Beyonce criticized for sampling audio from Challenger disaster on her new album

December 30, 2013

More than two weeks have passed since Beyonce dropped her surprise self-titled album, but it’s still making headlines — this time, not positive ones. It turns out NASA hasn’t taken kindly to Beyonce’s choice of sample on new song “XO” — a snippet of audio from the space shuttle Challenger explosion.

The sample is a six-second clip of former NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt saying, “flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.” He can be heard quite clearly in CNN’s broadcast of the lift-off, seconds after the shuttle explodes:

The issue didn’t come to light until the morning, when Keith Cowing — a former NASA employee and the popular voice behind NASA Watch — wrote a blog post slamming the sample as “repugnant” and calling on Beyonce to remove it from the track. Since then, retired astronaut Clayton Andersen, Challenger widow June Scobee Rodgers and NASA itself have all released statements on the song.

The agency’s carefully worded remarks skirt around any moral judgements (“The Challenger accident is … a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized,” it reads in part), but Andersen and Rodgers haven’t been so circumspect.

“We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song ‘XO’. The moment included in this song is an emotionally difficult one for the Challenger families, colleagues and friends,” reads a release from Rodgers and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

Beyonce said in a statement to ABC that the song was in fact intended to memorialize the Challenger crew — though as many a Rap Genius annotator has noted, the song seems to be about a relationship, not a national tragedy. Cowing also notes, fairly, that the accompanying carnival-themed music video doesn’t exactly seem like a tribute to the Challenger crew. But we’ll leave that call to you — Beyonce’s full statement is below.

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.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | December 30, 2013