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Christian Bautista’s 2004 Ballad “The Way You Look At Me” was Sweet. Nyoman Paul and Andi Rianto’s 2024 Version, However, is Phenomenal

Christian Bautista's 2004 Ballad "The Way You Look At Me" was Sweet. Nyoman Paul and Andi Rianto's 2024 Version, However, is Phenomenal
Christian Bautista's 2004 Ballad "The Way You Look At Me" was Sweet. Nyoman Paul and Andi Rianto's 2024 Version, However, is Phenomenal

Something indispensable was missing from the original version. Fortunately, the modern, 2024 version of the iconic ballad is both an elevation and a redemption.

I still remember when Christian Bautista‘s 2004 ballad “The Way You Look At Me” first dominated the entire Indonesian airwaves.

It was the early 2000s; a time when music was transforming from a strictly audio delight into an audiovisual sensation. Television stations started competing with FM radio stations for music-focused entertainment. And when the Filipino pop singer introduced himself on the television screens across the whole country with his Prince Charming looks and his swoon-worthy music video of “The Way You Look At Me”, no Indonesian eyes and eardrums — especially the female ones — were ever the same again.

The romantic ballad, narrating the magical spell that a single look can cast upon a man’s heart, occupied every microphone, every speaker, and every heart of all hopeless romantics out there. Wedding receptions. School’s talent shows. Mixtapes made by teenagers for their first crushes. The song’s impact was further intensified by Bautista’s classic handsomeness and syrupy tenor. It did not take long for young Indonesians, at the time, to crown Bautista as every maiden’s dream boyfriend. And, despite his nationality, his wholesome Prince Charming formula would later pave the way for future Indonesian heartthrobs such as Afgan, Dikta Wicaksono, and Vidi Aldiano.

As a kid that I was back in the early 2000s, at the very least, I could acknowledge that “The Way You Look At Me” was an infectious pop tune, indeed. Despite the song being presented in English, it managed to be understandable enough by Indonesians, linguistically, without compromising its emotional intensity. In fact, the ballad also taught me how to write a proper double-negative sentence in English thanks to one of its lyrics: You make me believe that there’s nothing in this world I can’t be“. It is not often to find a song that is both deliberately catchy and accidentally educative, so to speak.

Still and all, something was missing. Christian Bautista’s “The Way You Look At Me” was sweet. Adorable, even. But there was something about the Filipino singer’s delivery of the song that did not catapult the ballad, no matter how heart-tugging it was, to a class of timelessness.

Cut to the year 2024, and I have grown a lot older (and wiser) than the impressionable kid I was 20 years ago. When Indonesian pop singer-songwriter Nyoman Paul and Indonesian composer and producer Andi Rianto (the former is still a newbie in the industry; the latter is already a multi-decorated, AMI Award-winning veteran) announced that they were about to team up and release their re-interpretation of Christian Bautista’s “The Way You Look At Me”, my expectation was null. I knew their version was going to be as infectious as Bautista’s. The song’s addictive formula, complemented by Paul’s fresh presence, would turn their version into a likeable serenade, if not an elevated one. Having said that, I remained sceptical about whether Paul and Rianto could add that indescribable ‘something’ that was lacking in Bautista’s version.

"The Way You Look At Me"
“The Way You Look At Me”

Paul and Rianto’s modern take on “The Way You Look At Me” hit the streaming platforms on March 14, 2024. I have listened to it more than 20 times now, and I can confidently say that their version is beyond phenomenal.

No disrespect to Bautista, but Paul and Rianto managed to add the puzzle piece that had been missing in the original version for the past two decades. The key word here, the one element that separates Paul and Rianto’s version from the original as far as Heaven from the Earth, is ‘gravitas‘.

When it comes to vocals and charm, Bautista and Paul could not have been more different. If you want a singer who can make your cheeks blush and make you feel like you are the only fair maiden in the castle, Bautista is your man. His presence was warm, fuzzy, and non-threatening. Paul, on the other hand, possesses a certain, natural edge. It is a masculine quality that cannot be trained, nor can it be taught. Moreover, the raspiness and uncouthness in his vocals add an underlying, emotional torrent that is both seductive and contemplative. After combining those rugged elements with the ballad’s lovey-dovey waltz, the result is, henceforth, magical.

Bautista sang “The Way You Look At Me” as if he were proposing to his long-time girlfriend. Nothing wrong with that, but Paul managed to turn the ballad into something more than just a wedding psalm. Paul sings “The Way You Look At Me” as if he were in his bedroom in all of his lonesomeness, fantasising about an impossible scene in which he confessed his love and bared his feelings on the floor. Paul sings “The Way You Look At Me” as if he were in his car late at night in an abandoned parking lot, calming his heart over a love that he believes he does not deserve. In many ways, Paul understands that wooing a love interest is only easy in theory. His vibrato illustrates the shift that occurs when raw emotions intrude on a man’s pride. Meanwhile, his unexpectedly masterful falsetto echoes a roaring battle between dreams and desire.

Rianto, as the song’s producer, took a big swing by having Paul as his crooner — and he knew exactly how to pull out the singer’s buried potential. The producer, who is also the leader of the exalted Magenta Orchestra, crafted and weaved his orchestral arrangements and instrumentalisations not to shoehorn the song’s emotional message, but instead, to supplement Paul’s hearty turmoils. Unlike Bautista’s smooth-and-silky music production, Rianto decided to turn “The Way You Look At Me” into a musical whirlpool of anguish and tenderness. Furthermore, unlike Rianto’s previous crooners such as Lyodra (“Sang Dewi”) and Fabio Asher (“Since I Found You”), Paul shines the brightest when he is given the freedom to add nuances to his material. Thankfully, Rianto, despite having decades in seniority, was willing to meet his 22-year-old crooner in the middle.

Nyomal Paul (left) and Andi Rianto (right)
Nyomal Paul (left) and Andi Rianto (right)

Understandably, though, some music audiences might remain sceptical of prominent Indonesian artists recycling a proven-like material of the yesteryears. Having said that, sometimes a modern re-interpretation of the classic is necessary because, if done well, it can turn an imperfect piece of music into a riveting one. It is now the year 2024. Society has embraced the fact that love is more than just a romantic proposal on a scenic cliff witnessed by future in-laws. We are knowledgeable enough to understand that experiencing love means dealing with desire, agony, heat, self-doubts, hesitation, and all the heightened emotions a person can imagine. Ultimately, when Paul’s husky growl reaches the coda and sings the lines “I never know what you see / But there’s somethin’ in the way you look at me”, he gives us all the feels — literally, unreservedly, and unapologetically.

Also, who knows? Perhaps, with the help of this 2024 version of “The Way You Look At Me”, Nyoman Paul can redefine what a modern Prince Charming should look (and sound) like.

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