Thursday, January 2, 2014

Beyonce's Challenger Controversy Inspires Other Singers to Use Insensitive Samples of Disasters in Their Music

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- "XO," the first single off pop star Beyonce's eponymous new album, has sparked backlash among the surviving families of the Space Shuttle Challenger's doomed seven-member crew, all of whom perished when a malfunction led to the explosion of the vessel 73-seconds after launch. A haunting sample of the broadcast from Mission Control that fateful day -- January 28, 1986 -- plays during the opening of Beyonce's song: "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." Use of the recording has led to outrage and condemnation. But other singers, such as Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, say they also plan to incorporate samples from horrific tragedies into their own music to underscore the pain of trivial inconveniences and transient emotional setbacks.

Beyonce defended herself from critics by explaining that the snippet was meant to illustrate the pain of failed relationships and taking time to appreciate what one has before significant life changes take place. Challenger families, friends and colleagues accused the singer of capitalizing on their loss to sell a pop song. Right or wrong, the issue exposes a problem with scale that often occurs where "carpe diem" is invoked in highly subjective art.

One famous example comes from Dolly Parton's 1973 country classic "Jolene." The song describes the protagonist's attempt to dissuade a beautiful woman from stealing her man. The singer implores Jolene: "Please don't take him just because you can." The story is riddled with emotional appeals, fear and a palpable sense of desperation. However, the inspiration for the tale is substantially more mundane. Parton said the impetus for the song was provided by an attractive bank teller whom she believed was flirting casually with her husband. Nothing ever came from the trifling exchange.

In an interview with NPR, Parton stated that the teller "got this terrible crush on my husband. And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us -- when I was saying, 'Hell, you're spending a lot of time at the bank. I don't believe we've got that kind of money.' So it's really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one."

The dystopic, angry, gut-wrenchingly bleak landscape of spiritual desolation, self-loathing and abandonment painted by Trent Reznor in his 1994 masterpiece "Hurt" plays like an histrionic suicide note from the drug-addled survivor of a zombie apocalypse. But those close to Reznor believe the song was about the departure of his good friend Richard Patrick from the band to start a new group, Filter.

"That song is a pretty big stretch given the circumstance," said Tremaine Weldowhether, professor of media studies at San Narciso College. "Can you imagine a colleague at work penning a memo on that magnitude of despair and moral resignation just because a co-worker switched departments? No, you probably can't. To listen to the song, you'd think Richard stole Trent's family, butchered his children and then drove silicon plugs into the prolapsed anuses of his siblings after drugging and raping them as a sort of memento."

Undoubtedly, music fans also have experienced exaggerated epiphanies of existential torment from any of the works composed by Jimmy Webb and Jim Steinman, two masters of melodramatic shlock who find the most soul-crushing moments of shame and capitulation in wedding leftovers, boring jobs and requests for romantic commitment.

Although Beyonce's "XO" shares a musical precedent, its scope has raised the bar for contemporary songsmiths. Even NASA felt compelled to address the Challenger sample, reminding artists that the "accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized."

Its use in context of a failed dalliance, which has nothing to do with the space agency's mission or a shared sense of national loss, also calls into question the relevance of the sample. Yet, the negative publicity garnered from the stunt has done nothing to abate sales of Beyonce's new album. And now other attention-starved performers are hoping to cash in on the tactic for themselves.

Representatives for Justin Bieber, the Canadian heartthrob who courted controversy when he visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and wrote in the museum's guest book that he hoped Anne would have been a "belieber," said the singer plans to continue exploring this hope by including on his next release samples of Hitler's speeches, concentration camp conversations and testimonies from Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.

Over one million of the innocents butchered during the Holocaust were children. Bieber's people say the inclusion of the sound bytes will emphasize how the Nazi's cruelly robbed these children of their happiness, future prospects and the generations of potential Justin Bieber fans they would have sired. The single is tentatively titled "The Final Solution to the Unbelieber Question," and will appear on the forthcoming "Cristal-Nacht" album.

Producers working closely with Miley Cyrus divulged that they too were trying to obtain equally inappropriate and insensitive snippets of disasters for an upcoming single. They have petitioned the FAA for access to the in-flight recorders present on the planes destroyed during the September 11 attacks. They stated that Cyrus hopes to include recordings of the dying passengers' screams and prayers in the song to convey the pain she felt at the dissolution of her engagement to Liam Hemsworth, which she described as a sort of "romantic plane crash" and "like a terrorist attack on my heart."

2014. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. See disclaimers.

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