A little less than a month ago, Beyoncé did something that no artist of her magnitude has done: she released an album as a surprise, without any prior singles, advertising or hype. A little gutsy, isn’t it? The visual album (every single song had a music video), eponymously titled BEYONCÉ, still fared well for her. Apart from being her fifth consecutive number one album, it also gave her the highest first week sales of her solo career.
Beyoncé released “XO” as the first single from her album a few weeks ago. At first glance, the song is possibly the most radio-friendly track from her very mature and adult album. Beyoncé sings motivational lyrics about loving until the very end in this power ballad, all the while backed by strong electronic instrumentation. The music video, which shows Beyoncé having fun at Coney Island, is also well executed.
Then comes the controversy. The song begins with a six second audio sample of former NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt. The sample is an audio recording that happened right after the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.
“Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction,” Nesbitt said in the sample.
Beyoncé received almost immediate criticism about the use of the sample. Among the critics was NASA, who said that space exploration “should never be trivialized.” Many others called her use of the sample insensitive and tasteless. This prompted Beyoncé to release a statement about the meaning of “XO” and the use of the sample. In the statement, she said that “XO” was written about healing after unexpected losses of loved ones and loving people while you still can.
I have to stand with Beyoncé on this. Sampling in a song is used to allude to a greater theme or message within, and that is exactly what this recording does. By referencing the Challenger disaster, Beyoncé is able to get across the aforementioned message of the song earlier.
Also, the recording was tastefully used. Beyoncé didn’t just throw it randomly into a song about partying, alcohol or sex; she used it in an inspirational song with deep meaning.
To some it may not even be apparent that the sample relates to the Challenger disaster. When I first heard it, I had no idea what the audio recording was from. So Beyoncé is in no way trivializing space exploration, as the recording doesn’t even directly relate to space travel at first listen. Let’s forget about this “controversy” and just appreciate “XO” for what it is: good music.