If you found the figure skating competition at this year’s 2018 Winter Olympics more exciting than usual, you’re not alone. Following the 2014 Sochi Games, a rule change in the world of skating loosened the song selection process, enabling athletes to soundtrack their jumps and spins to music with lyrics. (For pairs ice dancing, lyrics have been allowed for about a decade.)
While many skaters still stick to the classics when choosing what to perform to — selections from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Bizet’s Carmen remain standard fare across the ice — others have started experimenting with pop and rock. New favorites popped up during the PyeongChang skating events, including pretty much anything by Coldplay (thanks, Shib Sibs and Adam Rippon!), covers of tear-jerker “Hallelujah” (shoutout to veteran skater Patrick Chan), and nods to bands like the Beatles, Snow Patrol, and Muse. (Plus lots of “Despacito” for the Latin-themed part of the competition and a smattering of Ed Sheeran and Adele tunes.) But a number of performances stood out in particular for their unorthodox selections. Medal winners or not, here were the Olympics’ most memorable routines when it came to the music, from a Beyoncé selection to an Elvis impression.
“Back in Black,” AC/DC
Hungary’s Ivett Toth made quite an impression during the women’s short program, busting out the AC/DC for an instantly-viral show on ice. Skating to legendary rock tunes “Back in Black” and “Thunderstruck,” Toth even matched her outfit to the theme, donning a black leather-like studded pant-and-vest combo. The reaction? Total delight on the part of the internet, which was shocked out of a classical music slumber by her unorthodox choice.
“Man of La Mancha” from Don Quixote
When skater Javier Fernandez took to the ice for his long program, he chose a classic piece of music: “Man of La Mancha” from the Don Quixote opera. It was a fitting selection for the proudly Spanish athlete, who ultimately took home the bronze, Spain’s first skating medal ever at a Winter Olympics. (Turns out that, unlike Don Quixote himself, Fernandez wasn’t dreaming an impossible dream at this Olympics after all.) Suited up in an appropriately romantic country-style blouse, Fernandez won the internet’s heart with his charming style, elegant skating, and the sultry Spanish guitar strains of his music choice crescendoing into a dramatic finish, proving that even old-school favorites can have a place in skating’s new landscape. Fernandez had said before that the music was meant to resonate with fans back home, especially as he continues to grow the sport’s popularity in a country not best known for ice sports.
“Run the World (Girls),” Beyoncé
There was bound to be some Beyoncé at the Olympics. French skater Maé-Bérénice Méité brought the Queen to the ice with her short program, performing to the beloved singer’s iconic and empowering song “Run the World (Girls)” in a high-energy routine that got the party started at the rink. (She also mixed in “Halo” for good measure.) Méité also bucked norms in true Bey style by eschewing a typical skirt for a bedazzled bodysuit. One can imagine Beyoncé would definitely approve. “I wanted to do something that was very me, something fun, something I would enjoy,” she told Cosmopolitan of her distinctive music choice.
“Wonderwall,” Paul Anka
Not everyone was aware that there’s a jazz version of the Oasis classic “Wonderwall.” But a big band jazz version sung by Paul Anka does exist, and German skater Paul Fentz decided to bring it out into the world’s attention with his short program for the team event early on in the Olympics. It became an instant online lighting rod for discussion — was it blasphemous to cover the original grunge-rock hit in this way? Or was Fentz’s choice appropriately out-there for Olympic ice? In any case, it put him — and his musical proclivities — on the world’s radar.
“Game of Thrones” theme from Game of Thrones
Fentz continued to raise eyebrows with his music selections, putting on a Game of Thrones-themed performance for his long program in the individual event that included faux-chain-mail costuming and the theme song of HBO’s blockbuster medieval fantasy show. He even nodded to the character of Jaime Lannister with a bit of red fabric at his sleeve, an insider reference to the knight’s severed hand. The inherent drama of the song gave gravitas to his skating, although he was ultimately unable to fight his way up to medaling status. At least he clearly had fun with it.
“El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge!
Viewers around the world fell madly in love with gold medalist ice dancers Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue of Canada this year — thanks in no small part to their memorable Moulin Rouge! medley for their long program. First seen during the team event, and then reprised in their individual performance, the passionate rendition of “El Tango de Roxanne” (and tender reprise of “Come What May”) won fans of every nation, including Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann himself — and fanned the flames of the rumors surrounding their own relationship. As it happens, Virtue and Moir weren’t the only skaters to decide to bring the movie to life on the ice this year. No fewer than five others, including American pair dancers Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, also had Moulin Rouge! as their music, sparking a debate online about the evergreen appeal of the 2001 movie and boosting the soundtrack back onto the iTunes charts.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Elvis Presley
Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada decided to pay tribute to the King for his free skate program, playing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” followed by a bit of “Rip It Up” for his routine. He took the character even further, dressing up in a studded black outfit with a purple neck fabric and sparkly belt that referenced Elvis’s own iconic looks. While some were fans of his rock ‘n’ roll routine, not everyone believed he sold it with his performance. Kolyada ultimately assisted with his fellow Olympic Athletes from Russia in snagging a silver medal in the team event, although judges apparently found his Elvis impersonation a bit lackluster in the men’s individual event; he placed eighth.
“Let Me Think About It,” Fedde Le Grand and Ida Corr
Adam Rippon was the undeniable breakout star of the 2018 Winter Olympics; he can now count Reese Witherspoon, Britney Spears and Gus Kenworthy among his biggest fans. He became PyeongChang’s official sweetheart through a mix of social commentary, viral interview quotes, and flawless skating routines. While his emotional long program to Coldplay helped Team USA win a bronze medal, it was his individual short program that brought the party to the ice rink. Ida Corr’s “Let Me Think About” remixed by Dutch DJ Fedde Le Grand was an inspired choice for Rippon, who made full use of the popular 2000s dance track to show off his moves — and his personality, calling the routine “a little trashy, a little fun.” Of course, coming from the skater who has previously performed to his own cover of a Rihanna song, it should be no surprise that he’s willing to take risks to put his talents in the best light. (And singer Corr approved of his song choice, for the record.)
U.S. ice dancing siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani have been Coldplay fans for a while, first starting skating to “Fix You” back in 2016 as the beginning of a trilogy of routines. Their love for the band culminated in their “Paradise” performance at PyeongChang, where they earned the bronze medal in the team and individual events thanks to their effortlessly synchronized routines. “Their music has helped and inspired us to become the skaters we always hoped we could be,” Alex once wrote of the band soon after seeing one of their shows this fall. “When we skate to Coldplay, we are Maia and Alex. We are truly ourselves. We tell our story, dream our dream, and live in our Paradise.” Coldplay is a pretty natural choice for ice dance, thanks to the soaring melodies and emotional lyrics Chris Martin is known for; the Shibutanis weren’t the only ones who decided to make use of a Coldplay tune. The internet couldn’t help but notice.
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