Beyoncé Responds To Criticism Of Challenger Disaster Sample

By Scott Lapatine / December 31, 2013

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: