Arts & Entertainment

Beyonce samples Challenger disaster, reactions differ

Singer Beyonce performs on stage during a concert in the Rock in Rio Festival on September 13, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Singer Beyonce performs on stage during a concert in the Rock in Rio Festival on September 13, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Beyonce made headlines when her newest self-titled album was suddenly released without any promotion, but now the pop star is getting attention and differing opinions for sampling a national disaster in a single on the new album.

The beginning of the song “XO” features a six-second audio clip from the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, in which all seven crew members died shortly after takeoff when the shuttle broke apart.

“The sample — which is presented out of context on the song — comes from NASA's first announcement following the space shuttle's explosion: ‘Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction,’” according to The Verge.

NASA and families of the lost astronauts responded to Beyonce’s sample choice earlier this week: "The Challenger accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized," said the statement from Lauren B. Worley, NASA's press secretary, the Associated Press reported. "NASA works every day to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe."

Beyonce insisted she meant no harm by using the audio and that it was actually a tribute.

"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,” Beyonce said in a statement released to ABCNews. “The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten."

Some publications have other reactions to the sample; while a Salon article said it “makes no sense,” Slate said it “isn’t as random as you think.” 

“It’s less offensive than it is just plain weird,” Salon said, calling the sample more proof that Beyonce does whatever she likes. “Why did Beyoncé include audio about a ‘major malfunction’ in the first place, whatever its provenance, on a song about a happy relationship? Did she not think people would figure out where it was from, or find it a peculiar way to address a fatal incident?”

Slate reflected more deeply on the lyrics and some of Beyonce’s past songs.

“It’s entirely understandable, of course, for those close to the victims of the tragedy to find the sample insensitive, and to be upset that they might relive it just by flicking on the radio,” Slate said, noting that the media has misunderstood the song’s lyrics that are actually relevant since “XO” is about spending time with loved ones before you lose them.

Slate also said that Beyonce, a Houston native, is no stranger to space shuttles in her music.

“Beyoncé has used such metaphors to describe her relationship with Jay Z for years, perhaps most notably on 'Lift Off,' which uses a sample of the Apollo 11 launch, as well as on 'Rocket' and 'Countdown.'”

Nevertheless, Slate suggested that perhaps Beyonce or someone on her team should have asked permission from the fallen astronaut’s families to use the audio.

"XO" video

With contributions from KPCC's Jessica Hamlin.