Throwback Track: “Tonya Harding” by Sufjan Stevens

By Elizabeth Triscari, Photo via

It was 1991 when Nancy Kerrigan was smashed in the knee by a police baton, wailing while the rest of the world tried to make sense of it. In time, it was discovered that Tonya Harding, Kerrigan’s competitor, was behind the attack. Well, not behind it – it was her husband and his acquaintance that planned it without her knowledge. That didn’t matter. Up until very recently, it still didn’t. The way the world saw it, Tonya Harding was a “low class” girl from Portland, and Nancy Kerrigan was America’s princess, with her blue-blood features and elegant skating outfits. Sufjan Stevens planned the release of his new track “Tonya Harding,” perfectly alongside the release of “I, Tonya”, and it’s nothing less than heart-wrenching. Stevens, in all of his poetic genius, coos his affection for the girl with seemingly limitless ambition, who rose above poverty and abuse to become perhaps the best figure-skater in the U.S., only to be docked points at every turn. She was too unique to go unnoticed – she was a record-holding vintage race car driver, a boxer, she publicly saved a man’s life, even. Nevertheless, she was still considered an insult to the sophisticated sport of figure skating, still just rough-hewn trailer-park trash donning homemade costumes. But she was persistent, bleeding and spinning with brilliance until the fate of Nancy Kerrigan became irrevocably entwined with her own. Stevens wonders, “Has the world had its fun?/ Yeah they’ll make such a hassle/ And they’ll build you a castle/ Then destroy it when they’re done.” Even so, I’m glad that Tonya is being redeemed for her endless humiliations, and Sufjan is more grateful than anyone. The song is a soft ballad, almost a lullaby, for America’s forgotten princess. It’s lovely and a bit melancholic, but imbued with so much heroic context and gentle honesty that it instantly rises above the litany of love songs on your Spotify playlist. Put it on, close your eyes, and listen to the modern day equivalent of a bard lamenting the fall of a god-like Greek hero.


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