Naya Rivera's 15 Most Iconic Glee Performances That Clinched Her Superstar Legacy

When Glee became the must-see TV show in 2009, Naya Rivera's Santana Lopez quickly became one of the most beloved characters of the high-school musical dramedy. Though she was originally meant to be a minor antagonist with a sharp tongue and salacious methods, Rivera's vibrant personality, hilarious one-liners, and undeniable vocal power shot her to series regular by season two. She was casually cruel in a way that was both terrifying and endearing, solely thanks to Rivera's ability to bring out her vulnerability through her defensiveness.

Santana's nuanced exploration of her sexuality resonated with many viewers and her relationship with Heather Morris's Brittany S. Pierce (the source of several heartbreakingly stunning covers from Rivera) became one of the show's focal plots throughout the series. They flirted, fell in love, came out to their parents, and eventually got married. And while the "Brittana" love story was a huge part of Santana's journey, her sojourn from closeted high school mean girl to an out-and-proud artist was beautifully fleshed out by Rivera's graceful portrayal. Rivera's role on Glee helped change queer representation in television — especially for Latinas. She sang her way to self-discovery, a life filled with love, and a legacy as one of the most fascinating characters to grace our screens.

In remembrance of Rivera, who died while boating with her 4-year-old son, we're looking back at her most extraordinary Glee performances from Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird" to Alicia Keys's "Girl on Fire."

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"Be Okay" From Glee Season 5, Episode 13

One of the rare duets Rivera shared with costar Lea Michele, their rendition of Oh Honey's "Be Okay" is a lovely example of how seamlessly the singers' voices melded for perfect harmony. It's a breezy cover with a sweet message that can still bring a smile to any listener's face.

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"Valerie" From Glee Season 2, Episode 9

This remains one of Rivera's most well-known covers on the show. It's the first time the singer takes center stage during the group's sectional competition and she knocks it out of the park. Rivera's sultry vocals are on par with Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson's rendition and her performance made viewers recognize that she was far from a background player.

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"Back To Black" From Glee Season 2, Episode 21

Rivera and Winehouse are an unbeatable combination. Though Rivera's voice isn't as throaty as Winehouse's, she captures the impassioned tone of every song to a T. This performance is short and sweet, but it fully flaunts Rivera's range.

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"River Deep, Mountain High" From Glee Season 2, Episode 4

Anytime Glee was smart enough to pair up Rivera and Amber Riley, viewers reaped the benefits. The two vocal powerhouses come together for a rousing rendition of Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," and I'm still wondering how anyone thought they could compare with them. If there's a nearby church, this performance will take you there and give you a sermon to change your life!

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"Here Comes the Sun" From Glee Season 5, Episode 2

Glee regularly welcomed a bevy of celebrity guest stars, but I'll always be grateful for Demi Lovato's short stint as Dani. The "I Love Me" singer starred as a struggling artist who becomes Santana's romantic interest and gave us this unforgettable duet of "Here Comes The Sun." It's lowkey and intimate, which is just right for such a sweet moment between the two young women.

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''Girl On Fire” From Glee Season 4, Episode 13

Alicia Keys's "Girl on Fire" was the perfect choice for this Glee moment. The performance showcases Rivera's incredible vocal control as she hits the highest of notes and depicts Santana taking charge of her future after dropping out of college.

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"Smooth Criminal" From Glee Season 3, Episode 11

Glee had more than its share of ridiculous performances, and this one is no different. I'm still not 100 percent sure why this duet happened, but I'm not upset about it! Rivera and guest star Grant Gustin's rendition of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" is made particularly outstanding thanks to the cellist duo 2CELLOS, but their vicious performance makes it so much fun to watch!

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"Shake It Out" From Glee Season 3, Episode 18

While Glee is well-loved for its outlandish plots and schemes, we can't forget the quiet, poignant performances that moved us. This rendition of Florence + The Machine's "Shake It Out" is one such performance and it showcases how Rivera and her costars masterfully used their voices as acting tools as much as they did anything else. You can hear the emotion in their notes.

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“Landslide” From Glee Season 2, Episode 15

This emotional performance from season two is another example of Rivera emoting through song and it's a beautiful ode to the beginning of Santana's relationship with Brittany.

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"Mine" From Glee Season 4, Episode 4

Breakup songs are never easy to get through, but it's hard not to fall in love with Rivera's rendition of Taylor Swift's "Mine." It's soulful, a little sad, and filled with love.

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''Alfie'' From Glee Season 6, Episode 6

As final solos go, Rivera definitely made hers count. Reunited with her grandmother after she disowned her for coming out, Rivera pours her heart out during a grand performance of "Alfie" from the titular film and it's stunning in its simplicity.

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"Songbird'' From Glee Season 2, Episode 19

You've probably noticed that a lot of Santana's significant solos have to do with her relationship with Brittany, and this performance shows why that's the case. Rivera managed to project so much love and heartache into this rendition of "Songbird" that it takes a minute to remember it's not real.

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"If I Die Young" From Glee Season 5, Episode 3

Rivera's delivery of The Band Perry's "If I Die Young" left many fans devastated. Sung during the Cory Monteith tribute episode, the performance is so raw and real, you can feel the pain as Santana breaks down before the end of the song. The heartbreak takes on new meaning now, as Monteith died seven years to the day that Rivera's body was found.

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"Don't Rain On My Parade" From Glee Season 5, Episode 9

Though Michele's Rachel Berry made this song a hit for the show in earlier seasons, Rivera's version of the Broadway tune is remarkably different. More upbeat and rhythmic to match Rivera's speed, the song gets a new life with the rendition and demonstrates how the actress could tackle any song without care.

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"Rumour Has It/Someone Like You" From Glee Season 3, Episode 6

This Adele mashup is arguably the best in the entire Glee series. The performance feels heavy because of everything going on unspoken by Santana and her peers, and the song perfectly suits the tension of the situation. Rivera flawlessly depicts the cheerleader's anger and fear as she sings alongside her friends, and allows a glimpse at her vulnerability that Santana rarely leaves unguarded. It's a stunning performance that shows the duality of the character and the skill of the actress.