GLEE Naya Rivera  'Mash Off'  2009. photo Adam Rose  © Fox  Courtesy Everett Collection
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Naya Rivera's 13 Best “Glee” Performances as Santana

In celebration of her life, we remember Naya Rivera's best performances on "Glee."

Following the tragic passing of actress Naya Rivera, fans are mourning the loss of the former television star. The news hits particularly hard for Glee fans who grew up watching Naya's character Santana command attention every time she appeared on the screen.

For many, Naya's portrayal of Santana made them feel seen as she played a high school student who fell in love with her best friend and dealt with the complexities of coming out. For the Latinx community specifically, Santana was one of the only on-screen depictions of a queer Afro-Latina. For the LGBTQ+ community, Santana's storyline of coming to terms with her sexuality was groundbreaking in many ways.

Through her role on Glee, Naya changed and saved countless lives. Her voice and talent played a tremendous role in the show, and those performances will live on forever. Who could forget Santana's iconic monologues when she would read someone to filth without a second thought — and then break into song? 

As many begin to memorize the star, we rounded up 13 of Naya's most iconic performances on the show that still to this day make us marvel in her talent.


Santana leading the One Directions with "Valerie" can best be described in one word: spectacular. This performance showed off Naya's full range, not only as a singer but as a dancer and performer in general. Her stage presence is unmatched; It's impossible to take your eyes off of her.

"River Deep, Mountain High"

The synergy between Santana and Mercedes (Amber Riley) in this performance is extraordinary. The high belting, the sass, the booty shaking—this performance truly had it all. It was always a special occasion when these two queens got to perform together. While it didn't happen often, their collaborations reign as standout performances.


In one of Santana's most intimate, personal moments, her performance of "Songbird" showed fans a whole new side to the often sassy cheerleader. With her rendition of this famous song, Santana tells best friend Brittany (Heather Morris) that she "loves you like never before," expressing her romantic feelings for the first time. At this point in season two, Santana has yet to feel uncomfortable addressing her sexuality publicly. Yet with "Songbird," she opens up a new chapter in life and on the show, and Naya's beautiful voice lends itself perfectly to the songs emotional tone.

"Smooth Criminal"

Santana sets the whole tone of this performance by prefixing it with, "You may look the villain out of a cheesy 80s high school movie, but you should know that I am fully prepared to go all Danny LaRusso on you a*s," a comment directed at the Warblers, a rival glee team, who have just injured one of the New Direction's members. And as expected, she does go fully Karate Kid on him. In a black suit-dress and fedora, Santana serves serious boss vibes throughout this performance.

"Don't Rain on My Parade"

Let's be real: Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) needed a wakeup call when she finally made it to Broadway. And Santana was the perfect one to give it to her. The pure power she gives off in this performance is undeniable. She storms into the auditions to be Rachel's understudy in Fanny Girl and blows the roof off the theater. Her rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade" — that climax though! — is one word: historic.

"Rumor Has It/Someone Like You"

Long live The Troubletones! Whoever conceptualized the idea to have a glee group led by Santana, Mercedes and Brittany was a true genius. Not only is this mashup spot-on, but when Satana enters by belting the chorus to "Someone Like You," it goes down into history as one of the best performances of that season. There's something so special about seeing these three women performing together, without a care in the world for anyone who might try and stand in their way.

"Make No Mistake (She's Mine)"

In this emotional duet with Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) Santana expressed her love for Brittany once again in such a moving way. Jealous of Brittany's new relationship with Sam, she used the song as a way to show how permanent her love is for Brittany, even if they're no longer dating.

"Survivor/I Will Survive"

This performance is one that lives so clearly in my memory to this day. Performed by Santana, Mercedes and The Troubletones, this mashup of "Survivor" and "I Will Survivor" showed full-on girl power. Everything about it is perfect: The choreography, their voices, the metallic gray dressed—it is all just on point.


In a rare moment between Santana and Rachel, the two prepare for Funny Girl on Broadway while singing along to Katy Perry's "Brave." It's a touching and beautiful moment between the two vocal powerhouses.

Girl on Fire

Let this be the surefire example of how Santana had, without a doubt, one of the strongest voices on Glee. Her voice lends itself so flawlessly to this Alicia Keys hit, and — as a former theater kid myself — the range of her belt is so rare and so amazing.


Speaking of her range, Naya showed with this performance that not only can she nail powerhouse songs like Girl on Fire, but also emotional and touching ones like Mine. Each time Santana professed her love to Brittany through song became a highlight of Glee. And that is the power of representation.

"Cold Hearted"

Santana gave EVERYONE a run for their money with her rendition of "Cold Hearted." This song plays perfectly into Santana's darker side, which we always love to see.

"If I Die Young"

This performance needs no explanation. Performed as a tribute to Finn's (Cory Monteith) death, the song now holds double the meaning. R.I.P Naya Rivera, and thank you for changing our lives.