The song that made the musical ‘Evita’, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina would prove to be one of the greatest challenges of Madonna’s career…
It was the film role she fought ferociously hard to secure, and the performance on which the whole project hung, but Madonna’s recording of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, for the 1996 adaptation of Evita, proved the triumphant centrepiece it had to be, undoubtedly helping the “Queen Of Pop” secure a much coveted Golden Globe for Best Actress – Motion Picture – Musical Or Comedy.
The cinematic adaptation of Evita had been an on-and-off objective ever since the curtain rose on the premiere of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber hit musical in London’s West End, in June 1978. Julie Covington’s original rendition of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – covered many times since – had made it all the way to No.1 in the UK a year earlier, and critics raved about the pop/rock opera, which yielded two immediate UK chart hits in the David Essex version of Oh What A Circus and Barbara Dickson’s Another Suitcase In Another Hall (also later a European single release for Madonna).
It was in the 80s, and at the height of Madonna’s first wave of success, when her name became attached to the role of Eva Perón, the activist and First Lady Of Argentina whose life story the musical told. But other artists, such as Liza Minnelli, Meryl Streep and Barbra Streisand, were also briefly rumoured to have won the part. In the end, scheduling and financing issues scuppered these early attempts at the project, which had been attached at different times to directors Ken Russell and Oliver Stone, and it wasn’t until 1994 that serious momentum built around the movie concept once more
Personal parallels: a woman who fought resiliently for her position
Madonna was determined that, this time, the role would be hers. Coming off the back of the controversial Erotica album and its more softly seductive follow-up, 1994’s Bedtime Stories, she sensed that a major cinematic project such as Evita would offer a reinvention, creatively and practically, that would once again force critics to play catch-up. Madonna adores a challenge, and the personal parallels with the former Argentinian First Lady remain obvious: Eva Perón was a woman out of her time who fought resiliently for her position, who was adored by her public, and who proved a serious challenge to the patriarchal establishment.
In securing the part, Madonna wrote a personal letter to the film’s director, Alan Parker, explaining why she felt so drawn to the project, and enclosed a copy of the atmospheric video she had created for her then recent US chart-topper Take A Bow, which enjoyed seven weeks on top of the Billboard listings as part of a stunning run of Madonna No.1 singles. She would later say, “This is the role I was born to play.”
A genius re-recording: one of Madonna's biggest chart triumphs of the 90s
In preparing to record Evita’s soundtrack, Madonna trained hard with a vocal coach – and it showed. During recording sessions, which took place across October and November 1995, she sang with a newly developed, confident upper register that has been put to regular use in her music ever since.
With the soundtrack complete – and due to feature a new ballad for Madonna to make her own: the haunting, Oscar-winning You Must Love Me, which was issued as the Evita album’s first single – the controversy that has surrounded the “Queen Of Pop”’s career from the start followed her to location filming in Argentina, where locals feared for Eva Perón’s saintlike reputation. The unjustified fuss would rumble on until the film’s premiere in December the following year.
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina was an almost inevitable single and, released in its original, delicate presentation on 16 December 1996, strayed little from familiar interpretations, making No.3 in the UK and No.8 in the US. Its chart performance in all markets was bolstered by a genius re-recording which saw Madonna create a flamboyant dance interpretation, called the Miami Mix, with Pablo Flores and Javier Garza. This version topped the US club charts and, when issued as a single, further improved sales. In fact, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina was one of Madonna’s biggest chart triumphs of the 90s – a decade bookended by the global smash Vogue and the commercial and critical renaissance of the Ray Of Light era.
A determined, self-assured performance: the icon at her best
Madonna had first performed Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in Argentina, back on The Girlie Show World Tour of 1993, and it later made brief appearances on some MDNA and Rebel Heart dates in the 21st century. But it’s on celluloid and on that famous balcony in Plaza De Mayo, in Buenos Aires, that its legacy among the best Madonna songs is set. This determined, self-assured performance captures the icon at her best, and this is the song that everyone remembers from any version of Evita.
Madonna’s version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina proved to be the biggest global hit by far (the Glee cast has recorded the only other Billboard Hot 100 interpretation to date) and her dance reinvention – revisited on the recent Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones compilation – remains a highlight in her lengthy and broad musical back-catalogue. It is the crowning achievement of her film career.