Addition of vocals has changed figure skating soundtrack

Vocal music for single and pair skaters will debut at the Olympics in Pyeongchang

Addition of vocals has changed figure skating soundtrack
Eric Radford, left, and Meagan Duhamel pause on the ice after performing their free program during the senior pairs competition at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia. The duo will skate to Adele's debut single "Hometown Glory" in Pyeongchang. © Jonathan Howard/The Associated Press

By Lori Ewing, Canadian Press

When figure skating's notoriously conservative fraternity decided to allow vocals in music, they opened the door to all sorts of genres.

From hip-hop and Handel to Madonna and Mozart, anything goes. Even profanity.

Canada's two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford will skate their free program at the Pyeongchang Olympics to Adele's debut single "Hometown Glory," and chose the unedited version over the cleaned-up, daytime radio rendition.

"Shows that we ain't gonna stand shit/Shows that we are united/Shows that we ain't gonna take it/Shows that we ain't gonna stand shit/Shows that we are united," Adele sings.

"It's funny, my friends said 'I love the part where she swears,"' Radford laughed, with a shrug that said it's no big deal.

Changes in International Skating Union rules have made the soundtrack at Gangneung Ice Arena unlike any previous Olympics. The ISU voted to allow vocals in music for singles and pairs skating after the 2014 Sochi Games, in an effort to appeal to a younger audience. (Vocals in ice dance have been permitted since the 1997-'98 season.)

Marked on interpretation of music

Music accompaniment had ranged from dramatic scores of movies to canned elevator melodies. Anything pop or rock had to be instrumental only. Fans could expect to hear a couple of "Carmens" in a day of competition, and probably "Swan Lake" and "Romeo and Juliet."

At the recent Canadian championships, Elladj Balde skated to Disturbed's cover of Simon & Garfunkel's classic "The Sound of Silence," both bringing fans out of their seats and reaching for their cellphone to add the hard rock band's song to their personal play list.

Nam Nguyen skated to alternative/indie artist Joseph William Morgan's cover of "Over The Rainbow."

While skaters aren't judged specifically on the music, they are marked on their interpretation of it.

Selecting the right music is crucial.

Figure skaters train and compete to the same piece of music all season long, going over and over a single portion of choreography in one practice until perfect. By the time they take their starting pose at the Pyeongchang Olympics, skaters will have heard their music countless times.

Listening on repeat

Back in 2011, when Kaitlyn Weaver was considering skating to Lara Fabian's "Je Suis Malade," the ice dancer would have listened to the sorrowful song about a broken heart on repeat all day long.

"I'm an obsessive listener," Weaver said. "If I can stand to listen to [a song] on repeat for hours, then I know it can pass the test. But if I get sick of it already without even the choreography yet, then I know it's not the right song."

Weaver and partner Andrew Poje opted to resurrect old favourite "Je Suis Malade" this season, the program that propelled them to fourth at the 2012 world championships.

Duhamel and Radford's short program is to April Meservy's cover of U2's "With or Without You." The singer/songwriter from Provo, Utah, was in the Vancouver arena when Duhamel and Radford skated to her song, thanks to an anonymous fan who sent her tickets for the trip as a Christmas present.

Meservy posted a picture with the two skaters on Instagram, writing: "My heart nearly burst watching @ericradford85 and @meaganduhamel skate to 'With or Without You.' Absolutely one of the most magical and touching moments of my life."

Her profile could blow up when millions of viewers tune in to the skating in Pyeongchang.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan could have fans dabbing at tears when he skates to Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" in his final Olympic appearance.

"Yeah, I hope so," Chan said.

'It's so pure and very simplistic'

He was in the stadium when k.d. lang sang the same song at the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics.

"I remember just feeling the chills go up and down my spine, and never did I know I would eventually skate to that piece," he said. "I love Buckley's version, it's so pure and very simplistic."

Chan's short program is to the 1978 song "Dust in the Wind," by Kansas. (Younger fans might associate the song with Will Ferrell from the movie "Old School.")

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pushed for "Moulin Rouge" as their free dance music in what will be their Olympic finale.

"This is one of the only times in our career that Tessa and I brought the music forward, that we just loved and just had to skate to," said Moir, who first saw the movie with Virtue when it was released in 2001.

It's daunting, said Virtue, to select music that they'll hear on repeat for eight straight months.

"It seems obvious to say you really need to love it," she said. "And the speakers in the arena sometimes lose a lot of the nuances, and details and the layers of the music, so I find when I put my headphones in when I'm on a plane ... I can kind of reconnect with the initial love that I felt when I heard the song. It becomes fresh again."

To which Moir responded: "That's very cool."