Photo: TARA ZIEMBA/AFP via Getty Images
Fans remember Selena during Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in 2017
Selena Forever: Remembering The Latin Pop Icon 25 Years Later
On the 25th anniversary of her passing, the Recording Academy honors Selena via an industry round-table tribute featuring the artists, creatives and journalists she inspired through her art
Few artists have transcended genres, decades, languages, cultures and borders like Selena. Born Selena Quintanilla in Lake Jackson, Texas, and reared in the state's Corpus Christi area, the iconic singer is one of the most influential and most successful artists in the wider Latin pop canon.
In her early days, she became a pioneer in the then-male-dominated Tejano music scene, a genre she helped mainstream when she won the GRAMMY for Best Mexican-American Album in 1994 for her 1993 live album, Selena Live! It marked her first, and only, career GRAMMY win and the first time a female Tejano artist won the category, earning her the undisputed title of Queen of Tejano music. It was only one of many accolades for the legendary singer.
In her short-lived solo career—she released five studio albums between 1989 and 1995—Selena would establish an ever-lasting sound that spanned languages and styles and resonated with fans across a spectrum of cultures and ethnicities. Her multiplatinum 1994 album, Amor Prohibido, gave early indications of her cross-cultural crossover appeal. In addition to topping the Top Latin Albums and the Regional Mexican Albums charts, Amor Prohibido became a top 30 hit on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. It also received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Mexican-American Performance and spawned four chart-topping hits that conquered the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart: "Amor Prohibido," "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," "No Me Queda Más" and "Fotos Y Recuerdos," all considered signature Selena classics today.
She would later go on to fully establish her mainstream crossover appeal with Dreaming Of You, her final album, released posthumously in July 1995, just three months after she was murdered by a former employee. The album would debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S., becoming the first predominately Spanish-language album to accomplish that feat. It would ultimately prove the full potential of just how far the international star was poised to go.
Selena's reach expands far beyond music, too. A multifaceted businesswoman, she owned and operated two boutiques, called Selena Etc., across Texas, with several other locations across Latin America in the works. As a budding fashion designer, she regularly wore her own designs while performing onstage: Her iconic purple jumpsuit she wore at her final concert in 1995 remains an eternal look. In 2016, MAC Cosmetics released a makeup collection inspired by and in honor of Selena. Selling out within a day, the collection is now considered one of the best-selling MAC celeb collaborations of all time. MAC will be releasing a second Selena capsule collection this April.
The story of Selena, forever immortalized in the 1997 biopic starring a then-rookie Jennifer Lopez in the career-making titular role, is one that's continued since her untimely death in 1995. She has since inspired a new generation of artists and fans alike, who carry on her legacy through music, art and fashion, three areas in which she pushed the envelope with her unique style and vision. Much like her music lives on to this day, so too does her never-ending influence.
On the 25th anniversary of her passing today (March 31), the Recording Academy honors Selena via an industry round-table tribute featuring the artists, creatives and journalists she's inspired throughout the decades through her music and art.
The quotes and comments used in this feature were edited for clarity and brevity.
She Was A Genuine Soul
Kacey Musgraves (GRAMMY-winning artist; in 2019, she covered Selena's "Como La Flor" at the same site of the Tejano legend's final concert in 1995): Selena had an innate talent for taking something classic and traditional and shaping it with her modern voice. I love when someone has the vision to take something that's been done a million times and knows how to freshen it up in a way that speaks to their generation and also older generations. It's a quality that truly brings people of all ages together.
Selena was an entrepreneur and woman of business, a songwriter, an iconic vocalist, a trendsetter, and her fashion sense was way ahead of its time. But the attribute I admire most about her was her ability to be real—unabashedly genuine across the board. Being in the spotlight, especially from a young age, can bamboozle people into feeling like they have to shift into something different when the cameras are on. Without ever knowing her, I feel like I can say she never did.
Linda Wilvang (Senior Director, Awards and Latin Genre Manager at the Recording Academy): I have always been attracted to artists who push the envelope, artists who are not conventional, and Selena was one of those artists. She elevated Tejano music to a new high. She successfully blended other musical styles with Tejano and made it her own. She proved to me that you can succeed without compromising your core values, without changing who you are. You can work in any industry and still be real.
John Dyer (photographer; in addition to photographing Selena for several magazine covers in the early '90s, he has contributed images to the Selena Forever/Siempre Selena installation on display at McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas): I spent the day before the shoot setting up several backdrops in the studio so I could photograph her in a variety of situations and costumes ... She jumped out of her car with a big smile. A naturally beautiful, young Latina with jet-black hair, flawless skin, and a perfect figure. She opened the hatchback. It was crammed full of her performing costumes, many handmade, all of her own design …
For the cover [Mas Magazine, 1992], we shot in front of a gray background. Then we moved in front of a red curtain above a black and white checked floor. We ended outside the studio against a white seamless in the warm afternoon light. Selena's quick smile, infectious laugh, and unending energy made her a pleasure to work with …
In early 1995, Texas Monthly called and wanted to do a spread on Selena. By now, she had achieved incredible fame and transcended the boundaries of the Texas music scene.
We met at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, a favorite place of mine. She had just finished two exhausting days of shooting TV commercials for a corporate sponsor. She was tired. I had brought a beautiful handmade jacket for her to wear. I posed her in the alcove on the mezzanine of the theater where the light is particularly nice. She was subdued and pensive. A far cry from the ebullient, excited young singer I'd photographed three years earlier. Later I thought her mood might have been an eerie harbinger of what was to come.
Between when I photographed her at the Majestic and the Texas Monthly article coming out, she was killed. The art director, my old friend DJ Stout, used one of the more somber shots I had done for his cover chronicling her death. He sent me a handwritten note not too long after the issue appeared saying the cover with my photograph of Selena was one of the strongest he'd ever done. It's a cover I would rather not have had.
She Represented A Different Kind Of Beauty
Patty Rodriguez (Senior Producer for On Air With Ryan Seacrest; her Los Angeles-based children's book publisher, Lil' Libros, released a bilingual picture book biography about Selena; in 2015, her online petition helped launch the Selena-inspired MAC Cosmetics makeup line): She was unapologetically Latina. She was so proud of her identity and carried it with her everywhere, and that is what resonated with us. Growing up, we had no one to look up to, so then here comes a woman … with black hair, brown skin, that sounds and looks like us. Her flamboyant onstage costumes were designed and created by her, an example of the Latina make-it-happen-with-the-limited-resources-we-have attitude. Her trademark red lipstick and hoop earrings are what you see in our neighborhoods, and she took that with her to the world stage.
Latina women purchase beauty products three times more than any other group, and it wasn't until MAC released Selena's collection did we feel seen; it's unbelievable to me that it took this long. But I see why: The men and women who grew up with Selena are now adults. She taught us to be unapologetically Latinx, and we are no longer afraid to ask for what we deserve. Thank you Selena.
Leila Cobo (VP Latin Industry Lead at Billboard): I think Selena's particular brand of beauty was essential to her success. In a world (still) of telegenic, imported Latin pop stars, and a time when the standard for Latin beauty were largely white soap opera actresses, Selena was an anomaly. Selena embraced her body, her hair, her voluptuousness. She was so real. I would say that, for the first time, a new generation of U.S.-born Mexican-Americans and Latinas overall had a star that they could intimately relate to at all levels. She was their peer. She was a role model for an entire generation of Mexican-American girls who didn't have a role model before. This was key. Only Jenni Rivera, many years later, would come close.
Kate Carey (Head of Education at McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas; Exhibition Curator for Selena Forever / Siempre Selena photography installation): In selecting the photographs on view in Selena Forever/Siempre Selena, I had an opportunity to look through many photos from two different shoots with photographer John Dyer. I recognize that he is a gifted photographer, but her beauty and winning personality were revealed on every frame. I can see why brands wanted to align with her image. Yes, she is beautiful, but she also came across as very real—just like me or you.
Pabllo Vittar (Brazilian activist, artist and drag queen): Selena embraced her beauty the way it was, not trying to follow the "beauty rules." That's important and it resonates till now, as you can see more and more people feeling good with their bodies and how they look. We are all beautiful in our own way and there's nothing that can tell us otherwise.
Honey Andrews (transgender performer, based in Corpus Christi, Texas, who's worked as a Selena impersonator for nearly 15 years; "Selena was definitely one of my inspirations and idols and someone I definitely look up to when I began my transition," she says): Selena's fashion was definitely ahead of its time, and she was always up to date on the latest trends. She was an amazing fashion designer. Her amazing onstage costumes are very recognizable, and she has definitely impacted today's women in the music industry; till this day, a lot of women credit her for the fashions they wear ontage and even for just a casual day. She definitely impacted me because she taught me that you can be sexy, even if you're not a size zero. You can still be sexy by having curves, and she definitely embraced her own beautiful body and curves.
Girl Ultra (R&B artist from Mexico City): I feel like she embraced her curves and her body shape so much. She was breaking paradigms about the female body and Latina bodies as well. As Latinas, we have big caderas [hips] and juicy thighs, and when it comes to fashion, it's hard to find the right sizes. And by her designing her own outfits and crafting them, she was breaking all this body stereotyping back in the day.
Javiera Mena (Chilean electropop artist): She transmitted good vibes with her smile, her eyes, her body—we could feel it. We all feel it when we watch her videos, too. It makes you connect, and that's a real beauty. Also, her mouth and lips were very iconic. I understand MAC [Cosmetics] used it for a [beauty] line, with her big and thick lips, something that influenced me and all the people!
Her Fashion Was Ahead Of The Time
Kate Carey (McNay Art Museum): Selena Forever/Siempre Selena was conceived at the McNay Art Museum in tandem with the 1990s-focused exhibition, Fashion Nirvana: Runway To Everyday. Like many of the designers on view in Fashion Nirvana, Selena took fashion risks, embraced body-conscious ensembles and carefully crafted her image. That brand of fearlessness and innovation characterized the 1990s and Selena's fashion sense. The sparkly bustier tops, revealing performance ensembles and cool leather jackets cement her reputation as a style icon, but she presented an authentic and accessible image by wearing jeans, boots and white T-shirts. Personally, I'm a big fan of the accessories: the newsboy hats or big silver belts. She absorbs these elements of menswear and represents them as both tough and feminine. That, to me, is '90s fashion in a nutshell.
Javiera Mena (artist): I love her aesthetic and style. It is a great influence for me. I have been influenced by the high-cut Texan jackets with large shoulder pads and the glitter and reflective accessories. Also, her jeans and thick eyebrows. She was a pioneer. She had an elegance that brightened without limits when she was on stage.
Christian Serratos (actress; she stars as Selena in the forthcoming Netflix series, "Selena: The Series"): It's amazing to see how many artists, of all backgrounds and genders, have been inspired by Selena. It was her fearlessness and creativity that made her an icon. There are few people who have the power to be remembered by a color or a feeling, or who have become synonymous with an accessory like the hoop earring. The last time I saw what Selena did to the red lip was Marylin Monroe, another icon. I see Selena's influence when I walk down the street, and I know I'll continue seeing that influence for many more generations.
María (Lead singer of Los Angeles-based Spanglish indie rock/indie pop band, The Marías): My first memory of being introduced to Selena was in her biopic film. Thereafter, I listened to her music and watched her music videos nonstop. I remember when I was around 5 or 6, I wanted to wear a bustier just like Selena. I wasn't even old enough to wear a bra! But my mom, being the angel she was, found some tiny training bras at the store and sewed little beads on them for me. This was my earliest memory of being directly influenced by fashion. When I was old enough to really understand, her style represented confidence in your own body. The fact that she could so freely and confidently dance around in a bustier, against her father's wishes, was inspiring. She wasn't doing it for sex appeal, in my opinion. She was doing it because she simply wanted to feel free and in control of her body.
Raquel Berrios (Puerto Rican designer and co-founder/singer of Buscabulla): Her style sense was very balanced and cool. It was sexy without being slutty, feminine but not fragile. She really created a strong yet down-to-Earth example for Latinas. I personally strive to include that balance in the way that I like to style myself and portray myself as a Latina artist.
She Was A Multifaceted Businesswoman
Christian Serratos (actress): Selena's ability to create new avenues for herself and work hard to achieve them is inspiring and relatable. We all have the ability to design our own paths. Strong women like Selena show us the power of never giving up and handling adversities with grace.
Jennifer D'Cunha (Global Head of Latin Music at Apple Music): Selena had an entrepreneurial spirit and extended her self-expression beyond music and into fashion, design and film, while staying true to her personal brand and identity. Her confidence, authenticity and distinctive personal style still resonate and inspire fans all over the world. She had the courage to reinvent herself and the work ethic and raw talent to be successful at anything she committed to. Selena ventured into uncharted territory by expanding her realm of influence outside of music, well before celebrity clothing lines were commonplace and brand partnerships were the norm.
Tatiana Hazel (Mexican-American, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, musician, producer and fashion designer): Nowadays, several musicians are starting their own makeup lines, fashion brands, etc. But Selena was definitely a pioneer for this kind of business model. She really was capable of anything she set her mind to accomplish, and I believe that is why she was able to break so many barriers through determination. Also, not only was she determined, but also talented at everything that she pursued.
She Was A Voice For Latinx People Around The World …
Adrian Quesada (GRAMMY-winning guitarist/producer and founding member of GRAMMY-nominated duo Black Pumas; he served as the music director for the Selena For Sanctuary tribute concert series in 2018 and 2019): She had a huge impact and influenced many, and still does to this day, because representation is very important for communities and cultures that haven't always had an icon that transcends boundaries to look up to. For people that looked like her, spoke like her, came from places like she did, it let them know that they could do it, too. I feel like her influence continues to grow exponentially, even for generations who weren't alive when she was. She gives hope and inspires because she was bigger than any one genre, culture, region and country, and was a positive role model at that.
María (artist): When an artist as undeniably talented as Selena comes along, deep down it doesn't matter where she's from. I became a fan of Selena when I was really little, after watching the movie [Selena] with Jennifer Lopez. It didn't matter to me what Latin country she was from. What mattered to me was that she was Latin and that she was accomplishing so many amazing things. Of course, Latin communities take pride in their countries and flags, but what unites us all is that we're Latin, that we have similar values and morals and beliefs. I'm from Puerto Rico and my father is from Spain, but growing up, all of my friends were from different Latin countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Guatemala and more. We learned from each other's unique cultures, but deep down we were all the same.
La Doña (Mexican-America multi-instrumentalist, producer and singer-songwriter): I think the reason her music was so successful with such a diversity of Latinos is because Tejano music and all of the music she is founded in are tremendously diasporic cultural practices. That means that when she revolutionized Tejano music and prepared it for the pop platform, she is representing and reiterating ancient practices that are not confined to the region of Texas. Similarly, when she presented her style of techno-cumbia, she was not only appealing to a young brown audience, who was excited by their contemporary synthetic sounds mixed with familiar and familial rhythms, but also representing Afro-Latinx and Afro-indigenous art forms that have informed all of the musica tipica and popular of Latin America. This commitment to tradition and bravery in transporting it into a new arena is definitely one of the reasons that Selena's music spoke to such a diversity of Latinx fans across the world.
Isabela Raygoza (Latin Music Editor at SoundCloud): Selena's musical moxie embodied the beautiful complexities of biculturalism. With her insatiable mix of electro-cumbia, ranchera and pop-flavored R&B, Selena went on to represent the experiences and lifestyles of her compatriots: Mexicans (native, first-, second-, third-gen), Texas dwellers and beyond. She was born in the U.S. to Mexican-descendent parents, and she didn't speak fluent Spanish, similar to Chicano rock star Ritchie Valens before her and countless others of Latinx immigrant backgrounds. Brown-skinned, family-oriented, and of humble beginnings, Selena, the pop icon, became the voice of the Latinx diaspora.
Without Selena's formidable contributions to Latin pop, J.Lo or Becky G's musical career might've not been what they are today: two U.S.-born Latinas who, too, grew up speaking predominantly English, who embrace their biculturalism with endearment and pride and who uphold the enduring legacy left behind by the Queen Of Tejano Music.
Although Selena's tragic death cut her potential short, she nevertheless managed to leave an indelible mark on Latin pop, and she will surely continue to do so for newer pop stars to come.
Raquel Berrios (artist, Buscabulla): Selena was right there doing her Latin thing in the most unique way in a time when we really didn't get to see a lot of Latina role models on mainstream media. She set such a cool example of a super talented, down-to-Earth Latina woman. I loved how she broke language barriers. That was a huge inspiration for me as an artist.
… But She Was A Role Model For All People
Kali Uchis (GRAMMY-nominated artist): Selena will forever be iconic because that's what she was. Her being taken from us is one of the greatest tragedies known to man, but Selena's raw star power, persistence and dedicated fan base are the reason her legacy will be immortal. As a Latin-American woman, she made me proud to be multicultural when at times it never felt I could be American enough or Colombian enough. I've always listed her as one of my greatest inspirations, because she was the first multicultural global sensation on Earth.
Honey Andrews (performer/Selena impersonator): Selena's music and art influenced me in so many different ways. Her music is timeless. Selena was a piece of art herself. She was very diverse with her wardrobe as well as her music. She means so much to me as a person because she taught me that the impossible is always possible. She was a one-of-a-kind artist and she was such a great cultural figure for the Hispanic and Latino and Mexican-American community.
Marissa Gastelum (Latin Music Artist Relations at Apple Music): Selena is the only Latin artist to have broken cultural barriers the way she has passed the grave. When you have artists like Beyoncé and Kacey Musgraves performing covers of Selena or Drake wearing a shirt with Selena, you know she has transcended culture. Her spirit lives on through her music, and the Selena movie helps new generations get to know her story and connect to her music. Her album Dreaming Of You is a gem, and those songs are timeless. I think these artists connect to Selena because of her music and her sense of style. She was the epitome of cool and an incredible performer. Selena showed that a woman can be strong and graceful and can command a stage and be sexy at the same time.
iLe (GRAMMY-winning Puerto Rican singer/artist; member of Calle 13): I think that when you start something that's so good there is no reason to stop. Selena was that dreamer that we all are when we were young. Listening to her songs today is revitalizing. She and her music reminds us about the importance of being alive, enjoying every moment and to keep dreaming.
Suzy Exposito (Latin Music Editor at Rolling Stone; her former punk band, Shady Hawkins, covered Selena's "Como La Flor" in the past): I was always a sucker for a forbidden romance like that of [Selena's hit song] "Amor Prohibido." Inspired by love letters Selena discovered from her grandmother to her grandfather—a young maid who fell in love with the wealthy son of her employers—it's a heartrending tale of two young sweethearts, who against the conventions of society, flout their class disparity with love. Selena told it with such verve and conviction that even as a 5-year-old, it just rocked me to my core. Yet the context changed as I grew older, and I began to understand that the love I so desired would probably look very different from that of my parents or most of my peers. So when I came out as a bisexual woman 10 years ago, I braced myself to go through it alone; but the biggest surprise and reward of coming out was that, in fact, I was far from it! In being more present in New York City's LGBTQ community, whether by attending protests, drag nights and punk shows, I was able to find a beautiful community of Latinx people who grew up just like me: bilingual children of immigrants, whose resilience and great capacity for love transcends all kinds of borders.
Suzy Exposito (center) performs with her band, Shady Hawkins
Adrian Quesada (artist/producer): Being from a South Texas border town, cross-cultural and bilingual feels pretty normal and felt so at the time of her music. But I think it gave hope that it could be bigger than that and reach the masses through multiple avenues. They updated the Tejano sound a bit with modern, at the time, R&B influences, which helped it cross over and resonate with people who weren't familiar with regional Tex-Mex music and did so in a way that was seamless and natural. I do believe she was well on her way to even bigger crossover territory, with collaborations with people like David Byrne, and would have continued to push the envelope musically and culturally to this day. She was just beginning to really branch out before her life was tragically taken.
She Broke Barriers And Opened Doors For Next-Gen Artists
Angie Romero (Senior Editor, U.S. Latin Music Culture and Editorial at Spotify): Back in the day, artists like Selena had to fight hard against systemic barriers, many of which still exist today. But because of artists like Selena, Gloria Estefan and others, the door for the next generation has been cracked open, and it will forever stay open. Young Latinas can dream of doing anything they want to do in the world, and they don't ever have to stay inside a box, either — they can do it all, just like Selena did.
iLe (artist): Society makes us get used to the same things so much that we don't notice what we're seeking until it suddenly appears. We as women have a voice that should be heard and acknowledged. Selena became a female figure that Tejano and Latin pop music needed and I think she succeeded by not being afraid of being herself.
Jennifer D'Cunha (Apple Music): Selena broke barriers for women in Latin music. She created her own lane in the male-dominated Tejano music scene, and successfully took the genre to new heights. Whether it was cumbias, traditional Tejano or pop, she made her unique sound mainstream in Latin music. She thrived not by trying to conform, but by pushing the boundaries, following her intuition and playing by her own rules. Her spirit lives on and continues to inspire.
Pabllo Vittar (artist): For me, she was the first Latin diva going global! She was gorgeous and unique! I was born a year before she passed away, but I remember my mom listening to her music and I could watch her videos some years later. She was an icon that comes to mind when we talk about letting the uniqueness of your culture shine through you, and she was an example of how you can take a specific and regional rhythm and work your way into the industry.
Jesse Baez (Guatemalan contemporary urban/R&B artist): I think the most important thing people should know is that you can live forever through music. You know, Selena passed away when she was 23, so she was incredibly young, and in spite of that, she's still relevant in 2020, maybe more than before. I think people should know that you can live forever if you do something with passion and enjoy what you do—that's what I would take from her.
Girl Ultra (artist): She had such a big female strength that still empowers upcoming generations. She embraced her roots and her femininity in ways that Mexican culture was not very used to. She also gave Mexican weddings and parties many anthems.
La Doña (artist): Selena was able to supersede systemic barriers for many different reasons; one of those is her raw talent and passion. It is impossible to ignore the sheer amount of energy she put behind not only every song and every performance, but also all of her other creative ventures. Unfortunately, however, we have seen that that is rarely enough for a young star such as Selena to achieve success in the way that she did.
I think that a huge contributor to this success was the support and contributions of her family. Though working with one's family is never simple or easy—speaking from the perspective of someone who grew up playing Tejano music in a family band—it is also grounding and supportive in a way that you won't experience from a different type of team.
The last element of this perfect storm that vaulted Selena into super stardom is that the music industry needed her. The huge Latinx population within the United States needed her; the market existed but it was largely ignored until Selena revealed it, and then there was no going back. She opened a door to a market and created an entire Latinx enclave within the pop industry that would always exist as her legacy.
Her Music Still Strikes A Chord Today
Kate Carey (McNay Art Museum): "Como La Flor" is one of the greatest songs ever, and if I have done anything right as a parent, it is that my kids know this song by heart.
Kali Uchis (artist): My favorite songs are "No Me Queda Más" and "Como La Flor"—because I like to dance and cry.
Angie Romero (Spotify): It's so hard to choose a favorite! But "Como La Flor" is just a perfect song, with the perfect metaphor, and it was also special to her and the band because it was their breakthrough hit in the U.S. and Mexico, reaching No. 6 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart [in 1992]. When she sings the opening notes of that song, live at the Astrodome, and drags out the word "flooor," then moves her hand beautifully like a flamenco dancer, it gives me chills and makes me teary-eyed every time! I also just love that line about "me marcho hoy, yo se perder" ["I'm leaving today, I know how to lose"]. It's a different take on a broken heart in the sense that you aren't just wallowing in sadness, but you accept it and move on, similarly to other iconic songs that I love that also take the high road, like "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt.
iLe (artist): I have many Selena classics that I love, but I would have to say "Techno Cumbia" [is my favorite] because it reminds me of a little dance that I used to do with my cousin, Beatriz, when we were kids.
Jesse Baez (artist): I feel like "No Me Queda Mas" is the only ballad that I can go back to and not feel weird about liking. It just became a permanent song in connection to my childhood. Even though it's sad, and there are a bunch of other Selena songs that I also love, I like how this song goes against everything else I tend to like, so I will pick that song forever.
Jennifer D'Cunha (Apple Music): Selena's  Live: The Last Concert is one of my favorite concert films of all time. Selena's charisma onstage, her vocals, the energy from her fans and that fierce purple jumpsuit make this one of the most iconic live performances ever.
Leila Cobo (Billboard): "Amor Prohibido" is my favorite Selena song. It's a beautiful story, a timeless song, timeless lyrics. It's a song that will forever be relevant.
A New Generation Of Artists And Fans Continues Her Legacy
Leila Cobo (Billboard): While Selena's music traveled internationally, her real influence lies in her impact within the United States. Because she was a homegrown star, she was widely recognized both by Latin and non-Latin fans. Selena was an anomaly: Bilingual and bicultural, she not only looked like her fans, she was like them. That relatability was transformative for Latin pop culture.
Thanks to Selena, for the first time, perhaps ever, U.S.-born Latinas had a role model they could aspire to be. Two generations later, Selena's impact is tangible. Dozens of prominent figures—from Becky G to Jennifer Lopez to Leslie Grace to Selena Gomez—point to Selena as their direct influence. Selena's legacy has been fundamental in creating a new movement of U.S.-born Latin artists who today, 25 years after her death, are collectively reaping success and still naming her as the precursor of their achievements.
Girl Ultra (artist): I feel like any Latina making music since then is part of her legacy. We're fighting for the same cause: breaking paradigms about how ''Latino music'' should sound or look like and breaking with the objectification and the so-called "fetish" of Latinas all over the world.
Linda Wilvang (the Recording Academy): Selena made Tejano music cool! Moreover, she was able to fiercely and creatively convey her passion for the genre, and this you can attest by watching any of her performances. She truly loved her craft, her fans—she loved life. Selena's legacy has endured to this day and will continue, thanks to her family and fans who lovingly have kept her music and spirit alive for 25 years and beyond.
Marisol "La Marisoul" Hernandez (Lead vocalist of GRAMMY-winning Los Angeles band La Santa Cecilia): When I first witnessed Selena, I was blown away by her amazing vocal skills. It was so inspiring to see a brown, curvaceous woman be so confident and commanding onstage. I could see myself in her, and that was so empowering! At that time, as a teenager, I, too, had dreams of one day becoming a singer myself. Her beautiful music introduced me to the Tejano music genre, which I began to follow. I admired her presence in a mostly male-dominated music scene and soon became a loyal fan.
Watching her interpret regional Mexican music in Spanish really moved me to continue my personal journey. When I saw an interview with her and [saw] the way she spoke Spanish with her Mexican-American accent, that's what really got me. She spoke the way I spoke. She was a Mexican-American female musician dominating the Tejano, regional Mexican music scene, and at the same time, you could hear in her voice that American R&B style that I would hear later in the [1995 album], Dreaming Of You. That's what made her so special to me and such an inspiration.
Kate Carey (McNay Art Museum): I love visiting the McNay on weekends when I'm not really working. The first weekend of the Selena Forever/Siempre Selena exhibition at the McNay, my parents were visiting; I wanted to show them what I was working on. We saw visitors throughout the museum wearing Selena fan memorabilia. One older gentleman wore a T-shirt that read, Selena es mi reina [Selena is my queen]. Similarly, a young mother encouraged her daughter to pose like Selena in the photos. I don't know why her music is so timeless, but I know that it is, and it's very obvious to me the reverence Selena fans have for her music and her image.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.
Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.
The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.
For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe).
As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).
Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.