Selena’s Influence: 25 Years Later
Bold red lips, a curvaceous silhouette, sharp vocals and a natural grace that carried the complexities of her bicultural identity were just a few of the reasons why Selena Quintanilla’s rise to fame resonated with young people in the late ’80s and early ’90s. For many Latinx Americans, it was the first time a celebrity reflected what their version of the “girl next door” was: a crewneck and baseball-cap-wearing homegirl who giggled at her broken Spanish but could slay a cumbia or mariachi just as well as — or better than — a native-born Mexican.
Bursting onto the scene during a Madonna-led era, she exemplified a specific American experience unseen in the music industry. In a bedazzled bustier inspired by Paula Abdul, she swiftly glided and two-stepped onstage like Janet Jackson while seamlessly incorporating the Tejano influences she learned to love. In the process she reinvented the male-dominated Tejano genre, incorporating fashion, the fresh R&B and hip-hop fusion of new jack swing and her gentle personality — and ultimately winning the hearts of millions. Here is a selection of the artists she’s influenced since her tragic passing in 1995.
Growing up in Texas, Beyoncé was inspired by the Tejano singer’s music and was even lucky enough to meet Selena at Houston’s Galleria Mall before achieving fame herself. Similar to Selena, Beyoncé would later record her first Spanish-language EP, 2007’s Irreemplazable, assisted by a vocal coach who provided the Spanish lyrics phonetically. And it was Selena’s music that Queen Bey turned to in preparation for her recording.
After watching the Selena movie at 11 years old, the Colombian reggaetonera felt that her work relationship with her father, Guillermo, mirrored that of Selena and her papi, Abraham. Karol carries her admiration for the icon on her every day: Selena’s face is tattooed on her arm.
The Internet initially had mixed feelings when Cardi B proclaimed herself the “trap Selena” on her verse of Migos’ “MotorSport.” “I said Trap Selena because who didn’t [want] to be Selena? She is [an] alter ego that everybody would want to be and i want the world to know how much i love her,” the dominicana said on Twitter. Aside from the lyrical reference, Cardi has also donned numerous Selena-inspired performance outfits throughout the years.
Musgraves went viral last year when she paid tribute to the 24th anniversary of Selena’s final concert in Houston, Texas. The “Slow Burn” singer, who is also a Texas native, covered “Como La Flor” completely in Spanish.
Headlining the Selena XXV- Veinticinco Años concert alongside Pitbull and A.B. Quintanilla, Becky G is known for showing love to the late singer — from her videos in which she wears a replica of Selena’s iconic purple disco jumpsuit, to her sentiments on identifying with the Mexican-American experience.
Academics, scholars and journalists alike have compared the rise of Aventura to the Queen of Tejano’s journey. Similar to Selena, the Kings of Bachata revolutionized a traditional form of Latin music by integrating styles influenced by their American culture. As a result, they were able to appeal to both Americanized Dominicans and native Dominicans. The band recognized her as the star who “did it first” — opening the doors for many who came after, including Aventura.
Selena was already internationally known when Ivy Queen was building momentum in the underground scene and soon became a major influence in Latin music. Years after the icon’s death, the reggaetonera honored the singer by creating a modern rendition of Selena’s 1994 mariachi fusion “Si Una Vez.”
Solange covered Selena’s “I Could Fall in Love” throughout her “True” tour of 2012, and like Selena her upbringing in Texas influenced her music. But the “Don’t Touch My Hair” singer’s knowledge of Selena extends beyond her English-language songs. Solange’s all-time favorite: “No Me Queda Más.”
When Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, along with casting directors, set out to choose the woman who would play his daughter in the 1997 biographical drama, he knew he wanted to give someone undiscovered a chance. Auditions were held in major cities including San Antonio, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, and after some 22,000 screen tests were reviewed, the breakthrough role was granted to a rising star from the Bronx, Jennifer Lopez. Playing La Reina inspired Lopez to pursue singing, and today she continues to commemorate the late vocalist on tour, performing songs like “Dreaming of You” and “Como La Flor.”
Jennifer Mota is a Dominican-American columnist and multimedia creative. Much of her work focuses on Latinx urban music and black identity, and she has interviewed Ozuna, Tainy and Ivy Queen, among other artists.
Illustration by Ugly Primo.
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