When the ISU put out an entire press release last month to announce the official song for Worlds 2021, I didn’t pay it much attention. I was more interested in hearing what they planned to do to make the competition safe and prevent athletes from contracting a potentially deadly disease, not hear some random pop song that they picked out for the event.
But now I’ve listened to the song and seen the video and I kind of need to talk about it.
The song is a collaboration between former Eurovision contestants Polina Gagarina and Måns Zelmerlöw called “Circles and Squares.” What do circles and squares have to do with figure skating? As it turns out, absolutely nothing.
The song itself, which instrumentally sounds suspiciously like Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound,” isn’t even about competing, or winning, or trying your best, or anything that could be vaguely interpreted to be related to an athletic event. It’s a romantic, country-pop ballad about two people who don’t fit together but are still drawn to one another. Pretty standard pop fare, but not something that makes a whole lot of sense for a figure skating competition.
In fact, a lot of the lyrics suggest exactly the opposite of what one would want in skating. First, there’s the repeated lines, “Let me fall apart / Then fall into your arms,” which is basically the antithesis of the ISU’s whole “Up Again” campaign. There’s also this section: “Always in drive / That’s you and I / Headlight to headlight / Till we collide.” Firstly, that’s a driving metaphor. Second, colliding is a thing in skating and it’s very bad.
One of the biggest hooks in the song says, “Every time that I think we’re getting somewhere / Out of nowhere / Hit rewind.” When I imagine that being played at the World Championships, I imagine it being played over images of a skater having an unexpectedly poor outing and being upset with their performance, not someone standing triumphantly on the podium. Not ideal for your supposed “anthem.”
Then, there’s the video.
We first meet Zelmerlöw, a sad, flannel-wearing Zamboni driver who spends a lot of time sweeping one specific part of this extremely dark and empty ice rink.
After a few shots of him resurfacing an already perfectly smooth rink, we jump backstage to Gagarina lacing up a pair of clearly brand-new Edea Overtures (which don’t have nearly the support needed for the kind of moves we see her stunt double doing later, but I digress). The video then cuts back and forth between her singing on a bench, him passionately singing with a broom and occasionally lip-syncing the wrong words, and the two of them singing at each other while actual skaters perform pairs maneuvers in the dark.
At first, I was confused about why the video uses a skater/Zamboni driver romance, a la Disney’s “Ice Princess.” Why not have him also be a figure skater in this song supposedly about figure skating? But then I remembered that this song is about a heterosexual romance. We couldn’t POSSIBLY show the man doing something like FIGURE SKATING. He’s a MANLY MAN who wears FLANNEL and drives the ice rink equivalent of a PICKUP TRUCK. He can only imagine skating in his dreams and even then, he must be wearing the obligatory straight-man-skating-costume of a black button-down. No rhinestones allowed.
So not only does the song have nothing to do with skating, the video is maybe underhandedly dismissive of half of the athletes competing at the event it’s meant to celebrate. Very cool.
So why have the ISU done this? Why this song? Honestly, who knows.
Apparently, Gagarina and Zelmerlöw were approached by the Swedish Figure Skating Association to create the song, which features a host of other notable names from the Eurovision world. Perhaps the plan was to get press based on those connections to attract the attention of fans outside of the figure skating world. If so, you’d at least think they’d ask that the song be about skating in some way.
It’s not as though writing a good, marketable song about skating is impossible. Look at the Helsinki 2017 anthem, “Light Up the Ice,” the opening of which is still used in official ISU events. Or the Milan 2018 anthem “Fire on Ice,” which was later used as an official entry in the Europa Song Contest and was good enough reused for the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin.
Or forget it, just use “History Maker” from “Yuri on Ice” for every event from now on. I certainly wouldn’t be angry about it.