“Tonya Harding my star, this world is a cold one, but it takes one to know one.” That is how Sufjan Stevens opens his new song, “Tonya Harding,” which is a tribute to the woman he calls “America’s sweetheart with a dark twist.” The song plays over footage of Harding’s 1991 U.S. National Championship program in which she landed the famed triple axel, becoming the first American (and second woman ever) to land one in competition. It’s … strangely emotional. Stevens wrote an essay to accompany the song, in which he writes, “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’re probably assuming the song is for the upcoming biopic I, Tonya, but it’s not. Stevens offered it to director Craig Gillespie, who turned it down, but perhaps it exists better on its own — an independent ode to a woman who’s lived the most American of experiences: being wholly embraced and then gleefully destroyed by the fickle public and brutal news cycle. “Has the world has its fun?” Stevens asks in the song, “They’ll make such a hassle and they’ll build you a castle, then destroy it when you’re done.” Damn.