Selena's posthumous album 'MOONCHILD MIXES' revives her youthful vision

The remix project works best as an intro for newer listeners, a testament to Selena's timelessness, and an extra chapter for completionists.

Singer Selena (Quintanilla) receives Grammy Award at The 36th Annual Grammy Awards on March 1, 1994 ...
L. Busacca/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Culture

Though tragically cut short, the life of Selena Quintanilla Pérez, affectionately known as the "Queen of Tejano," forced the music industry to evolve beyond the systemic limitations placed on Spanish-language genres. The Mexican-American singer and frontwoman of the family band Selena y Los Dinos offered a tuneful resemblance to Spanglish-speaking fans of diverse origins, whose lineages were also rooted by Latinxs who had the will to make something out of nothing in the United States. Selena, her drummer sister Suzette Quintanilla, and their multihyphenate brother A.B. Quintanilla III led an effort to broaden the mainstream rhetoric surrounding the musical umbrella term "Latin" and its respective genres being addressed as radio niches. Selena's climb, albums, live vocals, and charismatic stage presence unified ticketholders of all walks of life, taking her from local gigs to a sold-out rodeo show concert at the Houston Astrodome. The singer was killed a month after the televised performance, weeks ahead of her 24th birthday.

Selena's legacy is more than a Grammy win or record-breaking sales — she helped birth Latina stardom. Between the '80s and '90s, her music made listeners feel seen, some of whom may have also grappled with notions of being enough among nuanced identifiers. The late legend's biopic, starring Jennifer Lopez, expanded a perspective that her father and former manager (played by Edward James Olmos) drove home. "Being Mexican-American is tough," he said in the film. "Anglos jump all over you if you don't speak English perfectly. Mexicans jump all over you if you don't speak Spanish perfectly. We gotta be twice as perfect as anybody else."

There was transparency in Selena's fight for her culture, even when she occasionally stumbled with the language in interviews. Her bubbly personality and sincere vulnerability helped revive dialogue around Latinx talent reaching Top 40 platforms, and she proudly displayed the well-fed curves of women whose bodies were not always welcomed by American pop and beauty standards.

Selena was real — and 27 years after her passing, her posthumous album, released with Warner Music Latina, deserves the recognition her father has been vying for. Abraham Quintanilla Jr. helped reimagine ten of his children's earliest recordings and reworked a few renditions of previously released tracks. With the assistance of digital audio processing technology, Quintanilla Jr. aims to keep his youngest's memory alive through MOONCHILD MIXES. The compilation of Selena's teenage workings demonstrates her dedication to mastering her craft, and the songwriting blueprint that affects modern vocalists in Latin music is referenced in its reimagined production.

The title of the LP is reflective of her design house, Moonchild, and the Greek-meets-Spanish translation of Selena's name (Σελένα) — as Selene symbolizes the Titan goddess of the moon praised near the Mediterranean Sea. To many, the singer is meditative of that mythology, as she balanced storytelling elements of Tejano, banda, ranchera, and more while staying relevant in pop culture beyond her lifespan. With posthumous music and brand activations with the likes of MAC cosmetics, Selena's contributions remain iconic, even in her afterlife.

The lead single for MOONCHILD MIXES, "Como Te Quiero Yo A Ti," a regional Mexican spin on the newer pop and cumbia renditions of the same name, fuses guitar strums against horn arrangements, introducing a not-so-teen sounding voice to listeners. Selena y Los Dinos' first arrangement of the opening tune was featured on the tracklist of the band's 1988 album Preciosa. Quintanilla III, the hitmaker's former producer and bass guitarist, stripped down Selena's vocals to mature her tonation and correspond with modern soundscapes. This theme is encapsulated throughout MOONCHILD MIXES with lyrical content that references the prodigy's vision beyond her years.

The love song "Dame Tu Amor (Regional Mexican Version)" extends the more upbeat cumbia deep cut through its piano keys and pitched-down lyrics: "Dame tu amor/ Te lo pido por favor/ Si me quieres, dímelo/ Con un beso de amor y de pasión." In English, the verse translates to: "Give me your love. I'm asking you, please. If you love me, tell me with a kiss of love and passion." Recognizably, the affectionate sonnets by go-to songwriter-bandmates Ricky Vela and Quintanilla III stay true to form three decades after they were penned. Boasting a rhythmic transformation, "No Llores Más" shapes the lovesick melody of "No Llores Más Corazón" and makes it lively in the singer's attempt to seemingly uplift her own spirits.

"Cariño Mío" provides one of the most distinctive moments of MOONCHILD MIXES, bringing Selena's vocal range from 1988 closer to the octave her listeners were accustomed to ahead of her passing in 1995. Still, the album's identifiable percussion and the general preservation of wordsmithing on "Salta la Ranita" was a unique endeavor due to its original vinyl-based sources. Her family aspired to make it feel like Selena had entered the studio again. Selena's brother detailed the year-long process of adjusting her voice in an interview with Good Morning America.

While characteristics of this feat are sonically evident to her loyalists, as her voice sounds digitized on the regional Mexican version of "Corazoncito" and the cumbia version of "Dame Tu Amor," the traditional instrumentation of the songs' production conveys noble intent. The recordings came from a period when Selena was further familiarizing herself with Spanish and developing her craft. "Enamorada De Ti" is postured to appeal to youthful audiences with its tropical-tinged elements, while tracks like "Sabes" follow suit. The latter mix best corresponds with the hopeless romantic compositions Selena and Quintanilla III are esteemed for on the past-meets-present effort.

While it may be difficult to picture the (then) teenaged starlet being friend-zoned, "Soy Amiga" details the relatable ache of yearning to be viewed in a bigger capacity. Whether these LP experiences preceded those of her real life, Selena's commitment to depicting a story through the pockets of eclectic beats was unrivaled. At this moment, she has been gone longer than she was here.

Since the album's release, there has been some controversy among listeners concerning whether or not Selena's voice or instrumentation should have been altered. The album was constructed with the intent to keep up with the times, but many fans feel Selena's musical send-off did not require such efforts for pieces that were already beautiful in their own right. In her lifetime, she set the trends Selena did not need to follow them. Her music has always spoken for itself.

Still, that is the case here, even with its attempts to reflect contemporary themes. MOONCHILD MIXES works best as newer listeners' introduction, a testament to Selena's timelessness, and an added chapter in her story for completionists (the family has ensured that physical copies will be in stores). Quintanilla III's production and Selena's impact on Latinx music has been immeasurable, and MOONCHILD MIXES serves better as an entry point for those becoming acquainted with her sound than as a swan song for longtime fans.