Sufjan Stevens – “Tonya Harding”
Sufjan Stevens had a busy November, releasing a Thanksgiving mixtape featuring unreleased material from the Carrie & Lowell sessions, and unveiling two new songs (and a remix) that are used prominently in the more critically lauded films of this year, Luca Guadagnino’s controversial Italian romance drama Call Me By Your Name. Today, Stevens released a new song that also seems related to the cinema of the moment: that is, the new, a one-off called “Tonya Harding,” for which he wrote an in-depth accompanying essay. The song, on which Stevens was assisted in production by Helado Negro and previous collaborator Doveman, is backed by an electronic backbeat, handclaps, and spare surges of piano and harp, and it very literally discusses the infamous figure skater’s backstory and legend. Stevens’ statement claimed he ultimately decided to “pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero.”
The song is not associated with the new Harding biopic, I, Tonya, which stars Margot Robbie (Far Out and Pitchfork report that Stevens offered it to the director of a forthcoming Harding documentary to no avail.) Here’s more about Stevens’ earnest appreciation of Harding, who he says he’s been wanting to write a song about since her ’90s heyday, from his essay:
Tonya Harding’s dramatic rise and fall was fiercely followed by the media, and she very quickly became the brunt of jokes, the subject of tabloid headlines and public outcry. She was a reality TV star before such a thing even existed. But she was also simply un-categorical: American’s sweetheart with a dark twist. But I believe this is what made her so interesting, and a true American hero. In the face of outrage and defeat, Tonya bolstered shameless resolve and succeeded again and again with all manners of re-invention and self-determination. Tonya shines bright in the pantheon of American history simply because she never stopped trying her hardest. She fought classism, sexism, physical abuse and public rebuke to become an incomparable American legend.
The song is available on streaming services and Stevens’ Bandcamp; there’s also a YouTube rip set to images of Harding skating which you can watch below.