Note: Most of this was written before our lesson on Andrew Lloyd Webber, which broke my heart. For this reason a lot of the text is me being an adoring fan, I hope you can forgive this.
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is a sentimental ballad by English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice from the 1978 Musical Evita (previously a concept album released in 1976) which chronicles the life of Eva Perón, wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. Evita has also been adapted into a film starring best selling female recording artist of all time Madonna, as well as the famous actor Antonio Banderas as Jonathan Pryce.
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina was an instant hit, topping the charts in the UK, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, and the Netherlands.
Of course, Madonna’s rendition of the song as part of the movie adaptation in 1996 was immensely popular as well, and topped the charts in Europe, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, and Hungary. It also reached the top 10 in the US.
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is (kind of) the first song of the second act of the Musical. After Eva’s husband is elected president, she gives a speech to her adoring fans from the balcony of the ‘Casas Rosada’ (the office of the Argentinian president).
The song Don’t Cry for Me Argentina was meant to invoke an emotional intensity like that attributed to Eva’s speeches, and it succeeds at that, the song is highly emotional, and despite its words being intentionally empty the song stirs listeners’ emotions. It almost sounds like a love song to the entire country.
The composition of this song makes it an excellent example of the classical style, which at a time where the classical style has been mostly replaced by rock and jazz, makes for a kind of a musical renaissance. Perhaps surprisingly, this style remains constant in Madonna’s version.
The resurgence of the song Don’t Cry for Me Argentina into public consciousness is owed to Madonna’s rendition. In 1996 a movie adaptation of Evita was released starring some of the time’s most famous and beloved stars. Madonna was cast as Evita herself, and even received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
Madonna’s high profile and the marketing push by Warner bros brought the song back to the top of the charts two decades after its original release as part of the concept album. Interestingly, Madonna’s version didn’t change much of the song. The orchestration and production remain highly classical, despite Madonna’s style. The main difference between Madonna’s version and the original is Madonna’s vocals, which although are very classical for her, are pop-ier than in the original production.
(As a testament to the song’s popularity – this video has had 25 million views since it was uploaded in 2018)
Some of our criteria which the song meets
(1) Creating empathy
The song reads like a love song, and it tells a story of loyalty, and unwavering devotion.
The song had Madonna’s immensely popular cover, which led to a resurgence of its popularity. But also: I’d consider productions of the musical to be covers of the song – and there are many of those. There was also a cover of this song on the popular television show “Glee”.
For Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, advertising was a big deal. Madonna’s song was pushed greatly by Warner bros to promote the movie, this led to it being played in radio stations all over the world.
Of course, it being part of a musical, and the showstopper at that, makes the story an integral part of the song. While many of the song’s listeners might not associate the song with the pivotal moment it embodies in the story, for those of us who do, the climax of the story is deeply ingrained into the song itself, Eva has done it! she and her husband have reached the top!
(5) Musical tricks
I believe the composition and orchestration of this song are meant to reflect the part it plays in the story, and thus the composition and orchestration are classical, grandiose, but ultimately don’t contain anything extremely special or unique, just as Eva’s speech is charismatic and emotional, but in reality empty, so I’d argue that the song not containing any special and unique musical tricks is in actuality what makes it as good as it is!
That being said, there’s some use of polyrhythm, with the vocals playing triplets and the backing playing eighths, though again, this isn’t an uncommon “trick”.
(6) The vocals
The vocals are usually too hard for an amateur to sing (at least in the same key, at the same octave. That high Db isn’t our friend), and the timbre is operatic, this is unusual for most popular songs. According to Wikipedia Madonna had to undergo vocal training, and ‘developed an upper register that she didn’t know she had’. To me, the vocals with their operatic style sound, in a word, transcendent. By that I don’t mean the vocals themselves, but the tone they convey – they tell us that Evita is transcendent (or at least she seems so in her speech).
“don’t cry for me Argentina” is repeated often. In the musical it is sung at the beginning of the musical (after it is announced that Eva has died), and the song opens act 2.
I feel confident in saying the success of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina cannot be disentangled from that of the Evita the musical – so let’s analyze that too!
The musical, in large part thanks to the immense talent of musical theater legend Andrew Lloyd Webber, arguably the genre’s most prolific composer, as well as Tim Rice, a brilliant lyricist with whom Lloyd Webber collaborated on several other wildly successful musicals, reaped several highly prestigious awards (including 7 tonys!) and has had many productions and revivals.
So what makes this musical so great? In large part its success can be attributed to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brilliance. Lloyd Webber composed as many as 21 musicals since 1968, the most recent of which opened just now in 2021. Many of his musicals have been huge successes, and include songs that reached success and popularity outside of their parent musicals (Don’t Cry for Me Argentina being one of them). Perhaps most notably “Memory” from Cats, by some estimations the most successful song ever from a musical (interestingly this song was originally performed by Elaine Paige who also originated the role of Eva Perón in the original West End production of Evita).
The score of Evita is a pleasure to listen to, it combines highly danceable rhythmic latinae styles (“Buenos Aires”), invigorating rock songs (“A New Argentina“), and classical sentimental ballads (“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina“), sometimes intentionally contrasting the different styles(“Oh What a Circus” – latinae-rock-classical, “Eva Beware of The City“).
These songs are found over the next few pages.
Here is Buenos Aires – an example of one of the musical’s rhythmic latinae style songs.
Here we find an example of rock in the song A New Argentina.
Here we have “Oh What a Circus”, the introductory song (the second song after “Requiem For Evita”). Here we see a mix of rhythmic latinae styles (in the beginning), we hear some rock in the middle, and some classical in a choral interlude near the end.
The difference between Magaldi (the male singer) and Eva who answers him illustrates the clash of their personalities (or maybe just the personality of Eva as Magaldi sees her vs. as she actually is).
Lloyd Webber perfectly suits the style of the song with its plot role, which makes the score enticing, basically a storyteller.
We have an epic beginning in the song “Requiem for Evita“, “A New Argentina” – a sweeping rock song entailing Perón’s energetic political rallies and rise to power, “Lament” the final song, a melancholy classical number in which Eva reflects on her life before she dies.
Personally, this is why musical theater attracts me so much, the music lifts the storytelling and emotional investment in the plot to great heights, and the story, in turn, also elevates the music. Lloyd Webber has mastered the ability of perfectly matching a song to its role in the story. Evita the musical, in my opinion, does this especially well since it navigates the different styles so well, as opposed to some musicals that stick to one genre.
An epic beginning – Requiem for Evita.
Finally – lament. The melancholy reflection on Eva’s life before her death.
The musical was also released at a very opportune time, during the “Dirty War” in Argentina. The Dirty War was a period of state terrorism in Argentina from 1976 to 1983, during which anyone believed to be associated with left-wing Peronism(a political movement based on the ideas and legacy of Juan Perón) was hunted down. This timing added to the musical’s sensationalism, which depicted Evita as a power hungry woman who slept her way to power.
Alsoat the time of the Musical’s release the story of Eva Perón was quite popular – two movies were made on her within a few years of the musical’s release, one before and one after. This in addition to the timing aspect I’ve mentioned earlier contributed to the musical’s success.
Although the criteria we have examined in class might not be especially well suited for examining a musical as opposed to a single song, let’s look at 5 examples of how Evita the musical meets our criteria:
(1) Story – the story of Eva Peron is an enticing one, and she’s been the subject of several books and movies, with all the theatricality that musicals provide, the story is elevated (and of course, embellished) to a captivating experience.
(2) Danceability – The rhythmic latinae style songs are highly danceable! “Hello Buenos Aires”)
(3) Lyrics – The lyrics are at times quite witty, for example in “Eva Beware of the City”
I’m gonna be a part of BA Buenos Aires Big Apple.
(Here we can hear the lyrics “I’m gonna be a part of BA Buenos Aires Big Apple.”
(4) Musical tricks – though this might not really count as musical tricks, there’s something winning about the integration of different musical styles, which I’ve expanded on earlier.
(5) Covers – the musical has had many productions over the years.
Bonus: the song’s exposure
As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the song owes a lot of its popularity to its publicity and advertising, after all – there are many great songs out there, but not all of them can reach as wide an audience. so, let’s ask people! I asked family members, friends, and acquaintances about the song and where they first heard of it. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people knew the song (over half of those asked) and found that the reason people are familiar with the song is largely correlated to their age.
My parents talked about how often the song played on the radio when they were young (presumably the original concept album, created in the late 70s or maybe the original West End production recording). A few colleagues at work in their early 30s heard Madonna’s version all the time in the mid to late 90s. A colleague in his 30s said he first heard it when watching the movie adaptation. Two friends in their 20s first heard it on the show Glee, and a colleague who’s a “huge fan” of Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar heard it on a best hits of Andrew Lloyd Webber CD.
On a more personal note, this song is beloved by my family for 3 generations. My grandad loves this song, and has for a very long time. My parents like it as well, for them the song had two popularity surges during the first 30 years of their lives. I myself obviously like it (in case you couldn’t tell).