Last month, director Craig Gillespie brought the tragic true story of Tonya Harding—a former Olympian with a legacy tainted by an unforgivable scandal—back into the spotlight with his film I, Tonya. Today, Sufjan Stevens has shared his own tribute to the outcasted figure skater in the form of a song dedicated to her rise and fall from stardom. In an essay posted on his label's website, Sufjan outlined the development of his fascination with Tonya:
"I’ve been trying to write a Tonya Harding song since I first saw her skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1991," he writes. "She’s a complicated subject for a song partly because the hard facts of her life are so strange, disputable, heroic, unprecedented, and indelibly American. She was one of the greatest figure skaters of her time, and the first American woman to perform a triple axel in an international competition. She was an unlikely skating star, having been raised working class in Portland, Oregon. Being a poor outsider, her rise to fame in the skating rink was seen, by some, as a blemish on a sport that favored sophistication and style."
Sufjan goes on to explain how the song has been years in the making, but he ultimately refrained from keeping the "puns, punch lines and light-hearted jabs" from his earlier drafts of the song because he "began to feel a conviction to write something with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero." He concludes, "At the end of the day, Tonya Harding was just an ordinary woman with extraordinary talent and a tireless work ethic who set out to do her very best. She did that and more. I hope the same can be said of us all."
Two versions of the song are available to stream now on Spotify.