Audiences at the figure skating competitions in the 2018 Winter Olympics have been treated to the usual mix of Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky — but, for the first time at a Games, the song selections here are mixed with Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Coldplay and Madonna.
A rule change that kicked in after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, now allows athletes to skate to music with lyrics and many have embraced the opportunity.
(Ice dancing’s rules vary slightly compared to the other three Olympic skating disciplines, as it has allowed music with lyrics for years but restricts the available options to a pre-determined kind of dance for each competition.)
A quick analysis of the skating music choices at the 2018 Games shows about two dozen contemporary songs with words, not to mention picks from movie, musical and TV soundtracks.
“ is crazy, wild, and fun,” France’s Maé-Bérénice Méité, who performed her short program to Beyonce’s “Halo” and “Run the World (Girls),” told Cosmopolitan of her music. “You can just dance to it, and that’s how I am.”
“I wanted to do something that was very me,” she said, “something fun, something I would enjoy.”
Méité’s mix quickly earned reaction on Twitter — as did the choice of Germany skater Paul Fentz to perform his short program to a Paul Anka cover of the ’90s rock staple “Wonderwall.”
In his long program, Fentz made another water-cooler moment with his selection of the Game of Thrones soundtrack.
Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski, who’s been providing primetime commentary of the figure skating for NBC, said she was a fan of Fentz’s choice.
“It was not his best, but a Lannister always pays his debts,” she said, as fellow commentator Johnny Weir teased her for being “Cersei” for her critiques.
Reviewing the list of the skaters’ music selections reveals more fun — and surprising, even strange — decisions and trends.
The Moulin Rouge soundtrack is a favorite, popping up in at least four different routines, while music from the Ghost musical, Star Wars, La La Land, Amélie and even Schindler’s List has been used at this year’s Olympics.
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Of Rouge‘s particular appeal, the film’s writer and director, Baz Luhrmann, told Vulture: “Yes, it’s a musical, and yes it’s a postmodern musical, but its emotions are operatic. … It lends itself to be expressed as a ballet as well, and in song. They all are very, very natural bedfellows, so to speak.”
Among the poppier picks are Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” Coldplay’s “Paradise,” Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain,” Madonna’s “Frozen” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”
Celine Dion has also been heard, performing a cover of Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” for the short program of Italy’s Carolina Kostner. And Jeff Buckley and U2 have both been covered themselves for routines by Canada’s Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Brazil’s Isadora Williams, among others.
More classically, medleys from both the Beatles and Elvis Presley catalogues were chosen, while Hungary’s Ivett Tóth started to trend with a skate to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and “Thunderstruck,” complete with period-appropriate studded black jacket.
“I feel like I’m at an NFL game. (Or working out in the gym.) She’s wearing what looks like leather biker gear,” the New York Times tweeted sport columnist Juliet Macur . “The old judges are nearly fainting. You be yourself, girl!”
According to the Times, the decision to allow songs with words is in part directly because of figure skating’s appearance as stuffily bound to tradition. The change is meant to boost the sport’s accessibility.
“We have to innovate,” French skating coach Katia Krier told the paper in 2014. “Our sport is already losing viewers, but we have to give people the desire to watch us. I think this could help.
“It’s a double-edged sword, of course,” Krier said. “We have to be careful not to go over the top, but if music with lyrics is used well, it can really bring something more.”
In recent years, skating song selection has seen a sharp increase in rock and pop choices, according to the Wall Street Journal. Music is key to the scores a skater can earn, as they are judged among other things on their interpretation of their pick, but it can have personal resonance as well.
The U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon performed his free skate at these Games to a mix of “Arrival of the Birds,” by Cinematic Orchestra, and Coldplay’s “O.”
“It’s about a bird who is the leader of the flock and then has a broken wing but then regains their strength and they find themselves flying free to victory,” Rippon told PEOPLE in the fall of his music choices. “Right before the national championships last year I broke my foot, so this season I’m coming off of that injury but I’m so much stronger because of that. I never lost sight of what my goals were and I think that program is my story — I’m going to fly free.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.