A report by Rebecca Jennings for SB Nation.
Once upon a time, figure skating was a demure, dignified sport in which, for music, you basically had to choose between a Broadway musical, a ballet, or like, one of the three operas anyone’s ever heard of. You’d do some jumps and spins to it, and that was that. Judges loved the music. Audiences expected it. Choreographers knew what to do with it. All was well.
That was, until, all was not so well in the world of figure skating. For the last decade or so, TV ratings have fallen. Kids aren’t signing up for lessons like they used to. Americans aren’t winning Olympic medals. The “six-point-oh” is gone and nobody understands the new scoring system.
So what’s a sport to do when nobody wants to watch another seventh-place American skate to an instrumental medley of Phantom of the Opera for the hundredth time?
ADD SOME DAD ROCK, BABY! [one million air horns]
After the 2014 Sochi Games, the International Skating Union officially allowed ladies, mens and pairs skaters to compete to music with lyrics. This means Pyeongchang will be the first Olympics in which, alongside the usual dosages of Swan Lake, you will also be treated to the music of British pop star Ed Sheeran and a truly bizarre big band cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.”
For anyone who retired from competition pre-2014, this is all extremely weird (and clearly a sort-of-embarrassing ploy for relevance). On the other hand, it will also be incredibly amusing to behold. Below, the most insane music that the world’s top figure skaters will perform on the Olympic ice, ranked in order of how excited you should be to watch them.
23. A suave Michael Buble medley
The country of Latvia is not particularly known for its figure skaters, but what it lacks in relevance, Deniss Vasiljevs’s free skate makes up for in pairing modernized jazz standards with spandex blazers. Pro tip: Skip to 3:27 for some incredibly gifable dance moves.
22. “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
Listen, I wouldn’t be surprised for competitors to skate to bands like, say, Coldplay. But show me a single 17-year-old who has even heard of the 2006 song “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. This isn’t even like, the original version or anything. For whatever reason, however, the U.S.’s Vincent Zhou is the sole exception to the teens-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-Snow-Patrol rule. I am shocked.
21. “With or Without You” by U2
To be fair, this is actually a pretty nice arrangement of this song, but still. Canadian pairs team Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford could have picked a song that does not exclusively belong to Ross and Rachel.
20. Uh … Kansas? And not even the good one?
Watching Patrick Chan’s short program makes me incredibly annoyed that instead of skating to the far superior “Carry On Wayward Son,” he chose the far more boring “Dust in the Wind.” Whatever song he had picked will not make the experience of hearing Kansas at the Olympics any less strange.
19. Santana, and again, NOT EVEN THE GOOD ONE
It should be a felony to skate to a Santana medley that does not include either a) “Smooth” ft. Rob Thomas or b) “Maria” ft. Rihanna, which is technically called “Wild Thoughts” and is by DJ Khaled, but whatever. Anyway, Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin of Spain should be in jail now.
18. Ed Sheeran, and NOPE, NOT THE GOOD ONE
Ditto for Ed Sheeran. You have one choice: “Shape of You” or nothing.
17. “Candyman” by Christina Aguilera
This choice wouldn’t be quite so bonkers if it weren’t for the extremely literal costumes attached. Russian pairs team Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are out here looking like actual M&Ms while skating to a song called “Candyman.”
16. Game of Thrones
Once again, here’s a not-all-that-insane music choice, but this time it’s paired with a what appears to be a medieval knight costume from the Halloween aisle of a CVS.
15. That very loud Imagine Dragons song
The weirdest part about Moris Kvitelashvili’s free skate is how at first, it starts out with very boring piano instrumentals, until you realize it sooorta sounds like “Radioactive.” And then, out of seemingly nowhere, we get the beat drop of “Believer” alongside some very bizarre arm-heavy dance moves. It’s a whole thing.
14. This incredible dad rock medley
Ice dancing, which is ballroom dancing except on ice, has actually always been allowed to use music with lyrics. It has not, though, been quite as inundated with classic rock as it is this year. This particular program by Canadian team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pairs a samba with “Sympathy for the Devil,” a rhumba with “Hotel California,” and a cha cha with “Oye Como Va.” Go tell your dad, he’ll be psyched.
13. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but sad
It’ll take you more than a few seconds into Brendan Kerry’s short program to realize that he is in, in fact, skating to the Tears for Fears song. But once you get to about ¾ of the way through (at around 2:00 in the video above), you’ll be like, why the fuck does this rendition sound as dramatic as O Fortuna? Who thought to make this?
12. An extremely goth “Paint It Black”
Speaking of sadder versions of classic rock, here are Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor of Australia, who have somehow turned the 1966 Rolling Stones song into what sounds like an Evanescence single from 2003.
11. “Hava Nagila”
Trust me, you will lose your shit when the main melody drops and Oleksii Bychenko of Israel starts his footwork sequence (around 2:53). This is his answer to Jason Brown’s “Riverdance” program, I swear.
10. That song that’s in every sad movie trailer
Its technical name is “How It Ends” by Devotchka, but I like to refer to it as “The Repressed Feelings Re-awakener.” Skip to around 2:50 of his program and you’ll suddenly start missing your sixth-grade boyfriend or weeping over a dying desk plant. It’s actually a great piece of music to skate to, but goddamn Dmitri Aliev for making me cry at work!
9. Celine fuckin’ Dion
Although one of her competitors will be skating to “The Prayer,” 30-year-old Italian Carolina Kostner knows that there is only one way to honor the queen of all music ever, and it is by choosing a song in which she belts in her native langue canadienne-française.
8. “Human” by Rag ‘N Bone Man
Show this video to your unmotivated emo child who “just isn’t into sports,” and afterward, trust me, they will be. Czech skater Michal Březina’s free skate involves both an incredible health goth ‘fit and slicked back Hitler hair, making him the official Olympic choice of angsty white teens everywhere.
7. AC/DC’s most hockey-friendly songs
Props to Ivett Toth of Hungary, who’s skating to the two songs most associated with that other sport that takes place on ice: AC/DC’s “Back in Black” followed by “Thunderstruck.” Additional props for the studded, sleeveless leather vest and the choice to wear pants rather than a dress or skirt. (Fun fact: Prior to 2003, this would have been illegal.)
6. A big band cover of “Wonderwall”
What starts out with a snoozy instrumental jazz ends up being one of the most bizarre skating programs I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the 1995 Oasis hit “Wonderwall,” but if a lounge singer was doing it. Now, in no universe do we need a big band cover of “Wonderwall,” but I respect Paul Fentz of Germany’s commitment to both ‘90s britpop and suspenders.
5. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but Lorde
Tears for Fears is having quite an Olympic year, which is maybe the strangest sentence anyone’s ever written. Canadian pairs team Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau are somehow the second to skate to a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but this time it’s by Lorde, which is one zillion times more exciting than that other one. Honestly though, if you’re going to skate to Lorde, would it have killed you to pick something from Melodrama?
4. Ed Sheeran, but this time it’s the good one!
All I wanted out of this Olympics was for someone — anyone — to skate to “Shape of You.” And even though it’s ice dancing, and people care a whole lot less about ice dancing, and even though they finished it off with the Ed Sheeran song that is the most unlistenable of all (a.k.a. “Thinking Out Loud” a.k.a. the wedding one), I’ll fucking take it.
3. “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang
Even judging by French skater Chafik Besseghier’s starting pose, you can tell this isn’t going to be Just Any Program. Not only does it kick off with one of the most iconic hip-hop songs in the world, it ends with C2C’s “Down the Road,” that French electronic song you’ve definitely heard before even if you think you haven’t. Basically, there’s a whole lot going on here, and that’s not even including his bizarre race car driving(?)-inspired getup which, if anything, serves to remind us all that skating is not just a sport. It’s an ~art~.
It did not win at the Grammys, but this year, “Despacito” wins a far more important musical accomplishment: the most-played song in ice rinks at the Olympics. Not one, not two, but THREE ice dancing teams will perform the inescapable Latin crossover smash for their short dances, one team from Poland, one from South Korea (above), and one from China. Although this may seem like a highly improbable coincidence, it actually makes a lot of sense — in the short dance, teams are required to perform specific dances, and this year the requirement is a rhumba rhythm plus a Latin American or Caribbean-influenced rhythm. And what Latin- and Caribbean-influenced song was literally inescapable for the entirety of 2017? [Insert Spanish guitar opening riff]
Mark your calendar for Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. EST, because that’s when Maé Bérénice Méité of France, dressed in a majestic black and gold unitard, will transform Pyeongchang into Beyongchang. Though it’s not until around 1:40 in the video above that you’ll hear Beyoncé herself singing (the first half of the program is a breathy cover of “Halo”), when the beat to “Run the World (Girls)” drops, every sports bar in the world will be screaming, or at least they should be. Though it hasn’t always been this way, from now on, this is what figure skating is about. I, for one, truly cannot wait.