In case you missed it, Sufjan Stevens wrote a song called “Tonya Harding” about the figure skater that he was hoping could be used in the Harding biopic I, Tonya. The song didn’t make the movie or its soundtrack, but Stevens still released it in December, as a standalone track through Asthmatic Kitty. Now it turns out that the song’s subject doesn’t exactly approve of the tune.
In a new profile in the New York Times, Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes that during her conversations with Harding, she brought the song up, and Harding didn’t seem that happy that the song exists:
“I told her about the essays I’d read about how we should have been kinder and protected her back then. She doesn’t want to hear it. What do we know about her? We never asked. She doesn’t want anything to do with Sufjan Stevens’ lovely song about her. Did he call her first to talk to her? Did any of those people writing their defenses of her call her up and ask if they could make money using her name? No! ‘Who gives these people permission to use my name?'”
Stevens’ release of the song was accompanied by an essay, titled “Tonya Harding, My Star,” about Harding and the song. In it, Stevens writes that although it may seem like he was trying to cash in on the release of I, Tonya, this song has actually been 27 years in the making:
“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. She’s a complicated subject for a song partly because the hard facts of her life are so strange, disputable, heroic, unprecedented, and indelibly American. […]
I admit, early drafts of this song contained more than a few puns, punch lines and light-hearted jabs — sex tapes and celebrity boxing make for an entertaining narrative arc. But the more I edited, and the more I meditated, and the more I considered the wholeness of the person of Tonya Harding, I began to feel a conviction to write something with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero. At the end of the day, Tonya Harding was just an ordinary woman with extraordinary talent and a tireless work ethic who set out to do her very best. She did that and more. I hope the same can be said of us all.”