Beyoncé has come under fire for “XO,” a tender ode to not taking our loved ones for granted, because the song opens with a six-second sample of audio culled from the Challenger disaster. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle exploded after liftoff, taking the lives of the seven crew-members of board. As the nightmare unfolded, NASA’s public affairs officer Steven Nesbitt reported: “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.”
Those words are heard again at the start of “XO,” which hails from the star’s surprise fifth album Beyoncé and was co-written by The-Dream and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. As Fox News reports with a soupçon of admonishment, the widow of Commander Dick Scobee has taken offense at this use. June Scobee Rodgers issued at statement on NASA Watch, a site that has historically taken a confrontational approach to the administering of the United States space program.
“We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song ‘XO,'” wrote June Scobee Rodgers, who co-founded the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. “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.”
NASA Watch head honcho Keith Cowing took matters much farther, titling his article on the matter, “Sampling the Sounds of Tragedy for Pop Music,” and calling for an apology from Beyoncé herself: “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.”
Of course, much of what critics have praised thus far about the Beyoncé album is the fact that it comes off not as cheap pop written for the sake of sales, but as an artistic statement released without the usual commercial bluster and imbued with relatable sentimentality and, well, realness. Despite the alarmist and condescending tone of Cowing’s lengthy tirade, Queen Bey has responded with poise and grace, supporting her song and paying respect to the past:
“My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster,” she said via statement. “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.”