We’ve already counted down the biggest beefs of the year (not including Azealia Banks), but it’s not too late to cover one final mini-controversy before we close the books on 2013. Beyoncé’s certified platinum “visual album” has spent multiple weeks at #1 and was hailed as an artistic triumph everywhere except Target and Amazon. Now we can add some ex-NASA folks to the small list of Beyoncé detractors.

The album’s lead single “XO” (which Bey wrote and produced with The-Dream and Ryan Tedder) begins with a sample of NASA’s Steve Nesbitt recorded at the moment of the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986: “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.”

Former NASA employee Keith Cowing took issue with that in a post on his NASA Watch blog:

The song that follows these words about Challenger is certainly catchy – but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Challenger and the sacrifice that their crew made that morning in January 1986. Instead, the song has to do with the trivial life event of a girl breaking up with her boyfriend. The music video shows them playing at an amusement park. Having this audio included in such a song serves to mock the severity of the events and loss that these final words represent.

This choice of historic and solemn audio is inappropriate in the extreme. The choice is little different than taking Walter Chronkite’s words to viewers announcing the death of President Kennedy or 911 calls from the World Trade Center attack and using them for shock value in a pop tune.

If this was done with full knowledge of the origin of these words then this is simply repugnant. If this was done without due diligence as to the source of the words being sampled, then this is ignorance. Either way Beyoncé owes the families of the crew of Challenger an apology.

June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger Commander Dick Scobee, has also expressed disapproval. “We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song ’XO,’” she said in a statement. “The moment included in this song is an emotionally difficult one for the Challenger families, colleagues and friends. We have always chosen to focus not on how our loved ones were lost, but rather on how they lived and how their legacy lives on today.”

And ABC News reports that “several current NASA astronauts, who are not authorized to speak publicly, privately expressed similar dismay at what they say is Beyoncé’s use of a tragedy to sell a pop song.”

Here’s Beyoncé’s response:

My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster. The song ’XO’ was recorded with the sincerest intention to help heal those who have lost loved ones and to remind us that unexpected things happen, so love and appreciate every minute that you have with those who mean the most to you. The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten.

Note that the criticisms all come from former employees and family members of former astronauts. The agency itself has offered no judgment, and it’s worth remembering that Beyoncé, who hails from Houston (home of NASA’s training center) recorded a personalized wake-up greeting for astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011:

Watch the video for “XO” below:

Comments (55)
  1. lol I like how she blames the “songwriters”

    • What a fucking cop out. Way to pass the buck Beyonce, you coward. The song has your name on it.

    • lol. she did her job. she sang all the words to this year’s crop of the boring beyonce songs they write for her. but her ass looks better in the videos than it ever has before – post-baby and in her 30s no less – so she did 100% of her job.

      • see, look what a good job beyonce did on her new album:

        if you have a problem with the actual music, take it up with the little people she pays to handle that stuff.

        • Beyonce is a corporation. Typical story, re: who wrote Bootylicious:

          Rob Fusari said in 2010 he alone had the idea for the song and had wanted to use a guitar riff from the song “[Eye of the Tiger]]” but after not being able to find it used a similar riff from the Stevie Nicks song “Edge of Seventeen”. After hearing Beyoncé claim credit for the song in an interview with Barbara Walters, he telephoned Mathew Knowles,
          And he explained to me, in a nice way, he said, “People don’t want to hear about Rob Fusari, producer from Livingston, N.J. No offense, but that’s not what sells records. What sells records is people believing that the artist is everything.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know, Mathew. I understand the game. But come on, I’m trying too. I’m a squirrel trying to get a nut, too.”[9]

  2. But what does Morrissey think about all of this???

  3. also in regards to the “the songwriters” thing….

    maybe so many people kiss her ass and give her so much credit and think she’s so great because the end product, which she is the spokesperson of, is all that matters. ok, fine. i’ll give you that one.

    i personally disagree that someone deserves so much praise when, apparently, that person is just one of many workers on the assembly line, despite the end result.

    • This is kind of nitpicking and not a rebuttal to your main point about Beyoncé specifically, but the last bit about praising an artist who is just one of “workers on an assembly line” feel weird to me. I mean, can’t you make the argument that this idea broadens to much, much music that we listen to? Kanye’s collaborators and producers, for example, arguably influence his music to the point where it’s in a completely different place. As a more unorthodox example, from what I understand a band like The National, who does wield considerable control during the recording process, still owe their producer/mixer for the insanely good drum sound on Boxer – how much different would the album be without it? I guess what I’m saying is that nearly all music is a collaboration between the artist and a bunch of people behind the scenes, so if we start calling people out on it we really have to broaden our praise all around.

      • Politely have to disagree jennyiintrouble. The National write genuine, emotive songs from the heart. Beyonce is sexy affectation to the core and it is in fact trite pop. I don’t see how any reasonable person could compare the two. Tim, you are quite correct. When collaborators, outside producers and writers comprise nearly 95% of your record, that doesn’t exactly reinforce the idea that you have a singular artistic vision. Trent Reznor is gifted enough to nearly do all the creative leg work himself, as is Prince. Very few people are gifted in that capacity, and there aren’t many singular artists gifted enough to be doing that today.
        In regards to the sample, in Beyonce’s defense it may be in poor taste but it doesn’t seem to be calculated and callous. On the subject of Beyonce, If I want to hear smart woman fronted pop, I’ll listen to Santigold thank you very much.

  4. Hmmm, I’m curious as to the thought process behind deciding to include that soundbite before the song… maybe this just goes to show how detached some folks are from tragedies outside of their recent memory, as Bey was probably 6 or 7 years old when it happened. It sure as shit would be a different decision had they considered using soundbites from 9-11 airplanes, or a panic-stricken phone call from someone in New Orleans who was about to be flooded out of their home.

    Keith Cowing is right though, it is a damn catchy tune.

    • Yeah, she was 6 or 7 years old, but I was under the impression that the Challenger disaster was particularly ingrained into the consciousness of a lot of children who grew up in the 80′s?

      I wasn’t born yet, but I have a lot of cousins who were in elementary school at the time, and all of them (of the ones who grew up in the U.S. at least) have a vivid memory of watching the shuttle lunch on T.V., because among the passenger was schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe — and consequently, many teachers and schools organized viewings of it? Some of my teachers remember this as well, but I could be wrong.

      If so, however — and especially in a city like Houston where NASA has a big presence — I wouldn’t be surprised if Beyoncé was watching or at least very aware of it as a young child, and (I’m totally being a Beyoncé apologist, but I try to be optimistic) it wouldn’t surprise me if it was among the first times she became aware of like, the delicateness of life or something.

      I don’t know. However — I DON’T THINK IT WAS NECESSARY OR TASTEFUL — but I did try to understand why it was included, as I immediately recognized the soundbite before the song started and was very, very caught off guard. It is relevant to the song’s theme of mortality, etc. but still probably not the best decision.

      • (and by probably not, I mean definitely not — but it doesn’t change the fact that I think the song is incredible, I just wish she’d issued an actual apology because, let’s be real, it doesn’t add that much — and an audio clip from a relevant movie would have been even more effective without being insensitive)

      • I just wanted to chime in to say that I was one of those kids in 2nd grade watching the Challenger launch on live TV in class. I went to Catholic school, and as soon as the shuttle exploded, the TVs were turned off and we went straight to church to have a special Mass said for the crew. I still remember the priest talking about the bravery of the crew. Definitely a memorable moment for me. More so than most disasters that have happened since, save for 9/11.

  5. In other words: “I didn’t realize that’s what that sample was beforehand. whoops. In THAT case, this song is now about those brave astronauts and everybody who has experienced tragedy. There, fixed it.”

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  7. Bey hasn’t been good since we weren’t ready for her jelly.


  8. I’m the last pin standing. Here’s your second roll……..

    spare me.

  9. Adding to list of phrases that need to die in 2014: “My heart goes out to_________________.”

  10. she is just such a frigging muppet.

  11. It’s funny, I don’t remember anyone here bringing this up when the album was released. In fact, the vast majority of the comments were nothing short of glowing praise for the new batch of songs. But now that someone is offended, look at all the people jumping on that bandwagon. Listen, the family members have every right to be upset, but this would be a complete non issue if they never publicly aired their misgivings towards the use of the audio sample. It’s really disingenuous for anyone to criticize Beyonce after the fact, just because the family members didn’t appreciate it — that didn’t stop you lot from enjoying the song beforehand. Her statement is ridiculous, but it’s even more ridiculous that we all play this silly game.

    **And full disclosure — I haven’t listened to this album — I’m not particularly a Beyonce fan –I don’t have a meerkat in this fight.**

    • I’ve never listened to the songs and I still think the use of the sound clip was shitty and her commentary ridiculous. I probably wouldn’t be really affected if I had to hear that over and over on the radio, but this news made me think about what it would be like to be one of those family members. Their comments are right.

      • I’m specifically talking about the people who didn’t have a problem with it until they were told to have a problem with it. There’s no doubt I would’ve thought it was embarrassingly stupid to have that clip in a song had I heard it, but like I said, I haven’t. It’s kind of like when a pop song has an accompanying war-themed music video (I’m looking at you fun.).

        • Honestly, I don’t think most people (including myself) realized from where the soundbite was taken. Everyone just said, “Ooooh sounds from space. Good song!”

  12. My point was, why can’t you have a problem with it on someone else’s behalf? If someone becomes upset about something, you learn about how and why it affects them. It’s about opening your eyes. I’m probably not even old enough to recognize the clip honestly, and I doubt a lot of Bey’s fanbase is either.

  13. I’m ok with the sound clip. I’m incredibly offended by the moniker “Bey”. I’ve been talking to several of my dear friends, “Chesepeake”, “San Francisco”, “Michael”, “of pigs”, etc……and they all feel it’s too soon.

  14. “The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten.” What a lyin’ bitch!

    Want to be REALLY talented? Write a fuckin’ song yourself!

    • Frank Sinatra didn’t write a single line of In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning. That doesn’t make him any less talented.
      The fact is that Beyonce writes on many of the songs herself. Beyoncè is an intimate and personal album.

      • Yeah but Frank had a crazy voice. Not even Beyonce would claim that she has a better-than-average voice. Plus she’s lying about writing songs – see my above comment.

        • Some guy’s words against her’s. I’d say your evidence is pretty thin. But common sense tells me she doesn’t write many songs either.

      • Sorry to jump in on this, but the whole hipster fascination with Beyonce is passe. She’s a pop star. Listen to some real prop girl power stuff thats edgy, impassioned and not corporate like Savages, PJ Harvey or heck, even Lorde. I mean, for reals.

        • The irony is she seems to be fairly hip (pictures w/ Death Grips, collabs with Sleigh Bells which I don’t think ever came to anything?, showing up at indie rock shows.) Maybe it’s cause of Solange or other peeps. But when it comes down to making music, she never veers from the typical middle-of-the-road lamestream.

          • You don’t think she has people for that as well? A lady worth half a billion can easily have a “hipness” consultant as surely as she has hair, wardrobe and makeup people.

            It is absurd that she (and JT, Kanye, JZ, etc.) is covered here and elsewhere alongside musicians slugging it out in the real world. It’s like having Ben Bernanke and an adjunct economics professor at your local junior college having their work critiqued and dissected alongside one another with equal weight and measure.

            Aren’t there enough outlets to read about Beyonce?

        • Surely you’re being ironic? “Hipster fascination”. What kind of a bogus term is that to use in a proper discusson? Reading your earlier post I have to assume you’re not.
          No shit she is a pop star. She’s got half the industry right here backing her album. And some of the biggest songwriting talent out there right now working with her (or -for- her depending on your point of view). But she is also an artist. What you might define as passionless “trite pop” music, others such as myself might find “emotive” and inspired.
          Now, I’m not saying she ain’t commercialized as fuck. But I could give less of a shit as long as the music is fun and engaging.

          • ”And some of the biggest songwriting talent out there right now working with her”-

            Eh, it really depends on if you consider pop songwriting talented. It’s taste and perspective. I find her flashy, gaudy and not to many shades removed from Lady Gaga to be honest. The idea that she’s doing something deep or emotionally revaltory? REALLY? Have you heard Savages new record? Even Lorde or heck, even Sky. Hey no insult to Beyonce. She’s got a great voice, but I just smell fishy top 10 Billboard at wholesale prices. I can’t art among the hosts of collaborators, high profile producers, and top shelf corporate strategy. Maybe I’m wrong though. The girl can sing and dance though. But me personally, I don’t find her ”artistic musings” to be on the level of PJ Harvey, ect. But good for her if she wants to write from her heart. I’m not inclined to give blanket pet worship to her because the hipsters love her. Not a sheep. But certainly can respect that the girl can sing great and good for her for choosing to circumvent her writing into something more emotive and personable. Good for you if you enjoy her music too. I appreciate your post because here on the ‘gum I think its important for me to listen to other perspectives and who knows, I might give her music more of a chance. Peace.

          • ”Now, I’m not saying she ain’t commercialized as fuck. But I could give less of a shit as long as the music is fun and engaging.”

            She is. I listened to the track XO and while I didn’t consider it fun and/or engaging, it was well done regardless. There. I admitted it :p

          • I’m gonna have to refer to the argument that these are critically acclaimed pop songwriters and have earned respect as producers and songwriters through a substantial body of work.
            In my opinion the fact that you dislike pop music (in its purest form) might not give you much of a reference point for discussing the quality of her music. My theory is that you are unable to write positively about her because you haven’t spent enough time with her music. This was certainly the case for me before I became a fan. However I have no idea how you think “hipster worship” has anything to do with this. Perhaps this indicated that you are strongly affected by other peoples opinions regarding certain music.

            Good for you that you can admit XO was well-done:). I assure you that the rest of the album follows in the same vein. In the end I am just a sucker for engaging pop-music.
            I would also like to say that B’Day is an exremely strong R&B album. So much that I started respecting her as an artist.
            Either way, this shit isn’t for anyone. I just dislike it when people claim something is trite and simply corporate, devoid of emotion.

          • Hi Oyvind. I admit that I have to agree with you. I have been a music snob in the harshest of ways and I honestly have begun to re-develop that so that I keep more of an open mind. I’ll check out Beyonce’s work and am trying harder to not blindly dismiss somebody because of opinion predisposition.

          • Seriously though Luke, I get where you’re coming from. Beyoncè has made trite pop songs. I don’t even bother with the shit between B’Day and this album. 4 was okay I suppose.
            But on this album you got songs like Blow and Haunted. Stuff that you hardly find elsewhere in pop music. Second half of Haunted. Oh man.

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          • Silly boy. You didn’t read my above comment, or did and merely continued your dig.

          • To each their own r_and_r.

          • Yes, but you’re still implying that something holds no value if you don’t personally like it. To be honest, I don’t expect you to like Beyoncé even if you do give her a chance — just in the sense that it’s a matter of personal preference.

            The problem lies in the fact that you phrased your argument in that you prefer “real prop girl power stuff” because you PERSONALLY like it and thus fail to see value in anything else. It’s fine not to like things, and you don’t need to give pop music a chance — but you’re also wrong to dismiss it. Yeah, I missed the above comment and had an irrational reaction to your music snobbery — but that’s because you were a music snob. Sorry I reacted to your poorly formed argument.

  15. It’s funny how all her detractors (not talking about NASA or those affected by the Challenger tragedy) appear after her enormous success with her new album. I don’t remember anyone having a problem with her after 4′s underperformance. It’s disheartening to see people react how they are now that she’s having success, yet they didn’t care about her at all when she was in a “down” era.

    • As to the actual response/criticism, the families of those affected have every right to be upset. But it is clear that when listening to the song, it is one filled with immense longing. Had she put that at the beginning of “Partition,” it would be far less forgivable.

      And everyone knew beforehand that Ryan Tedder and The-Dream were the main songwriters of the song. She was also pretty transparent about Sia’s contribution to “Pretty Hurts” as well. I’d say the fact that she was able to bring so many different people together to form a completely realized artistic vision is an astounding accomplishment, and not that different than what movie directors do.

  16. Beyonce doesn’t care about astronaut people.

  17. Luke….don’t give up your dream of being a pretentious snob. This kind of music somehow being passed off as art really bothers me. I don’t mind a “product”. But please don’t pass your product off as art. I won’t stand for it. (I’m looking at you, fake craft ales). Beyonce as an artist with a capital “A” is just not a thing for me. She’s GREAT at what she does. And I’m glad people enjoy it. But I dismiss it out of hand.

    Reminds me of my 17 year old sons sysnopsis of The Big Bang Theory

    “The Big Bang Theory is really smart television for stupid people”

    • Hey Blochead. For the record, I do agree with you. I’ve been realizing that I’m a highly opinionated individual, but the passion and conviction inherent to that is because I call a spade a spade. The emperor has no clothes in much of indie rock circles. Hipster affectation abounds. Hipster affection for bands that can’t even write a decent melody abounds. And the ironic love affair with pop stars is annoying. I don’t dismiss pop music, but the last time pop music and art truly went hand in hand was with ARTISTS like Bowie and Prince. Not only did they have something to say, they could write their own songs, play their own instruments and didn’t rely on the circle jerk paradigm of major label handouts, i.e. ”hot” producers, guest writers, collaborators. Someone on here, I think r and r, wanted me to enjoy pop on its level. That’s fine. But with all respect to what Beyonce does (and she is talented), I could never be bothered in the slightest to elevate her music to anything other then label agenda/corporate fluff. EMA, Grimes, PJ Harvey-man, that’s girl power art: Genius level art and one could argue some pop appeal. Anyway, yeah I’m a music snob in some ways. Nothing irks me more then to see people mindlessly overpraised. Pop as art-cue The Beatles, Bowie, Springsteen, Nirvana. Radio friendly in some ways, but alarmingly abrasive in their own right and they had something to say. I love Stereogum and enjoy the writing, reviewing and appreciate the opportunity we ‘gummers have to voice what we feel about music. That’s how I feel about this. Major labels prostitute talent and agendas and try to package a product as something aesthetically genuine. Unwrap it, take it out of the box, enjoy it for what it is and then do whatever you want with it. But don’t insult those of us who refuse it to be taken as art. Now where’s the Tylenol.

  18. Whenever I find an “artist” that sings song that other people write for them I admit that I respect them a little less. For me it’s the difference between a Whitney Houston and a Mariah Carey, one’s just a singer, the other one is an artist.

  19. Luke….well put. Since this tag team rant is gaining momentum I will throw more fuel on the fire……..Another really easy dividing line in this argument is the concept of sales. I sell for a living and have to deal with other sales swine all day. And I can invariably tell who I want to do business with based almost solely on whether or not their product is something “near and dear”. Most often folks are trying to figure out a way to move product. And the value of the product, the originality of the product, and the belief in the product simply do not matter. It’s just an educated guessing game trying to figure out what the hell the market wants to buy. And when I listen to top 40 radio (which truth me told is never) I can hear the well greased machinery of producing a product that is viable. Beyonce is def. a step above your typical radio pablum, but it’s still a product and there’s a bottom line that MUST BE MET. So no matter how much some folks want to believe this is a true artist’s vision it simply has to produce dollar bills. And that’s why the heavy weight producers, writers, engineers, etc, etc absolutely must be involved. Cuz the new Beyonce album has one thing in common with the last Beyonce album….critics can fawn over it until they are blue in the face. Bottom line is bottom line.

    You can rest assured that Grimes wants to sell records and wants to make money. We all do. But when you listen to her music you can feel that is not what drives her art. This is her personal vision and at the end of the day she hopes we like it and buy it….but that isn’t the end all be all for her.

    And that is the difference between the fire and the firefly, dear friends.

    • Hi again Blochead. Very well said. It’s actually refreshing to talk to a ‘gum commentator/conversationalist with conviction. I think having a sweeping long range artistic vision is paramount to the merit of the art created. Trent Reznor lived and breathed ”The Downward Spiral” as an auteur/visionary only could, handing in the master tapes to Interscope thinking it had no driving single, and not really caring whether it did. His psyche was melded into every nuance/fiber of that album and 95% of what you heard came right out of Trent. Capitol Records were crushed over ”OK Computer’s” decidedly anti-corporate rock sound, but Radiohead were interested in making art and not some ”Creep” retread so they gave the finger to Capitol. And of course those records put a big old dent in music history.
      The Beyonces of the world only hint at my disdain for what music has become for today’s music listening generation-a soulless machine that thrives on 15 minutes of hype until it deems itself irrelevant by fading out of the spotlight and/or by selling fewer and fewer units. And conversely, I loathe many major labels for the most part. Not every one is a soul sucking vampire, but in this industry (at least major label), if you wanna sell records, you have to bring in the song doctors, the hip producers of the moment, then concede to the direction the label wants and be guided to look and act how the soulless machine wants you to be. Puppetry at it’s finest.
      A dear friend of mine was offered a chance to work with a well known producer and label. His vision for a record that was a throwback to The Beatles/Bowie meets The Cure went out the window and instead collaborators, label peeps (big label peeps at that) and song ”doctors” ensuring polished hit singles were going to chart the course. In 30 seconds, he decided that homie don’t play that game. And he dodged a bullet. I know this is a tangent that doesn’t exactly fit into the Beyonce as art spectrum, but I just loathe corporate rock/pop and this generation of collaborators, song doctors, major label meddling (musical communism) and an orgy of mega-producers on one record, all because an artist either needs the cred to be relevant or simply doesn’t have the talent/vision to do it themselves. Kanye West may think he’s a genius, but at the end of the day, I’d challenge Kanye West to go into a studio by himself, lock the door and use absolutely no outside musical production, songwriting, collaborating assistance or additional instrumentalists to make a record. Prince did it singlehandely, so the purported ”Prince” of our generation should be able to do the same thing. I actually like some of Kanye’s music though, so I’m not hatin’, just proving a pretty valid argument on what constitutes art (and what doesn’t) in my ”high on my horse” opinion.
      Anyway, I could go on and on with why I feel musical integrity is being destroyed by today’s bottom barrel standards and big industry meddling, but that would require a convo over some coffee. And Grimes is awesome :) She wrote and produced ”Visions” by herself. She’s the one that deserves Beyonce’s spotlight.

      • P.S. My rant has nothing to do with the Challenger disaster sample obviously. As far as that’s concerned, in a way it was in poor taste. So is much of today’s pop though, so it balances itself out.

  20. Luke…..again, I completely concur. But over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a really nice proliferation of artists that are “bedroom auteurs” for lack of a better term. Toro Y Moi, Craft Spells, Youth Lagoon, etc are so damn great. And they have that great vibe of feeling really organic and true. And I think there are enough labels out there that “get it” so people like this can flourish.

    Am I a snob? Oh hell yes. I just wrap myself in a cocoon of smugness and pretend that everybody listens to great music and puts out the effort to know the difference between a great burger and a Big Mac. But in my heart I know there are far more of “them” than there are of “us”. And as much as our relatively small cadre of snobs rails against the music machine we secretly love being above it all. At the end of the day it’s critical approval of folks like Beyonce’ that oddly enchant me. Enjoy America, enjoy!!! And don’t ask for extra pickles on that Beyonce’ album. Accept it “as is”

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