In pop music, five years between albums can seem like 500. But on the eve of the release of her self-titled third LP on July 17, 2001, Aaliyah — with two multiplatinum discs nailed to her wall and a fawning fanbase patiently waiting on her — had her stilettos firmly planted in the pop-cultural soil; the 22-year-old’s grip on the game had only grown tighter since 1996’s sophomore smash, One in a Million.
So that summer, the New York-born, Detroit-bred beauty took off on a dizzying promotional run for what she called her “most personal album” (“I’m hoping that people really feel me on this one,” she told MTV in an interview). Among the to-do’s dotting her datebook were in-store CD signings with fans, photo shoots for glossy fashion mags, appearances on shows like “Live With Regis and Kelly,” presenting with Diddy at the ’01 MTV Movie Awards and jet-lagged trips abroad to meet with foreign press. And MTV was there capturing it all for a special episode of the artist-narrated documentary series “Diary.”
“I am truly blessed to wake up every morning and do something that I love. There’s nothing better than that,” she says in the epi.
From age 15, when she dropped her 1994 debut, the mature-beyond-her-years Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, Aaliyah had gotten to do exactly what she loved, as the bandana-rocking tomboy teen blossomed into a bewitching triple threat.
While her untimely death, 10 years ago on Thursday (August 25) in a Bahamas plane crash , ended a bursting-at-the-seams career, fans still hum her infectious tunes , ape her slinky choreography and swoon over the catalog of stunning visuals she left behind. Rather than dwell on the loss, MTV News went digging in our vast store of beta tapes and turned up some choice on-air interviews with her (click the embedded video to see for yourself). “Everything is worth it,” she says of her success, on “Diary.” “The hard work, the times when you’re tired, the times when you’re a bit sad. In the end, it’s all worth it because it really makes me happy.”
The year before she dropped Aaliyah, her sultry recording of the Timbaland-produced “Try Again,” from the soundtrack for her feature-film debut “Romeo Must Die,” netted her a Grammy and a Video Music Award, among other accolades. By 2001, Hollywood was fully on notice, sending her scripts, which led to roles like a high-profile part in the “Matrix” sequels .
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I’m also a bit of a workaholic and I want everything to be perfect,” she adds after a grueling rehearsal with her dancers.
But it wasn’t all work, no play. Baby Girl, as frequent collaborator Missy Elliott and others affectionately called her, could be as goofy as the next girl. Backstage in another scene, with little prodding from hairstylist Eric Foreman (donning a lopsided wig), Aaliyah begins to harmonize to the Ashford & Simpson soul classic “Solid.” Gripping her toy-store mic, she can barely keep it together before collapsing into laughter.
While she had largely evaded the kind of scandal that can trip up other young pop stars, A was reflective, too, about success. “The best way to deal with fame is to have that personal life,” she says at another point. That meant spending good time with her ever-present “glam squad,” family, friends and then-boyfriend Damon Dash, the onetime Roc-a-Fella mogul.
In the end though, Aaliyah had a central purpose, one that probably helps explain her enduring legacy. “It’s all for the fans, it’s so they know you and they can get into you,” she says after a stream of alternately crying and screaming admirers pack an FYE record store to meet her. “Not just your music but to you as a person; it’s something that’s totally necessary.”
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