Sufjan Stevens’ New Song About Tonya Harding That I Am Certain I Dreamt Up Even Though Other People Are Acting As If It Is Real

It’s been a year since Yuri!!! on Ice turned every lesbian weeb into a figure skating fan. That means the posts that currently cross my Tumblr dashboard can be divided into three major categories and the intersections thereof: shitposts from Nichers, gay stuff, and the first Olympic sport in which my athletically disinclined soul has shown any interest.

Last week, my girlfriend invited me to a Discord server for ice skating gays, and today I saw a message that had my soul slowly levitating out of my earthly form like a frightened anime protagonist.


I clicked the link. I listened. After a quick Google search, I determined that “Tonya Harding” is a “real” Sufjan Stevens song. However, I refuse to believe that such a perfect fusion of Niche and winter sports can exist in real life, and therefore I have to conclude that I am, simply, asleep.

Like all millennials, I dream of nothing but social media. It was only a matter of time before my sleeping brain combined Niche-favorite Sufjan with this iconic video of Tonya sobbing while skating to the raptor attack theme from my favorite film, Jurassic Park.

A little more about Tonya for those who aren’t steeped in memes about knife shoes: She grew up poor in Oregon and rose to the top of American competitive figure skating in the late 1980s and early 1990s, neck-and-neck with “Ice Princess” Nancy Kerrigan. Tonya’s career, however, came to a surreal end after her ex-husband hired a hitman to break Nancy’s leg so Tonya would win the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Nancy’s leg wasn’t broken by the attack, so she recovered and got silver. Tonya got eighth place and 500 hours of community service. The fact that she let her ex-husband hire a hitman, then later that very year skated to “03 – Incident at Isla Nublar” is a piece of dramatic irony for which I will never stop thanking the universe.

Anyway, here is my somnambulant analysis of “Tonya Harding” by Sufjan Stevens, a song that I will, no doubt, soon be disappointed to discover does not exist in the waking world.

“Tonya Harding” features a catchy tune that will haunt me even when the lyrics I created in my sleep have faded from my conscious memory. I don’t know shit about describing music, but who among us isn’t familiar with Sufjan’s wispy, lilting tone that betrays his true nature as an ageless forest spirit and perhaps a distant relative of Johnny Weir?

“Tonya Harding, my star,” begin the words that my unconscious mind wrote as my eyes were moving rapidly beneath my closed eyelids. “Well, this world is a cold one/But it takes one to know one/And God only knows what you are.”

Dream!Sufjan is spot-on, empathetic yet honest. He is setting up a question for the listener: What is Tonya? Is she a monster? A victim? Or something in between, cold but human nonetheless?

The lyrics go on to describe Tonya’s unlikely beginning and her powerful but inconsistent skating. Like me, Dream!Sufjan is impressed that Tonya was the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in a short program. He then alludes to Tonya’s aforementioned crying jag during her performance at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics:

Are your laces untied?
What’s the frown on your face for?
And just what are the skates for?

Tonya claimed a lace had broken. In an unprecedented move, the judges allowed her and her long-suffering coaches several minutes to frantically fuss with her skates before restarting her program. It is a scene best summed up by one commentator’s remark: “Amazing.” No surprise, really, that my dreaming brain would find a way to refer to it in this heartbreakingly imaginary song.

Now tell me, which is your good side?

Here my unconscious, speaking through Dream!Suf, correctly implies that Tonya’s image suffered during this program and the media frenzy surrounding the attack on Kerrigan.

Nancy Kerrigan’s charm
Well she took quite a beating
So you’re not above cheating
Can you blame her for crying?

And here, Dream!Suf gently and viciously goes for the kill, much like our favorite symbolic velociraptor.

By this point in the song, I was beginning to dissociate inside my own dreaman experience with which I had previously been unfamiliarso, frankly, I don’t remember much of the end. But I think the last stanza I do remember pretty much sums it up:

Tonya Harding, my friend
Well, this world is a bitch, girl
Don’t end up in a ditch, girl
I’ll be watching you close to the end

Well said, me.

Unless my sleeping mind is confused about what day it is, a biopic called I, Tonya that stars Margot Robbie is coming out tomorrow. I’d wager that in the coming weeks, you can expect more Tonya-related tributes to spring fully-formed from my hard-at-work sleeping brain. Watch this space for more.

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