Naya Rivera, who was found dead on Monday after a boating trip on Lake Piru in Southern California, was best known for her work on Glee. Her character, Santana Lopez, started in a minor role on the Fox series, but thanks to Rivera’s talent and charisma, she rose to become one of Glee’s primary figures. Over the years, Santana came out, shared a deep relationship with her fellow McKinley High cheerleader Brittany, and even faced off against Rachel Berry once their characters moved to New York — all while dealing with the internal turmoil present on the Glee set. In Rivera’s honor and memory, here are 12 of her standout performances on the show.
“Trouty Mouth” (season 2, episode 16)
In Glee’s first few seasons, Santana came into her own thanks to Rivera’s signature snark and poise, showcased here in her original send-up of Sam (Chord Overstreet), a.k.a. Trouty Mouth.
“Smooth Criminal” (season 3, episode 11)
One of the more outlandish segments from the earlier Glee years — in which Santana and Sebastian (Grant Gustin) aggressively sing at each other over dueling cellos (it was a thing at the time) — “Smooth Criminal” stands out as a number fueled by Rivera’s intense performance.
“Landslide” (season 2, episode 15)
Santana’s place on the show began to expand dramatically as she developed a relationship with Brittany (Heather Morris). Here, she declares her love to Brittany through this Fleetwood Mac cover, a great showcase for Rivera’s more tender side as a performer.
“Mine” (season 4, episode 4)
In another big song for Brittany and Santana’s relationship, the two of them get ready to break up here as they head in opposite directions at the end of high school.
“Songbird” (season 2, episode 19)
“Shake It Out” (season 3, episode 18)
This group number features a standout moment for Santana, who performs among the Glee Club kids consoling Dot-Marie Jones’s character, Sheldon Beiste, after making fun of his black eye. Rivera often had to show anger as Santana, but here she shines with a purer melancholy.
“Girl on Fire” (season 4, episode 13)
Santana’s grand good-bye to McKinley as she heads off to New York gives Rivera a big diva moment (and a dramatic costume change!), and it doubles as the moment when Glee finally recognized her as a star.
“If I Die Young” (season 5, episode 3)
A dramatic showcase for Rivera that came in an episode responding to Cory Monteith’s death, “If I Die Young” feels doubly painful now. It starts with Santana at her snarkiest and ends with her being overwhelmed with emotion, unable to finish the song.
“Rain on My Parade” (season 5, episode 9)
By the time Santana made it to New York, Rivera was getting more of the limelight she deserved on Glee. Here, she enters the auditions for a Broadway revival of Funny Girl, giving Rachel (and by extension, Lea Michele) a run for her money on her signature song.
“Valerie” (season 2, episode 9)
In this episode, Will Schuster makes a very in-character decision to feature the secondary characters in sections. The result leads to a tie with the Warblers, but the Amy Winehouse–esque cover of “Valerie” stands as a clear argument for Rivera’s talent as a featured performer.
“River Deep, Mountain High” (season 2, episode 4)
One of Rivera’s breakout moments came in this duet with Mercedes (Amber Riley) as the two launch into a full-power Tina Turner number. It’s one of those scenes where both actresses’ star power is undeniable, even if their characters often didn’t get the attention they deserved on the show.
“Rumour Has It / Someone Like You” (season 3, episode 6)
Rivera’s best performance is one of Glee’s best performances, full stop. In this episode, Santana is responding to rumors about her lesbianism, is terrified because she hasn’t yet come out to her parents, and is lashing out at Finn because she thinks he’s responsible. The double Adele cover is incandescent, and Rivera gives it all an intensity that is a wonder to behold.