Jenni Rivera died four years ago today (Dec. 9) in a plane crash in Mexico. On the anniversary of her death, we revisit our remembrance from 2012.
Jenni Rivera was a woman on the verge. On the verge of a major crossover, having become the first Latina ever to sign a production deal to star in her own TV series on a major U.S. network and about to have her own residency in Las Vegas. On the verge of a cinematic career, having played her first role in a major film, Filly Brown. On the verge of fulfilling her dream of becoming the “Latina Oprah,” with the continued success of her weekly radio show, Contacto Directo con Jenni Rivera.
On the verge of massive stardom in Mexico following her stint as the most popular coach on season 2 of La Voz. And, most important to her, after years of being the sole provider for her family, she was finally finding the time to truly enjoy her children and her grandchildren.
At the time of her death, Jenni Rivera was the single most successful woman on the Billboard Latin charts, although for many, that fact was only apparent following explosive reaction to her demise.
The seasoned, outspoken Rivera alone was that girl, raised by immigrants, getting by on her wits and hard work, doing whatever it took to raise her kids. She had walked in fans’ shoes, suffered the indignities of failed relationships, hardship and abuse. She understood their travails, their two-timing men. She was their girlfriend, their mother, their idol, the one who shouted to the world that it was possible: You could come from nothing and become a diva, a strong woman, a role model, a good mom. In the realm of Latina stars of any stripe and field, there was no one else like Rivera: She was a cultural icon who represented the U.S. Latina demographic.
Her fans, she said, “want to see what I’m singing about. They want to know very important details in my life. They’re into my stories and they believe that what I’m singing sounds true to them. They know I’m just like them. They know I’m real. I’m not some untouchable artist. I’m just a woman that sings. And they like to see someone like them succeed and make it.”
Rivera was real to a fault. In a media landscape full of perfect beauties and unspoiled princesses, Rivera wasn’t only happy to flaunt her imperfections, she sang about them. And her fans loved her for it.
“I heard so much negativity around me,” she recalled of her beginnings in 1999. “How could a single mom, a woman who looked like Jenni Rivera, achieve anything in the music industry? Back then, labels fabricated artists. I wasn’t that fabricated act. And it turned out that those who heard me on the radio or bought my albums at swap meets lived what I lived and that was the connection.”
The connection lasted because Rivera never wavered from that path. She sang about women, for women and remained almost ridiculously accessible, incessantly returning tweets, opening her life to viewers in her reality show I Love Jenni, and finally, allowing fans direct contact via her radio show, open to callers. At the core of her many enterprises was Rivera’s background as a businesswoman who understood the power of her brand.
“When I saw that my life was interesting and intrigued so many people on television, I thought, ‘I’ll use my name in my own terms,’” Rivera said when she spoke at the Billboard Latin Music Conference in 2012. “I’m going to be the businesswoman that I am and I will produce TV shows and I will have a radio show and I’ll have my own businesses. That’s what I thought back then, and now, finally, we’re making it happen.”
More than that, however, Jenni Rivera’s story was one of possibilities, of hard work, of aspiration. She was a Latina who embodied the American dream.
“I want people to remember when they think of Jenni Rivera, she struggled,” Rivera told Billboard. “And yet, if you stand and keep on going, you can make it.”