by c. shardae jobson
“The singer was later quoted in saying, ‘Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.’ Yes, she was young. But Aaliyah had learnt from her mistakes and vowed to not let an older man take advantage of her ever again.
By this point, she had harnessed her true inner power. And like the chariot in the tarot deck cards, she was determined to become a superstar.
However, just a few years later, tragedy struck. And on August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas after filming the music video for the single, ‘Rock The Boat.’ Eerily, the death number was a nine, and nine people were killed in the tragic accident that day.
Nine is the number that finishes all that were started by the numbers which came before it. All of the passengers’ lives on that fateful flight had come full circle.
In the tarot deck, the number nine represents the hermit, and signifies accomplishment, wisdom, the attainment of gold, as well as the search for truth. It also represents Judgment Day and is the number of those who have accomplished the divine will. Aaliyah had completed her sole contract on earth and the angels had come to carry her home.”
That passage is from the paranormal podcast, Death by Misadventure. Being that nowadays there seems to be a podcast for everything, I was curious if there were any episodes, from any podcast, on Aaliyah, following the launch of the anticipated Aaliyah for M.A.C., or stylized as #AaliyahForMAC, capsule collection on June 21, 2018. Death by Misadventure provides one, titled, “AALIYAH: Haunted Premonition” and it was uploaded to Spotify just this past spring.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it once it started. For Death by Misadventure, their beat is celebrity deaths. Freak accidents to the merely tragic, “gone too soon” types. Staring back at me on my tablet screen was a stenciled black-and-white image of a known Aaliyah picture of her pouting her lips in a kissy way and in a sassy manner, holding back her hair. On YouTube, there are a ton of conspiracy theory videos that mention Aaliyah’s untimely death at the of 22, and the few I attempted to watch I felt overwhelmed by a nefarious, pseudoscience intent. (I was in Illuminati territory). Past the five-minute mark, and still feeling okay considering the morbid circumstances, I kept on listening, curious on what they had to say.
I found the narrators, a man, and a woman, to be sensitive towards her short life and what her music and celebrity have meant to her fans seventeen years later. Numerology was the catalyst of their research and Death by Misadventure discerned that while it is hard to accept that Aaliyah only lived for 22 years, her time on earth was fulfilled to the very end. “Haunted Premonition” betides as closure. It was surprisingly cathartic.
Veraciously, her death in 2001, and just two, three weeks before 9/11, was the first popular culture tragedy of older millennials, then pre-teens and or already teens, that was as defining to our generation as the shocking deaths of admired and controversial icons like Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Tupac and Biggie, John Lennon, and of course Selena was. It was the first time, for me anyway, that I confronted the sadness and confusion of losing a teen idol or a public figure that was close enough in age to me and it was a bizarre place to be in emotionally. The last time I felt such a damning experience concerning death and young lives was when JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in 1996, and the children who perished in the “Oklahoma City Bombing” in 1995. I’ll never forget how my heart sank knowing children’s lives were taken and they were all in the same age bracket as me. I felt powerless.
Now that I got that sadness out of the way, as I mentioned, I looked up Aaliyah podcasts in the very first place due to the Aaliyah for M.A.C. collection that was released, at last!
M.A.C announced the capsule collection was underway in August 2017, and I was so stoked. It came to fruition after an impassioned online campaign that asked for signatures to prove to the mammoth cosmetics brand that just like the iconic women before her that garnered limited collections (Marilyn Monroe, Selena) that “Baby Girl”, as she was nicknamed, was worthy of one, commemorating her talent, style, and legacy. The day their surprise social media posts made the rounds, I shared my excitement by posting a GIF from her and her dancers in the music video for “Are You That Somebody.” I specifically chose a clip from that video because it remains my favorite music moment from the Aaliyah catalog.
What a time it was when “Are You That Somebody?” took off in summer of 1998. I still don’t know what the song had to do with the movie Dr. Doolittle, (which I saw in theaters. It was a hit for Eddie Murphy was who closely edging towards family-friendly fare after the blockbuster The Nutty Professor), as it was promoted as one of the soundtrack’s primary songs. But the snap your fingers beat with the slight baby cooing in the background and Aaliyah’s self-assured, playing it cool vocals were indelible, and a true lite-jazz pop meets R&B bop.
The music video had a color scheme of silver, black, and emerald, and Fatima Robinson masterminded the choreography. On that Griffith Park dance floor, Robinson produced a kind of visual language that communicated a 1990s battle of the sexes that was sexily calculated but also sort of rogue in details.
Fashion and makeup-wise, I had never seen the silvery-green lipstick Aaliyah rocked with a “Come at me, bro” ‘tude that was too much for me at 11-years-old. Eager for my teen idols to always show me the way to coolness. I still got the VHS I taped the video on so I could practice Robinson’s moves. I got pretty good at it too!
“Are You That Somebody?” had a stratospheric effect on Aaliyah’s career and deservedly, she earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1999. The late Static Major and Timbaland wrote the song, and produced by Timbaland.
Earlier this winter, June 21 seemed so damn far and my hankering heightened when images of the products were slowly released. The lipsticks I loved, the glosses I thought were permissible, but the “Age Ain’t Nothing” eye shadow palette, I held a hand up like, “Whoa!” The nine shades were looking mighty pale in the photos. I was annoyed I didn’t love it immediately, but I didn’t dismiss it from a future purchase just yet.
The sentiments among us Aaliyah fans from way back was that we were underwhelmed, even unimpressed with the #AaliyahForMAC collection. I feel terrible even just writing that. I was PO’ed that in the eye shadow palette a tough green to tribute “Are You That Somebody?” or an electric blue, as recognition of her iconic block applied eye shadow look for “Try Again,” weren’t included. It seemed that not one item hollered a particular look from any of her appearances during her celebrity. The collection was a general amalgamation.
Like beauty vlogger Ellarie stated in her review (she was sent the pyramid-shaped vault of the collection via PR), Aaliyah’s makeup was for the most part “minimalistic,” and this was evident on the red carpet and TV interviews. But in her music videos and a lot of her photo shoots for her albums or magazines, she was adventurous and experimental. That look for “Try Again,” I swore you would’ve only seen on an Alexander McQueen or Dior by John Galliano runway circa 1997, 2000. It was bold, fresh, and futuristic as hell. I was inspired that even someone as cool as a cucumber like her, who again was monochromatic as well in her tomboy “street but sweet” fashion, didn’t fear dancing into the colorful, bright side of being an artist.
Before the launch date, I watched some YouTube reviews, my thirst, however, increasing for the collection. I got to say, unlike the Selena x M.A.C. collection, M.A.C. sent the Aaliyah capsule to a lot of smaller, and Black YouTubers, with beauty channels, and that thrilled me. M.A.C. acted a little desperate when they sent the Selena capsule to every other blogger back in 2016, and as a Selena enthusiast too (I was eight when she was murdered in 1995. That shook me as well. In comparison to when I was 14 when Aaliyah died, I was much more aware of how life didn’t always go as planned and I was heartbroken on-site versus years later), it was painful watching vloggers say they didn’t know who she was, seemed unbothered to want to know who she was, and even questioned the Spanish names of some of the products. With Aaliyah, M.A.C. did the right thing in sending it to Black beauty YouTubers. While of course, everyone should feel free to try and buy the Aaliyah collection, her core fan base was Black women, and we needed to know out of everyone how the colors would look on our skin. It was the respectful thing to do and so nice to hear real fans give commentary.
The consensus was that they were excited about the collection because it featured Aaliyah in tribute, not because of the hues and packaging. Sonjadeluxe’s review was the one that convinced me most and warmed me up to the potential of the items.
Lastly, before I share my review and suggestions for what I bought, let’s discuss that unforgivable, criminally named “Baby Girl” “bronzer.”
It’s as bad as the one they developed for the Selena capsule. That sad looking one with the random strip of blush. Gee, thanks. “Baby Girl” is so light, and while Aaliyah was on the lighter-skinned spectrum of black skin, it is pathetic in knowing that her fan base was mostly Black women that so many of us will not be able to wear it. Makeup is more malleable than we think and can be resourceful, but that’s a toss up when an item was designed to “bronze” the skin. Who at M.A.C. and on the Aaliyah for MAC team thought this was cute?? Hard pass.
Online, I desperately purchased the “Try Again” and “Street Thing” lipsticks, the lipglass “Lili’s Motor City” and “Never More” lip liner. The next day on my lunch break, I power walked to the M.A.C. store in the mall to see the entire collection in person. I was still on the fence about the palette, but it felt unjust not to have it either. As expected, when I walked in, I heard her music. The track “A Girl Like You” from One In A Million, grooved along and I beelined to the small display. Everything looked much prettier and glam. My mouth curled into a smile. My goodness. Eleven-year-old would’ve loved this and 31-year-old me does. I admit. I got sentimental.
A M.A.C. associate immediately came over and chatted me up, and I told him how I had bought four items yesterday but had to see the palette live. He smiled with a chuckle and stated his favorable opinion of it. As I swatched, I told him the pictures didn’t do the capsule justice. He agreed.
In less than five minutes, I motioned him over to get me a palette and the “At Your Best” lipglass. I left with my two new additions and a full-size poster satisfied.
That following Saturday, I couldn’t help myself and went into Macy’s and bought the “More Than A Woman” lipstick and was given a poster again. I almost gave it back since I had one, but I thought I could make a cool mini collage of it. (And it’s that gorgeous September 2001 i-D magazine cover with the chandelier earring and her distinguished hairstyle that not since Veronica Lake looked utterly esoteric and beautiful). By now, I was loving the collection and had to eat my words and thoughts about how slightly disappointed I was at first. It is a lovely tribute, and although I wished they had acknowledged her funkier makeup moments, the core pieces nailed her fierce, at times afrofuturistic vibe and affinity for sheen and gloss. I couldn’t deny the #AaliyahForMAC collection that compliment.
We’ve come a long way in preserving her legacy.
Following are my short reviews on the six products I currently own in my makeup arsenal from #AaliyahForMAC with tips on how to wear them!
“TRY AGAIN” matte lipstick
What I thought was going to be my favorite in the collection is my least. It appeared mocha brown on Instagram and is instead an extremely washed out beige. This is a nude for fair toned people. Nothing wrong with that! But not a grab and go lip shade for me at all. I have to wear this with a lip liner and lately, I’ve been attempting to make it work with my MAKE UP FOR EVER Artist Color Pencil in “Free Burgundy”, or Sephora Collection Rouge Gel Lip Liner in “Oil Slick.” Also, Colourpop’s Lippie Pencil in “Dukes.” I occasionally use all three and smush my lips together to darken “Try Again.”
“MORE THAN A WOMAN” amplified lipstick
A classic raspberry, I already have this shade of lipstick from other brands. I’m specifically thinking of one from Rimmel. But as soon as I tried it on and I loved it. I wear this with a dark lip liner, like “Oil Slick,” or the #AaliyahForMAC “Never More.”
“NEVER MORE” lip pencil
Described as “pure black” on M.A.C.’s website, it is Dark with a capital D and it’s perfect.
“STREET THING” frost lipstick
My snooty ass wouldn’t shut the hell up about the collection not directly acknowledging “Are You That Somebody?”, but this lipstick is a kind-of indirect nod and works in that regard. It’s unexpectedly glamorous, and the frost element isn’t tacky or dull. When I applied it, it glided nicely, and I felt so chic. To get a similar look to what Aaliyah had in the video, line with a similar shade of lip liner, such as “Never More,” and I used my J. Cat Liptonix Extreme Shimmer Topper in “Kryptonite” to bring out and bolster any green flecks “Street Thing” might’ve had. As my mother says, it works like a charm, and you get the lip look close to Aaliyah’s. I had a moment.
“LILI’s MOTOR CITY” lipglass
Can you believe I still haven’t worn this shade yet? My first fave out of the quartet, this one M.A.C. artists and associates raved about. I’ll probably wear this with a plum liner and smush. And the name of it, I put two and two together, and Motor City references Detroit where she was raised for a time as a kid, and “Lili’s,” well, maybe that was another nickname for her.
“AGE AIN’T NOTHING” nine-pan eye shadow palette
The item I didn’t want to resist, these nine shades are collectively cool and warm, with a color scheme sprouting or supportive of the purple family. When I purchased it, that same M.A.C. employee that greeted me raved about the peach hue in the middle on the bottom, suggesting I place it in the center of the lid. Achieving a smoky eye is pretty easy with this palette, and you can have fun with it, such as applying the silver on the bottom last line, or full gold lid with lilac accents. It sucks that pictures didn’t serve it well at all, including mine, but it is pretty, dependable, and I’m happy with it.