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When her top-secret album became one of the year's biggest hits, it seemed to prove that Beyonce could do no wrong. Well, so much for that theory. It turns out that one of Queen Bey's new songs samples a clip from the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, which killed seven astronauts. And some people are, understandably, upset.
Here's the song in question, "XO." Beyonce opens it with the audio from Mission Control following the Challenger explosion; we hear a NASA officer say, "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction."
ABC News spoke to several current and retired NASA astronauts, as well as family members of the Challenger victims. All of them expressed horror at Beyonce's casual exploitation of a national tragedy.
"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," said June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee. "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."
In response to the complaints, Beyonce issued a statement on Monday explaining her use of the six-second audio clip.
"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," Beyonce stated. "The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten."
Looking at the lyrics to 'XO,' we can see Beyonce's intentions. At the beginning of the second verse, she sings, "We don't have forever/ Ooh baby, daylight's wasting/ You better kiss me/ Before our time is run out." So the song is about making the most of every moment with the people you love. Does that justify her use of the Challenger clip?
We're going to say "no." What happened on the Challenger 27 years ago was a horrific tragedy: seven deaths witnessed live by an entire nation. Imagine if Beyonce had used audio from another dark moment in America's history: the Twin Towers falling, or the Kennedy assassination, or one of our all-too-frequent school shootings. It would be an outrage. You can't tack a tragedy onto an upbeat pop song to give it more depth. That's a cheap trick, and Beyonce should be above it.
There are more respectable ways that Beyonce might have honored the Challenger victims with 'XO.' She could have donated proceeds from the single to the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. (It's not too late for that, incidentally.) She could have used some inspirational audio from the Challenger crew members, rather than the cold commentary on their deaths; something like Christa McAuliffe saying, "What are we doing here? We're reaching for the stars." She could have reached out to the families of the astronauts.
These would have been thoughtful gestures that honored those who sacrificed their lives that day. Instead, we get the impression that she didn't put much thought at all into her use of the disaster audio. Beyonce used the clip as if it were a quote from an old movie. But it wasn't a movie, and it wasn't that long ago. People's lives, feelings and memories are involved. We'd like to see Beyonce apologize.
Especially because, otherwise? It's a really, really good song.