Naya Rivera was reported missing on the 8th July and since that day there have been out pours of tears from fans and co-workers alike. Naya touched a lot of people, whether it was those who knew her personally or those who resonated with her characters.
Naya’s portrayal of Santana Lopez was one of the most iconic contemporary TV moments and she impacted me more than I actually realized. From her take no prisoners attitude to her heart of gold, Naya’s portrayal of Santana resonated with me since her debut and long after Glee ended I found myself always embodying elements of her personality, she gave people strength, courage and hope. But her best attribute? Her voice. In this post I will be looking at Naya’s top 10 performances on the show.
But let’s do honourable mentions first;
Landslide – Landslide saw sex-ed teacher Holly Holliday (Gwyneth Paltrow) guide Brittany and Santana through their relationship. Santana had came out to herself and was ready to accept her love for Brittany, but at this point she was not ready to admit it out loud. The entire performance is dimly lit with the entire focus on the three character singing, it’s beautifully done and one of Naya’s best acting performances in the show. It would’ve made the top 10 had Naya actually sung more in the song, but unfortunately she and Heather were singing backing vocals, with both of them having a solo line in the episode version. Naya harmonizes great with people, especially two actors-who-happen-to-be-singers, which isn’t easy to do. She sounds beautiful as usual.
Gloria – A Season 5 highlight was Gloria, a song performed at the peak of Santana and Rachel’s feud, context-wise the song’s meaning isn’t relevant. The song is sung as a trio alongside Elliott (Adam Lambert) with Santana and Rachel trying to battle it out for his attention. Naya handles herself along two massive belters very well, her voice goes great with Adam’s and compliments his “in your face” tenor perfectly as she supplies an underlying harmony. As Adam and Lea belt their way through the second half- to the end Naya finds herself doing a lot of ad-libs and runs which are timed perfectly and you often find yourself listening out for her rather than the two belting divas. (Side note; Lea is bothered by Naya’s performance, you often see her watching her and she even forgets to lip sync at times)
Problem – The Unholy Trinity’s final performance together. When it was announced that Problem would be sung, it caused a bit of a stir as Ariana was the girl Big Sean cheated on Naya with, but let’s just assume there was no bad blood. The performance is a classic glee performance, completely ridiculous and entertaining. Quinn, Santana and Brittany leading the cheerios through a choreograph fuelled performance on the football field with absolutely no care for budget or realism. Naya actually handles herself very well on this song, being originally sung by an airy Soprano like Ariana I was a bit hesitant when I listened but Naya said YOU will believe I am a Soprano right now. She annihilates the pre-chorus and belts those F#5s and G#5s like they were NOTHING. I was incredibly impressed. She also does the rap. I love Naya and don’t want to be negative so we’ll move on.
Now we move onto the Top 10, these will mostly be solos and duets, but there are few group numbers where she was the stand out and there was enough to go on for a proper analysis.
#10. Bad Romance – Season 1, Showmance.
This is a group number sung by the girls and is often lauded as Santana’s breakout performance in the show. She sung prior to this but Bad Romance proved that Naya can not only support down to a D3 live, she can belt and lead an entire massive song. In the show, she’s a little stiff during the choreo, but she’s not the best dancer. She makes up for any stiffness with her incredible sex appeal and stage presence. Naya sings the entire chorus and also does such an incredible job on the bridge which shows off the dynamics of her voice, going down to D3/G3 and belting as high as C5 towards the climax. She then owns the entire ending of the song by doing slick runs and belting over the final chorus. Definitely a stand out performance for Naya and a very strong taste of things to come.
This was a pivotal episode for Santana, she was going toe to toe with Finn throughout the entire episode and the climax came when the Troubletones challenged the New Directions to a game of dodgeball… for some reason? (God I miss the sheer ridiculousness of this show!) The song is essentially a duet between Finn and Santana. Naya blows Cory out of the water, but no one is shocked. (He does well though!) She shows the dynamics of her voice again by going as low as D3 during the bridge and belting fifth octave notes throughout the final moments of the song. The attitude that Naya brings to the song is what pushes it over the edge, this is a perfect song for her (She sings One Way or Another) and I’m sad it was never a full song.
#8. Back to Black – Season 2, Funeral.
I go back and forth with this and her cover of Valerie from earlier in the season, but I believe Naya did a better job with this and captured the true “Amy-ness” of the song. Naya was always the go-to for Amy Winehouse on the show and her raspy tone is the exact reason why. She knew how to channel the essence of Amy through her voice without completely losing her own sense of originality. She goes for a “pop-py” take on the song rather than leaving it fully in her lower chest and having it all bluesy. More than likely due to the fact her vocal tone sits higher than Amy’s so it would be uncomfortable, however she still gave a stellar performance. In the episode Santana sung this for a shot at the solo at Nationals but loses out to… shock! Rachel. (It should’ve been Mercedes anyway because that cover of Try a Little Tenderness was IT)
#7. Shake It Out – Season 3, Cry.
We’re back to another trio performance. This time it’s with two of the most unsung heroes on Glee, the other victims of Ryan Murphy’s racism; Mercedes and Tina. I’m a total fanboy for all 3 of these characters, so this was really just gorgeous for me. Even if the arrangement is a little less fun, given the context of the song it was forgiven though. Santana, Tina and Mercedes sing it to Coach Beiste after finding out she’s being abused by her husband. The harmonies are simple; Jenna does the lower harmony, Amber does the higher melody and Naya does a supporting mid, as well as a nice belt in the middle. Naya opts for the higher chest register for this song, which is what she usually does for down tempo-almost ballads. Her voice blends beautifully with Jenna’s and Amber’s and together they make one of the best vocal performances on glee. There isn’t a huge amount of range utilized in this song, but she makes use of her other talents such as her soft tone and her emotional range.
#6. The Boy is Mine – Season 1, Laryngitis
This was a song Glee did perfectly, they added a stupid theatrical element to the actual performance and it was perfect. The phone call at the start, the wrestling over Puck (The less said about that the better) and the fact there was a chorus being sung by… no one? This is the first Santana and Mercedes duet on the show and the (Second) best one they’ve done. Naya and Amber’s voices go incredibly well together and Naya knows how to keep up. The MVP of this song is easily Naya’s agility in her runs, she’s able to support down to a C#3 and do agile runs- she also has a few impressive moments in other third octave notes, such as the G#3 run she does which is gorgeous.
#5. Nutbush City Limits – Season 4, Diva
If we’re talking just vocals, this is probably Naya’s best vocal performance on the show (Or at least top 3) The way she commands the attitude of the song with that raspy/almost shrill belt style that Tina Turner has and still manages to put her own spin and twang into it is quintessential Naya. There are so many upper belts here for her to explore, Naya is usually given more runs in the fourth/lower fifth octave to do on Glee and her solos are usually story driven and aren’t big vocal moments. But this was a different story. Performed in the context of coming back to McKinley… for? I’m not sure. But she sung the sh!t out of it. Managing to sustain a G5 belt before topping it off with an A5 belt, it’s perhaps my most favourite vocal moment from Naya. Chills every time.
#4. Rumour Has It / Someone Like You – Season 3, Mash Off
Again, a big episode for Santana, and at the climax of the episode it’s time for the Troubletones to perform… probably the best overall song that’s been done on Glee. An Adele mash-up sees Amber and Naya (And Heather a bit..) team up for another stellar performance. Amber takes most of the MVP high notes but Naya’s emotional delivery on the Someone Like You verses are killer. Sadly left out of the performance version is Naya’s middle verse of Rumour Has It which she delivers with so much conviction and emotion and an excellent voice crack, it’s hard not to say she’s better than Lea Michele. For Glee’s 300th performance, they let the powerhouses take over.
#3. If I Can’t Have You – Season 3, Saturday Night Glee-Ver
Santana’s delivery of this song is perhaps one of my favourites in the show, because it’s pure comedy. In the Disco tribute episode (Well, it’s Saturday Night Fever) she’s having trouble figuring out a path, with the help of friends she finally realizes what she wants to do and performs If I Can’t Have You to her potential stardom. Not to Brittany her girlfriend, no the love song isn’t for her. It’s for being a star and being famous. She delivers the song in her classic Naya Rivera way, there’s some nice runs she does, but there’s nothing spectacularly amazing about it, I just personally think the comedy behind it is too good not to place it high.
#2. Songbird – Season 2, Rumours
One of the most emotionally charged performances on the show has Santana confess her love for Brittany, through song she can express it better. The song and the performance are all a plot device for Santana to come out, to which she agrees but chickens out at the last minute. The song showcases Naya’s incredible emotional range, because at this point she’s sung a lot, but hasn’t had a proper emotional moment through song. Naya’s acting in the episode is enough to induce tears, you can hear the love and pain channelled through her voice which ultimately bring out one of her best performances. Her soft airy vocals run throughout and she manages to bring a bit of dynamic to a song that is more emotionally demanding than vocally.
#1. River Deep, Mountain High – Season 2, Duets
The best song on Glee. Period. We see Amber and Naya team up for their second duet and vocally it blows everyone out of the water. No one expected this sort of vocal from Naya, especially on this song and paired with Amber, not only does she keep up she actually manages to outdo Amber sometimes. (Only sometimes, Amber still has that Bb5 in the bridge that is untouchable) Naya handles the higher harmony in the chorus and without strain belts for her life. There’s even a Naya-only version where you can hear the true power and essence of her voice.
I decided to not put If I Die Young in the ranking, as I believe it to be too close to home at the moment to rank among other songs.
Naya Rivera was truly one of the most talented performers on Glee. She portrayed a lesbian Latina character and was the first of her kind, she was a passionate supporter of LGBTQ rights and just an all around incredible person. The world lost an incredibly talented, funny, loving person. Rest in power, Naya.