Are You That Somebody? (which we all danced to) to Rock The Boat (which they did at least offer some behind-the-scenes footage for). But we’ve seen those videos. We’ve been watching them for 10 years. And every blogger/Facebook user/TV network worth their salt aired her videos throughout the day. What we would have loved to see, is simply, something we haven’t seen before. More interviews with those closest to her and those who loved her. More behind-the-scenes footage and rare interviews of Aaliyah just being her charming self. More stories about what she was like before we came to know her: the adorable Detroit girl with an angelic voice and a dream.
-A Tribute to Her Style
The tribute took us on a timeline through Aaliyah’s music and film career and left us pondering what could have been. But not nearly enough time was dedicated to what has endured about Aaliyah in addition to her songs and movies: her style. Aaliyah’s look was groundbreaking. She wore baggy jeans, belly shirts, eye patches and caps and gave them an irresistible, feminine appeal. She was as sexy in a dress as she was in a jersey because she wore each look with confidence. At a time when it was unheard of, and R&B/hip hop was still very much off mainstream radar, she was tapped to be the face of Tommy Hilfiger. That’s huge. And her swoop. It was the “Rihanna cut” before there was one. There were few girls in the 90s who didn’t try to recreate Aaliyah’s sexy, mysterious look. With her style, she taught us to defy gender convention and to find a signature look all our own. And that’s not worth more than a mention, BET?
- Her Family and Fans
Though her cousin, who was also her manager, was featured, his recollection of Aaliyah’s story came from a business perspective—which is great, except for the fact that our connection to Aaliyah is very emotional. She struck a chord in us with her sense of individuality, her quiet confidence and mystery, her sweet spirit and extraordinary talent. We’re fully aware of the story of how she was signed, etc. What about how she made people feel? How loving and silly and kind she was when you were around her? Her family could’ve captured this had they been made more of a focus. Her mother was completely absent. Her brother, who was also her best friend, wasn’t featured enough. As we’ve seen in documentaries on Tupac and Biggie, it’s the mothers that humanized their larger-than-life sons and tugged at our heartstrings in the process. This was a huge oversight on BET’s part.
Likewise, It’s great to see the people that worked with Aaliyah but she always made a point to say how much she loved her fans—and 10 years later, it’s clear that we still love her. A montage of people recounting the first time they saw Aaliyah perform or why they’ll always miss her would have been compelling and memorable.
- Her Influence
As I mentioned, BET attempted to wrap the tribute up in a pretty bow with talk about Aaliyah’s immediate plans for the future: the Matrix movie, the Grammys performance and more dreams that she spoke of but sadly, did not live to fulfill. The mood was somber as it encouraged viewers to mourn the loss of potential. Had I been in the BET planning meetings, I would have argued that we should end the tribute on the note that Aaliyah’s legacy is visible today; her presence and impact is very much felt in the myriad of singers from Beyonce to Ciara to Ashanti who were clearly influenced by her. I would love to hear from those contemporary artists about how Aaliyah inspired them—as well as from artists like J.Cole and Drake who keep her name alive in their rhymes ’till this day. What is it about Aaliyah that ten years later elements of her style, sound and dance routines still impact today’s music? That part of her legacy did not receive the attention it deserves.
In closing, while BET’s intentions were good and they did try, in the words of our late great Aaliyah, “dust yourself off and try again.”
What do YOU think?