9 Things We Learned From ‘Aaliyah: Princess of R&B’

Aaliyah Princess of R&B starring Alexandra Shipp premiered on Lifetime tonight. Love it or hate it, we can’t deny that there were some interesting tidbits we learned from the portrayal of Aaliyah’s life on screen.

1. Gladys Knight gave Aaliyah some great advice
As a preteen, Aaliyah was given the opportunity to perform with Gladys Knight (played by Elise Neal) who had recently divorced her uncle, Barry Hankerson (played by Lyriq Bent). Before they hit the stage in Las Vegas, Knight gave Aaliyah some advice. “The secret to delivering a great show, the kind that folks are glad they spent their hard earned money on, is to perform with love,” Auntie Gladys told her. “Baby you got to love that stage. You got to appreciate every person in each one of those seats and you got to never forget that they could have been somewhere else but they chose to hear and see you.”

2. R. Kelly was initially hesitant to work with Aaliyah
In fact, when he first met the singer, Kelly could hardly give her a minute of his time. In the movie, Kelly (played by Clé Bennett) is “the most in demand writer and producer in the game right now” and doesn’t have time for some kid. That eventually changed as the then-27-year-old producer started a relationship with the teenaged singer. We don’t get an idea of how many people in her circle knew about Aaliyah’s relationship with Kelly, but her brother Rashad warns that she’s walking on dangerous territory. The 15-year-old singer eventually married Kelly, then 28. Music critic Jim DeRogatis, who has covered Kelly’s career extensively, has been critical of the film’s portrayal of the relationship, calling it “deeply offensive not only as a hoary ‘Frustrated lovers’/Romeo Juliet cliché, but as a flagrant white washing of criminal sexual abuse.”

3. It took a long time for Aaliyah to get over R. Kelly
After her parents annulled her marriage to R. Kelly, a heartbroken Aaliyah took over five years to move on. “”How is taking Robert out of my life protecting me?” Aaliyah asks her parents. “When I ended things with Robert, I lost a piece of me,” she tells her mother in the film. “And I’m scared of it happening again.” In the film Aaliyah is shown getting upset when she hears Kelly has married his backup dancer Andrea Kelly, who now stars in VH1’s Hollywood Exes. Aaliyah does eventually find happiness again with Damon Dash (played by Anthony Grant). That relationship went on until her death in the plane crash on August 25, 2001.

4. Aaliyah was adamant about not having a cookie cutter image
And no one was going to change that. The film shows Aaliyah rejecting the glittery, body fitting dresses her record company tried to make her wear during one of her first photo shoots. “These clothes are so far away from who I really am, people will think I’m fake,” she says. “The only time I wear a dress or a skirt is when I go to church. If Jive is going to spend so much money on clothes, at least make it unique.” The songstress signature baggy jeans and exposed abdomen—not to mention the hair-over-the-eye swoop—were the way she preferred to express her unique style and sexuality.

5. Aaliyah took a chance on Missy Elliot and Timbaland
The “man from the big VA” was not always the most in demand producer in the game. Neither was his partner in crime, Missy Elliot. Aaliyah had to nearly beg her label for the chance to work with the music production duo who would later produce her last two multi-platinum albums, One In A Million and Aaliyah. “Timbaland and Missy Elliot are like nothing on the radio right now. I know that if you put us in this studio together we are going to create something crazy.” At the time, Timbaland and Missy, portrayed by Izaak Smith and Chattrisse Dolabaille respectively, were no names out of Hampton Roads, VA and in the film, they seemed nervous to work with an established star. But Aaliyah had faith in them and as we know, the rest is Hip-Hop and R&B history.

6. Aaliyah did not have a glass eye
As the famous rumor goes, Aaliyah had a glass eye and that’s why she wore always sunglasses. Early in the movie we see R. Kelly giving her a pair of sunglasses as the cherry on top for her new look. Throughout the film we see that the singer had perfectly good eyes, which she began showing when she dropped her second album dropped in 1996. In fact, her signature style of covering her left eye was encouraged by her mother who said it would add a little “mystery.” The look was inspired by actress Veronica Lake.

7. Aaliyah was a grade-A student
The singer reportedly maintained a 4.0 grade point average while attending Detroit’s prestigious High School of Fine and Performing Arts. In a scene in the movie, her brother Rashad jokes: “If things don’t work out you’ll make my life easier by being a normal teenager again. And who knows, you might even get a B or C someday.” She also stuck to her studies while she was on tour, seen in the film lugging around math books while getting her makeup done.

8. Aaliyah’s career was a family affair
From her uncle Barry Hankerson, who managed her and signed her to his Blackground Records, to her parents, in the movie we see that her family was involved in many aspects of her career. And being the “Princess of R&B” didn’t change Aaliyah’s lifestyle. She’s seen in the film traveling back to her hometown to attend the birthday party of her high school friend, Keisha. “I have the same chores, same friends,” the singer said in a radio interview. “I still like to do the same things I used to do before I had this career.”

9. She was the youngest musical performer in Oscar history
Aaliyah performed the song “Journey to the Past” at the 1997 Academy Awards. The song, from the animated movie, Anastasia, was up for Best Song—up against “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. The song didn’t win, but Aaliyah got to perform it at 19 years old, making her the youngest musical performer at the Oscars.