Five-ring Circus

How to Fix Figure Skating Music

Goodbye, “The Sound of Silence.” Hello, “Monster Mash.”

France's Vanessa James and France's Morgan Cipres compete in the pair skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 15, 2018.  / AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV        (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
France’s Vanessa James and France’s Morgan Cipres compete in the pair skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on Feb. 15, 2018. MLADEN ANTONOV/Getty Images

On Thursday in Pyeongchang, French figure skaters Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres performed their pairs free skate to the nu-metal band Disturbed’s cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “The Sound of Silence.” A lot of people really loved this choice of music, among them NBC figure skating commentator Tara Lipinski. “I love this program on them,” said Lipinski as Cipres tossed James in the air during the part of the song about words falling like silent raindrops. “They actually got 5.5 million hits on YouTube because this was so popular. That’s a moment where figure skating transcends pop culture.”

Tara. Tara. I love your work, but you’ve got to expand your musical horizons. Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence” isn’t just a bad song. I would submit that it was also a bad choice for James and Cipres’ Olympic routine. A metal cover of Simon and Garfunkel would have been a perfectly fine selection for, say, the junior world championships. But this is the Winter Olympics, Tara, and skaters shouldn’t settle for reprising their greatest hits. If they want to win gold, they’ve got to push the envelope with their technical elements and their program components.

This is the first year Winter Olympics skaters have been allowed to incorporate music with lyrics into their routines. (Skaters were previously limited to instrumental pieces.) The athletes and commentators are clearly still adjusting to this new order, as evidenced by Lipinski’s fulsome praise for James and Cipres’ choice of a mawkish, uninspiring Simon and Garfunkel cover. The French pair pushed the envelope with their technical elements—Lipinski’s fellow commentator Johnny Weir praised the pair for having the guts to attempt a throw into a quadruple salchow, even though James didn’t land the jump. (The move, according to Lipinski, has never been landed cleanly at the Olympics.) The duo should have taken similar risks with their musical components.

Thankfully, Justin Peters, figure skating music consultant, is here to help. I’ve chosen five songs James and Cipres should have skated to instead—songs that would’ve been the musical equivalent of landing that quadruple salchow. Watch and learn, Tara Lipinski!

1.    “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” by Hank Williams Jr.

Perhaps James and Cipres wanted to embody human anguish by skating to Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence.” The issue there is that Disturbed’s lead singer David Draiman sounds less anguished than constipated. You know who sang eloquently about feeling adrift in a world he could neither understand nor control? Hank Williams Jr., when he detailed the horrors of being covered in ketchup while awaiting a stressful visit from his rowdy friends:

That’s much better: a truly artistic interpretation of the terrors of life as a bachelor man.

2.    George Costanza’s answering machine message

“The Sound of Silence” is a profoundly lonely song, and solitude is a condition that can be portrayed very poignantly in an ice rink. You know who always struck me as a legitimately lonely person? George Costanza, from Seinfeld. Let’s see how it would look and sound if James and Cipres skated to the dulcet tones of Costanza’s answering machine:


3.    “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

The Disturbed cover of “The Sound of Silence” reminds me of something you might hear in an emo haunted house, one in which the ghosts and ghouls sit in the corner and cry. But if James and Cipres wanted to summon a spooky vibe, it didn’t work. Lucky for them, I’ve got a fix. What could be spookier than this classic ballad about a truly monstrous dance party?

I like this one a lot because it looks like the skaters are themselves pretending to be reanimated monsters. I know Tara Lipinski would love it, too.

4.    “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire

Before Disturbed put its stamp on the tune, “The Sound of Silence” was a famous pop-folk song from the mid-1960s. But Simon and Garfunkel is sort of a cliché, to tell the truth. Why not court some authenticity points by skating to a lesser-known pop-folk song from the mid-60s? “Eve of Destruction,” Barry McGuire’s classic anthem about how we’re all going to die in a nuclear holocaust, might fit the bill:

Who says figure skating can’t be politically relevant? Truly, their gyrations capture the horrors of a world devastated by nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un would’ve had a lot to think about after this pairs program.

5.   “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by Baha Men

At the end of James and Cipres’ routine, NBC commentator Terry Gannon noted that some people in the crowd had risen to give the French skaters a standing ovation—some, but not all. That’s hardly sufficient. Lucky for the French team, I know the perfect way to get everyone in the skating arena on their feet. All they need to do is ask that timeless musical question that’s always on everyone’s minds:


Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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