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Watching old clips of Selena Quintanilla—whether she’s singing, talking or just flashing that radiant smile—remains an exercise in exhilaration and heartbreak.
It never gets tiresome, enjoying her enchanting presence.
But it does get awfully sad, especially once you lose yourself in the music and then remember that she’s gone.
Gone since 1995, in fact, and the amount of time she’s been gone has surpassed the amount of time she spent on this planet.
And yet her legacy endures and her influence on the Latin-crossover music scene—and far beyond, probably further than most people realize—is as strong as ever, not least because of Netflix’s Selena: The Series, which premiered this month starring Christian Serratos as the Tejano singer. But rarely has there been a time in the past 25 years that artists have not been referencing her, despite the mellifluously voiced pop star having been struck down just as her fame was reaching new levels for all the right reasons.
“Selena was such an inspiration to me and I was so lucky to be chosen to play her,” Jennifer Lopez shared in an Instagram post on March 21, the 23rd anniversary of the release of the biopic Selena, featuring her own star-making turn playing the late singer.
“As an artist, this movie truly was an experience I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. Please share your memories of Selena and the movie with me below.”
AP Photo/George Gongora-Corpus Christi Caller-Times, File
Already a Grammy winner (1993’s Live! became the first album by a Tejano singer to win Best Mexican/American Album) and burgeoning mogul with her own clothing line and a boutique-salon, Selena was killed—shot dead by the founder of her first fan club—in her native Texas on March 31, 1995. She was 23. More than 30,000 people showed up to view her casket at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center in Corpus Christi, where she grew up.
In the years that followed, her story was dramatized for the masses in 1997’s Selena, but she herself continued to be revered as a singular artist and person, known locally for her humanitarian work with battered women’s shelters and youth programs such as D.A.R.E.
A life-sized bronze statue stands in her hometown of Corpus Christi, where the Selena Museum opened in 1998. More than 65,000 people packed Houston’s Reliant Stadium for a tribute concert in 2005 and in 2011 the U.S. Postal Service put her on a stamp as a “Latin Legend.” Enamorada De Ti, a tribute album of Selena covers, was released in 2012.
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Selena Day is celebrated in Texas annually on April 16, her birthday. For five years, starting in 2014, the Fiesta De La Flor, featuring a line-up of performers honoring Selena’s musical legacy, injected millions of dollars into the local economy in Corpus Christi, but last year the Quintanilla family wouldn’t sign off on a 2020 event.
In January the family confirmed they wouldn’t be moving the festival to another city, that they were instead shutting it down.
While she was poised for major crossover success after releasing four Spanish-language albums (Dreaming of You posthumously hit No. 1), Lopez’s connection with Selena’s story did help turn an entirely new crop of fans onto her music.
Jennifer Lopez on Playing “Selena”: E! News Rewind
Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, wasn’t everyone’s first choice to play the artist revered as “La Reina de Tejano” (the queen of Tejano), whose family roots were in Mexico. (Director Gregory Nava even had to fight for Lopez when the names of some actresses who weren’t even Latina were floated as possible choices.)
But J.Lo dove 100 percent into the role—and both she and Selena emerged as bigger stars than ever.
“God sent me that role for a reason,” Lopez said in a throwback interview she shared in March. “So I could always have her as an inspiration.”
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Ultimately, Selena’s rise isn’t difficult to explain, a result of her talent, charm, business smarts and the luck that’s required to actually be successful, to make sure all those other key attributes are noticed.
It’s how she has stayed on top all of these years—her influence extending to arenas she could have never imagined and her simple, sweet, melodious first name (which means “moon”) becoming iconic—that may have to be attributed to otherworldly forces.
It wasn’t just songs like the infectious “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” or the smash hits “I Could Fall in Love” and “Dreaming of You” that cemented Selena’s place in the hearts of so many artists whom she would never know, those she inspired just by being true to herself.
“The grace with which she handled the business, the grace with which she handled her life, the humor,” Lopez recalled to Billboard around the 20th anniversary of Selena’s death. “Her spirit of loving what she did. Her sense of family. That’s the tragedy of everything that happened and why she left such an imprint—because she was gone way too soon.”
Lopez’s third husband, Marc Anthony, actually knew Selena well.
“We were friends and colleagues, we started our careers at the same time,” he recalled to reporters in Miami 2015, per Pulso Pop. “We were both born here [in the U.S.]. At first we struggled with our Spanish and were learning to speak it together.”
Anthony added, “I had an incredible love for her. I think that Selena shines because of the way she managed her life, her talent, her career. The way she represented us…It’s important that people keep remembering her as that figure. A lot of doors opened the way she achieved to open them in the market where a U.S. citizen can make a living singing in Spanish and traditional music from their country. Until this day we still feel the impact. You know? That’s why for me it’s an honor to say that I considered her a friend.”
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Selena’s influence was hardly limited to Latinx artists—in fact her music was the first exposure that some singers had to Spanish-language music. Stars ranging from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to Whitney Houston and Beyoncé paid close attention to Selena’s sound and style.
“I listened to Selena all the time,” Beyoncé told People en Espanol in 2007 after recording six songs in Spanish for a re-release of B-Day. “I grew up in Texas and one of my good friends from there is Mexican and she was so excited when she heard that I was doing songs in Spanish. She turned me on to Selena’s album when I was growing up and I listened to it all the time. At the time, I wasn’t too familiar with Spanish-speaking artists.
“A lot of my fans are Hispanic and they’ve always told me, ‘You should sing something in Spanish’ but I don’t speak Spanish at all. I took it in school but I don’t speak it at all but I thought let me give this a try.”
Demi Lovato, who was 2 when Selena was killed, recalled to The Huffington Post in 2014, “Growing up, I loved Selena’s music.”
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“I was really young when she passed, so I didn’t know much about her until I got a little older. When I saw the movie, there was just some sort of connection. Even my dad is totally like the dad in the movie [Edward James Olmos played Abraham Quintanilla]. It’s just so similar. There is something about the movie that was really inspiring to me. After that, you know, the songs are great, even though I don’t know what the words are. I’m learning Spanish, but I don’t know it fluently yet.”
And still, she added, “I’m really proud of [my heritage], especially the way that the Latin community is kind of taking over and rising above politically. Even though I don’t speak fluent Spanish, I love singing in Spanish. I love being able to represent the curvy sassiness of a Latina woman. It’s just a part of who I am, and I couldn’t be more proud to represent that.”
Beyoncé would also recall meeting Selena in a Houston mall but not saying anything to her—because she herself wasn’t a celebrity yet. “I think she is a legend and I admire her,” Bey told MTV Tres. “She was so talented. Even though she didn’t know who I was… I was still so excited that I got the opportunity!”
“Selena is an angel, I think,” Katy Perry suggested during an interview with a Spanish-language station when asked about various Latina artists.
“Amazing woman—she would have been bigger than all of us,” Eva Longoria mused on Lopez Tonight in 2011.
Even Whitney Houston, who inspired so many others herself, took notice of what Selena accomplished in her short yet prolific career.
“What Selena did in the English market was brilliant,” Houston, who died in 2012, told the New York Daily News in 1999. “Clive Davis and I are thinking about me doing that in the other direction.”
Meanwhile, Selena’s clothing, hair and makeup—a sexy but not too sexy combination of sporty ease and bombshell glamour—never had a chance to enjoy a resurgence because her influence never went away.
Lady Gaga‘s early tour looks—she was a big fan of the bustier—were reportedly inspired by Selena as well, and we know her “Selena” concert tee was an all-time fave.
“One of my beauty idols was Selena, who had the most beautiful lips,” Fergie revealed to Glamour.com in 2015. “I over-line my lips a bit—I completely admit it. I really like the look.”
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In 2016, MAC Cosmetics released the La Reina Collection, starting with a cherry-red lipstick called “Como La Flor,” named after one of her biggest hits, and the Quintanilla family teamed with the cosmetics brand for another line this year in honor of the 25th anniversary of her death.
While the first collection was more about Selena’s glamorous concert looks, the second—which included sparkly pink Bidi Bidi Bom Bom Lipglass—was more of a celebration of her legacy, her sister Suzette Quintanilla, who worked closely with MAC both times, explained to E! News in April.
“Selena has been transcending into not just a Latina icon but a bi-cultural icon,” she said. “I see what the first launch represented and what this one is going to mean. It doesn’t just represent Selena, it represents us as Latinas
Suzette previously told Refinery 29 in February, “When Selena passed away, one of the three things she was working on was her clothing line, a makeup line, and a perfume line,” Suzette also said. “I promised myself that by the time I leave this world, I will accomplish what she started; what she held dear to her heart.”
And for the generation who may only know of another young entertainer with that famous name, know that Selena Gomez‘s namesake is exactly what it sounds like.
“I am named after her. She was a big deal to my family and growing up from the get-go, I knew who she was and who I was named after,” Gomez said on The View in 2012. “I got to visit her grave. I’ve actually met her family, some of her family, and it’s such a honor to be named after someone so amazing.”
“My dad is actually the one who had the final say,” added the “Come and Get It” singer. “He loved her and it was a big deal—her, she was a big deal to us.”
Gomez, J.Lo, Adrienne Bailon, Bruno Mars and Camila Cabello are among those who’ve memorably covered Selena at their own shows, while Nicki Minaj lauded the late star’s enviable curves in 2017’s “Regret in Your Tears,” rapping, “I count up the racks like Serena / Plus I got that ass like Selena.”
“It makes me feel good that after so many years people still remember my daughter,” dad Abraham Quintanilla told NBC News in 2015. “But at the same time I would rather that she be here.”
In an audio clip from what’s widely said to be the last interview she gave before she died, included in an online tribute, Selena is asked how she hoped to be remembered after she was gone.
“As, um…not only as an entertainer,” the larger-than-life singer said, “but as a person who cared a lot and I gave the best that I could—and I tried to be the best role model that I possibly could, and the best person I could. I tried to help out.”
(Originally published April 16, 2016, at 4 a.m. PT)