It would be impossible to forget the talent that Naya Rivera emitted whenever she appeared on our screens. Many people will have come to know Rivera as the daring, sharp-witted cheerleader, Santana Lopez, from the popular musical series Glee (2009 – 2015).
Naya’s performance on the show is indelible. She was purely captivating to watch and, through her work as Santana, she became a tremendous role model to millions of young LGBTQ+ fans.
As we continue to celebrate the life of Naya, let’s look back at 10 of her most iconic performances on Glee that still leave us awestruck.
It’s hard to believe that this was only Naya’s second solo on the show let alone the first on screen. The performance is effortless (which could be said for the majority of her scenes) and really allows for Santana to shine as an overqualified member of the New Directions.
‘Nutbush City Limits’ (4.13)
From the second the music begins, you cannot take your eyes off of her. The energy she radiates is unmatched, her stage presence is palpable; Naya is the definition of ‘powerhouse’ and this performance drives the fact straight home.
‘Smooth Criminal’ (3.11)
It’s a clash of the titans as Santana and Sebastian (Grant Gustin) go head-to-head with a Michael Jackson inspired sing-off. The entire exchange is charged with tension and hostility – you could cut the air with a knife. It’s a shame that the pair only had one duet together because they shared some serious musical chemistry.
‘Back to Black’ (2.21)
There truly wasn’t a song that she couldn’t make her own. Here, she freely and expertly manoeuvres the stage, giving a classy, honourable rendition of the Amy Winehouse tune. The charism gleams and it’s clear that performing was in Naya’s nature.
In a rare, fleeting moment between Santana and Rachel (Lea Michele), the two share this beautiful and wholesome duet. The song is remarkably uplifting when you consider the journey that Santana has endured throughout the series.
‘River Deep, Mountain High’ (2.04)
I’m certain everyone will agree when I say that Santana and Mercedes (Amber Riley) were robbed of their victory back in the season 2 duets competition. There was nothing this performance didn’t have and witnessing Rivera and Riley together was a spectacle to behold. It was always a treat to watch them collaborate but nothing could ever top this masterpiece.
‘Girl On Fire’ (4.13)
Wow… That’s all we have to say about her cover of this Alicia Keys hit. It’s no secret that Santana had one of the strongest, most compelling voices within the show, and no matter how many times we hear her hit those high notes, she will always keep us captivated.
‘Shake It Out’ (3.18)
Accompanied by Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Mercedes, Santana sets the tempo for this emotionally powerful scene. Naya lends her voice so beautifully and flawlessly, melding it well with the vocals of her co-stars. The moment is tender, and Rivera proves her versatility within music.
Not only is this one of Naya’s best performances, it marked a significant development for the show and Santana. The scene is intimate and conveyed with raw emotion; it is a genuine credit to Rivera for her dedication to the role, certifying a major turning point in television for the portrayal of LGBTQ+ relationships for women.
‘Rumour Has It/Someone Like You‘ (3.06)
Once again, Naya completely throws herself into the performance that comes after Santana is publicly outed – her acting is outstanding. Santana’s emotions weigh heavy as she belts out Adele; you feel nothing but empathy for her, watching with bated breaths as she powers through the song.