I’ve always liked U2's 1987 single “With or Without You,” ever since I first heard it many years ago, in a montage of Rachel and Ross from Friends fighting or breaking up or almost breaking up, whatever. The details from the episode escape me now, but the feeling of the song remains—it is a tender and poignant track, a good old-fashioned balm for a broken heart. And it holds up in a big way—the song inspired a heartfelt bedroom cover decades after its release, one so moving its been used at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
On Wednesday, Canadian figure skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford competed in the pairs short program to a cover of “With or Without You,” recorded by Provo, Utah-based singer-songwriter April Meservy. Speaking to the Toronto Star, Meservy, who is in in PyeongChang this week to see Duhamel and Radford perform, says she recorded the song in one take in her friend’s basement following a breakup. As she explained how she felt to her friend, he started playing the opening chords to the U2 song, and they decided to record a cover of it:
“I had just been in tears and I didn’t feel exactly like doing a song, and I hadn’t prepared for anything. But it was just in that moment when he played the chords...what was so interesting to me, and so painful but beautiful is that it allowed me to kind of grieve through the song. Every single line I felt like I could identify with. We got done, we did the one take, and we left it at that.”
Meservy released the song last year, and it found its way into the hands of Julie Marcotte, Duhamel and Radford’s choreographer. She played it for the skating duo when they were gearing up for the Winter Olympics last spring. Once they heard it, there was no going back, as Duhamel writes on her blog:
Her voice was raw, powerful and captivating, and Julie, Eric and I sat there in tears listening to it. There was no plan B after that. This was it. It had to be it...listening to April’s version of “With or Without You” gave us all hope. It gave us hope for the future, hope that we, as a team, would be back [at the Olympics] and hope that we really could evolve and grow our skating to a level it has never been.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Meservy said that when she read Duhamel’s blog, she started to cry, and thought about buying a plane ticket to see them in PyeongChang. And then, as if this story couldn’t get any more emotional, someone anonymously sent her the money so she could afford them. (Somewhere, someone is fashioning this story into a Lifetime or Disney Channel original movie.)
Does it sound too good to be true? Indeed, it does—but people do crazy things! This whole story is kind of nuts and overwhelming, but that’s also what the Olympics are all about, secretly: feels.
You can catch Duhamel and Radford’s performance Wednesday, February 14 (Valentine’s Day!) at 8 p.m. EST on NBC—or watch them skate to Meservy’s cover earlier last month, at the Canadian National Championships, in the video below.