"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," Sufjan Stevens writes in an essay about his new single. Submitted for the biopic I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie (but not used in the film), it is a quintessentially quiet song for a figure who was "feisty, fierce, and full of athleticism."
Stevens loves complicated heroes who, for better or worse, represent something unmistakably American: Harding was a working-class athlete in a sophisticated sport, and she left an impression on him for years.
"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."
You can watch "Tonya Harding" set to her performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1991 above, and listen to two versions of the song below.