“You Must Love Me” is a song written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber for the film adaptation of “Evita.” “Evita” tells the story of Eva Peron, wife of Argentine President Juan Peron. Eva grew up in a poor family, though not nearly as poor as Eva claimed when she made fiery speeches to her husband’s constituents.
While still a teenager, Eva moved from her small home town to Buenos Aires. She started out as an actress, quickly becoming romantically linked with handsome leading men, talented directors and skilled photographers. But she soon realized that the real power lay in the military and in the government, both of which were extremely unstable at the time.
She began sleeping her way through the ranks and almost immediately set her sights on Juan Peron. Her plan to gain power went something like this: Juan could use the military for their brute force, and she could coax her “shirtless ones” — the working poor who supported her so strongly — into supporting Peron. Their plan worked perfectly, and in 1946 Peron was elected to the presidency.
The nature of their relationship was always unclear. In public they treated each other with the greatest affection, but it was public knowledge that they both enjoyed affairs. A photographer arranged to have their pictures taken holding two puppies. Eva was shown kissing babies. Behind the bedroom door, though, there was little pillow talk and more talk of political strategies.
In the early 1950s, Eva was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She went to a doctor immediately, but it was much too late. She was dying.
“You Must Love Me” is the song Evita sings in the film once she realizes her cancer is terminal. The phrase “you must love me” is sometimes a plea, sometimes a demand and sometimes a question. For instance, in one stanza the lyrics states:
Why are you at my side?
How can I be any use to you now?
Give me a chance and I’ll let you see how
Nothing has changed.
Deep in my heart I’m concealing
Things that I’m longing to say,
Scared to confess what I’m feeling.
Frightened you’ll slip away.
You must love me.
In the musical, Evita is depicted as having thrived on the admiration of her “shirtless ones.” When she becomes ill, she is no longer able to go out to their meetings and hear them calling her name. So she turns to her husband for love. The musical version doesn’t show definitively whether she gets that love or whether Peron merely clings to Eva because he needs her charisma.
Ironically, in real life, Peron met and married a woman who bore a strong resemblance to Eva. Then he obtained Eva’s body, which had been carefully embalmed. He insisted that his new wife hold Eva’s head on her lap and brush her hair. Again, one can’t be sure whether Juan Peron loved and missed Eva so much he couldn’t bear to be without her corpse or if he was still trying to play a political angle – albeit a deeply disturbed one.
Feelings about a loved one’s death can be very complicated. Love exists with so many other emotions that it’s often hard to sort it out. That’s why a song like “You Must Love Me” can offer a certain type of comfort that more traditional funeral songs cannot.