selena2In early 2010, actress/singer Selena Gomez stepped foot on the grandiose revolving stage of Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas—the same venue the late Selena (Quintanilla) entertained to a crowd of 62,000 nearly two decades ago.”My family named me after a Tejano singer,” Gomez prefaced before belting her rendition of “Bidi Bodi Bom Bom,” a classic Selena anthem that once echoed this stadium

 

 

In early 2010, actress/singer Selena Gomez stepped foot on the grandiose revolving stage of Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas—the same venue the late Selena (Quintanilla) entertained to a crowd of 62,000 nearly two decades ago.”My family named me after a Tejano singer,” Gomez prefaced before belting her rendition of “Bidi Bodi Bom Bom,” a classic Selena anthem that once echoed this stadium. “She was such an inspiration.” Gomez, whose life paralleled the Latin artist, invited a world of music critics to measure her performance up to her glorified predecessor. Unlike the fresh-faced pop star, the reviews weren’t raves. One writer found her version “lackluster” against the original, while another unabashedly called it a “blunder.”

Eighteen years since her tragic death, people continue to tout Selena’s unique gifts.  Because Selena’s future was tragically unwritten from a bullet to her shoulder, Latin Americans and first generation immigrants safely guard her prevailing career and the legacy she left behind. On March 31, 1995, Selena’s sudden death made headlines—major TV networks stopped regular programming to announce her death, Tom Brokaw deemed her “The Mexican Madonna,” and the story was plastered across The New York Times’ front page two days in a row.

Perhaps it was her charming innocence, or the honeyed voice that transcended cultural boundaries, or watching a fall at the high of a career, but Americans mourned the loss of an All-American-Mexican Sweetheart who never got the chance to finish singing her story.

Born into a family of five in Lake Jackson, Texas, Selena’s parents and two siblings became band members and business partners. Managed by her father, Abraham Quintanilla, Selena performed with her older brother and younger sister at their family restaurant at the age of 6. After the business folded, the Quintanillas jumped from performing on street corners to local gigs in order to make ends meet. Along the way, Abraham forced her U.S-born daughter to learn Spanish—partly to broaden her appeal, partly to make some money performing at quinceañeras. Her father’s vision soon paid off: as a young teen, she garnered radioplay and interviews on Spanish-speaking stations. In 1994, Selena met her big break after releasing her sixth studio album, Amor Prohibido (Forbidden Love), a compilation of English and Spanish tracks. The album sold half a million copies and became nominated for a Grammy. Her popularity in Mexico and America was quickly escalating, as her dad and music label EMI prepped for a full cultural crossover with her first ever all-English project. But before the album was due to release, Selena was fatally shot by a close and crazed fan.

Selena was 23 years old when she died. Weeks before her death, the Tejano star claimed the most number of chart-topping singles in the U.S, and was on the cusp of international fame. After she passed, Selena’s record sales spiked, even outselling living artists of the time. In 1995, a posthumous album, Dreaming Of You, was released and debuted at #1 on Billboard. The album sold over 175,000 on its first day, and stayed on music charts for 49 weeks. Selena’s legacy continues to push album sales, reaching over 60 million copies total in 2012.

Some music journalists and theorists believe her enduring fame has as much, if not more, to do with her death as it does her life. In fact, the “Murder of Selena” Wikipedia page extends longer and in greater detail than her main “Selena” page. Some believe her dramatic outfall propelled the sudden upheaval of her career, notoriety, and curious fascination on a global scale.

“When musicians tragically die young–take Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse—their careers are sped up,” says Joey Guerra, Music Editor of The Houston Chronicle. “There lives a mysterious thing that makes them a legend.”

Guerra, 38, has been listening to and writing about Selena since he was a teen, from her successful live career to her ever-more successful posthumous career. He believes Selena’s narrative is no different than the Cobain or the Morrison.

“Right before her murder, there was no doubt in my mind that her record label was preparing for her English crossover,” said Guerra. “She was bridging pop and Latin dance music with an American appeal. Did her death accelerate that? Absolutely. For her, there was so much more to come.”

For Guerra, like many of her fans, their disappointment is that she never got to fulfill her potential. “Because she died so young, when we listen to the limited catalog of her music, we cycle through her life. We think about her life. And the experience is bittersweet; it’s nostalgia with a little piece of sadness,” he explains.

But even so, Selena’s enduring influence has arguably less to do with the life (and death) as we knew it, than with what it connotes. Selena, the American girl with Mexican values and a humble beginning, is an emblem of a refurbished American dream.

“Selena had managed to break through several barriers,” writes Chicago Tribune Staff Writer Terena Puente. “She was a female performer in the male-dominated world of Tejano…she won acceptance in Mexico, which rarely welcomes Mexican-American performers; and she was about to cross into the mainstream of pop. To those in her culture, however, she first had and foremost shattered the Barbie doll stereotype.”

And there she stood in late February, 1995, center stage at the Reliant Stadium, weeks before her unwarranted death.  In her iconic jewel-encrusted bralette (immortalized by J.Lo in the biopic film, Selena), Selena Quintanilla sang “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” breaking her set with self-deprecating jokes and laughing with her audience in English and barely broken Spanish. For many people, Selena was charismatic, sexy, and fearless. For more people, her appeal and untimely death was believed to ultimately pave the way for the famous Latina pop stars we worship today.

“Without Selena, there would be no Selena Gomez,” says Guerra. “She continues to influence artists today. Without Selena, there would be no