Posted by: Manuel Delgado | April 3, 2010

The two Selenas

Beautiful Selenas

I’m so totally excited. Selena just launched her oh-so-cool clothing line at K-Mart. Which is like, awesome, since it means that it will be not only cute, but affordable.

There’s also a wax museum, Madame Whatever, that just put up a statue of her. Check this out – the dress and shoes the statue is wearing came from Selena’s closet for real!

And… O… M… G… did you hear that she and Nick Jonas broke up again?

But wait. I digress. That’s not the Selena I wanted to talk about. That’s Selena Gomez.

I was thinking about the other Selena. Selena Quintanilla, also from Texas, the Queen of Tejano Music. The one that was murdered at 23 and changed the Hispanic world.

Virtually unknown to Anglos, her death shocked millions of Latinos. The New York Times compared her demise to the shooting of John Lennon, and Texas Monthly went as far as saying that for Latinos, her death was “darker” than JFK’s assasination (“The Queen is Dead“).

A third generation Latina that did not speak Spanish, Selena was “forced” into Tejano music by her dad, also a musician.

She once said about Tejano music: “When dad first introduced us to it we were like, no you can’t make us play it. There were times we would come in to practice and we would start crying, ‘We don’t wanna learn this music.’ ”

Reluctalntly, she learned to sing her Spanish songs phonetically – and this became her ticket to fame.

Not only she was the first Tejano artist to win a Grammy, but she was the only Latin artist, and only female artist ever to place 5 consecutive albums in the Billboard 200 top selling albums. This feat had only been accomplished by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Garth Brooks.

Major brands quickly noticed her. She appeared in ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, AT&T and Southwestern Bell… but only to target Hispanics.

Her death, more than her life, had an impact on the way non-Hispanics perceived the potential of the Hispanic market.

It made non-Hispanics aware of the Tejano music phenomena. It was also the genesis of People en Espanol, the leading Spanish-language magazine in the United States. From Wikipedia:

[People en Español] emerged after a 1995 issue of the original magazine was distributed with two distinct covers, one featuring the slain Tejano singer Selena and the other featuring the hit television series Friends; the Selena cover sold out while the other did not.

While at the time of her death, Selena was on her way to becoming a mainstream artist, that transition had taken years. Selena had to become succesful by marketing herself to the Latino niche. Fast forward 15 years and look at the other Selena. What a difference one generation makes.

What makes the Selena vs. Selena comparison relevant is how easily Gomez has become a mainstream artist. Selena Gomez is not a Latina artist just for Latinos, but a popular artist that happens to be Hispanic.

An interesting aspect is that the young Selena is named after the original one.

“My dad and family loved her,” said Gomez once. “So when my mother got pregnant with me, he wanted to name me Selena, after her. As I got older and could understand why I was named after her, I went to go visit her grave and where she used to perform.”

Last February, Selena Gomez paid direct homage to Quintanilla by singing “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” at the San Antonio rodeo (watch her performance).

And on March the 31st, when people were remembering Selena Quintanilla on the 15th anniversary of her death, Selena Gomez had 4 times more mentions in the news than Selena Quintanilla on that day.

Her roots don’t define her audience, or pre-determine the kind of artist that she is. How mainstream she has become shows how the general market has evolved in just a few years.


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