Beyoncé: Sampling The Sounds of Tragedy For Pop Music

Beyonce Slammed for Sampling Shuttle Tragedy on New Album, ABC

"Retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson told ABC News, "For the words to be used in the video is simply insensitive, at the very least." Anderson knows NASA tragedy firsthand. In 2003, he was assisting shuttle Columbia family members the moment news came that all seven had died when the craft disintegrated re-entering Earth's atmosphere. But Anderson, who flew twice on the space shuttle and lived on the International Space Station for five months, seemed to give Beyonce and her team the benefit of the doubt. "What we do in space just isn't as important to young people today," Anderson said."

Statement by Dr. June Scobee Rodgers Regarding Beyonce Audio Clip of Challenger Accident

"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. 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. Their dedication to education and exploration resulted in the creation of Challenger Center for Space Science Education and because of this we have been able to educate millions of students across America and beyond. We hope everyone remembers the crew for the inspirational legacy they left in the hearts of so many."

Keith's update: NASA Public Affairs issued the following statement in response to audio from the Challenger shuttle tragedy being used in the song 'XO' by Beyonce:

"The Challenger accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized. NASA works everyday to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe."

Keith's original note: Recording artist Beyoncé's new song 'XO' begins with a sampled audio clip of NASA's Steve Nesbitt during the first moments of the last flight flight Space Shuttle Challenger. The clip contains Nesbitt saying "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." These words were uttered as the crew and their disintegrating vehicle were still falling into the sea.

These words are forever etched into the psyche of everyone who was watching that day and still echo across the years for the generation that followed.

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.

I know the families of the Challenger crew very well. If you ask they will tell you with quiet dignity and purpose that they chose to focus not on how their loved ones died but rather upon how they lived - and how their legacy continues through the educational organization, Challenger Center, that they formed in their memory.

Beyoncé was a little girl living in Houston in 1986 when her astronaut neighbors (including a school teacher) died on their way to work in outer space. She needs to apologize for using this audio clip and remove it from the song. Its absence won't affect the song at all.

Beyoncé could do something more to make things right - by doing what she does so well: create a song that speaks to the sacrifices (big and small) that explorers and teachers make every day as they seek to enrich us all.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 30, 2013 3:18 PM.

Beyoncé and the Challenger Accident: What Lesson Has Been Learned (if any)? was the previous entry in this blog.

Why Does Space Florida Need Its Own Spaceport? is the next entry in this blog.

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