Words: Giulia Lombardo
A month ago, Netflix blessed us music lovers with a series entirely based on the life of the one and only, Selena Quintanilla.
The story of Selena Quintanilla Perez is very touching and inspiring: raised under the aegis of a father who dreamed of being able to see her become a great singer, and driven above all by her not being able to break through in the music industry, Selena is still remembered today as a real emblem of her society. In her hometown, for example, a life-size bronze statue still stands today, to commemorate the girl murdered at the age of 23.
A story that could not escape Netflix, who decided to realise an original series retracing the story, from when she was a little girl until the tragic event, which gave it even more to the story. With the series called ‘Selena: the series’, we are able to experience – through disappointments, heartbreaks, pain and great moments of glory – her rise to success.
The series is the singer’s second screen transposition; in fact, in 1997, ‘Selena’ by Gregory Nava was filmed. In the Netflix series instead Selena is played by Christian Serratos (‘Ned – School of survival’, ‘Twilight Saga’); her sister Suzette is played by Noemi Gonzalez (‘The Tax Collector’, ‘The Marked’) and her brother AB by Gabriel Chavarria (‘Hunter Killer – Chase into the Abyss’, ‘The Purge’).
Corpus Christi, Texas, ’80s. Selena Quintanilla lives with her sister Suzette and brother AB, and her father encourages them to sing and play in a small band called ‘Los Dinos’, as a way of making him live his never-fulfilled dream: Selena on the mic, Suzette on the drums and AB on the bass. The golden occasion is presented to him when he understands that Selena not only hums at weddings and events at the family restaurant, but she is breathtakingly good. Considering the economic difficulties that lead the Quintanillas to close the club they owned, Abraham focuses on the children and their commitment, in the hopes that they can become famous as a band.
Thus begin the sacrifices, the night trips in a battered bus and without heating, the missed parties with friends and the obligation to put all your energy into creating songs and opportunities for the group: a raw representation of what emerging singers and artists sometimes have to do in order to achieve what they want. Their father becomes the manager of ‘Selena y Los Dinos’, administers the budget and deals with the record companies, as his children acquire fame.
The show portrays how the queen of Tejano music became an icon in Latino culture both in the United States and beyond. What’s special about the series, is the fact that it details in surprising granularity the many steps she and her family took to grow the singer’s following from local sensation to global superstar through every phase, so from even the most difficult and delicate ones, to the immense glory Selena got thanks to her incredible talent.
Thanks to the series, some of her most famous and incredible songs resurface our memory. From the catchy ‘Bidi Bidi Bom’ with a melody that combines reggae grooves with a more traditional Mexican cumbia; co-written by Selena, it’s one of her later-career Spanish songs and, as we see her performing it in the series, it incredibly starts making sense, because we see it in relation to the hopeless romantic we meet in the Netflix series.
‘Como la Flor’ – one of my personal favourites – kicks off the Netflix series as one of Selena’s biggest crowd-pleasers. Released in 1992 – and later remixed and added to the ‘Dreaming of You’ album – the song’s title and the album from which it came (‘Entre a Mi Mundo’ or ‘Enter My World’), could just as well describe the welcoming and good-natured singer herself.
Classics such as ‘Amor Prohibido’ (included in Selena’s fourth studio album), meaning ‘Forbidden Love’, the song tells the tale of a couple overcoming the societal obstacles put in front of them, and ‘Fotos y Recuerdos’ a cover of the Pretenders’ 1983 hit ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, which is why Chrissie Hynde is credited as a co-writer for Selena’s version of the song, it all makes sense more and more, and us audience can’t help but give strong meaning to the songs once we hear them in the context of the series.
Among the songs that helped establish Selena as an up-and-coming Tejano artist came from her second studio album, ‘Ven Conmigo’, which was released in 1990. The series also features her songs in English, such as ‘Dreaming of You’, Selena’s posthumous English single that is also one of her most popular recordings worldwide. Released in August, 1995 — four months after her death — the sweeping ballad aligned with the pop-R&B sound of the times and became a modest hit alongside the likes of Mariah Carey. ‘Dreaming of You’ also titles Selena’s fifth studio album.
What I have really appreciated of the series, as I previously mentioned, is how real and raw it is. It embodies the difficult and even traumatic path and journey some artists are forced to embark in order to get to fame, and as it is shown in the series, sometimes it isn’t pretty. The series isn’t just a way to commemorate the late singer, but it touches on so many important and delicate aspects that can relate to many people: the negative aspects of a father who becomes more than just an entrepreneur for his own family are explored, while leaving the deepening to the sensibility of the spectator. A group of kids who feel inadequate and overcame by responsibilities, the difficulty of being satisfied in career and private life, especially when you have a prominent role in society, and the perseverance that always pays, and the art of reinventing oneself.
You can listen to ‘Selena: the series’ soundtrack here: