In late 2012, rumors swirled that Miley Cyrus had “stolen” a song from Beyonce thanks to mysterious tweets from a songwriter who claimed to have knowledge of the situation. The Bey Hive was furious. The internet was outraged. And this was before the allegedly swiped song had even been identified, much less recorded.
“Beyonce song now becoming a Miley Cyrus song?!!” English songwriter Sacha Skarbek said in a now-deleted tweet. “Good/bad? I don’t know??!!!!”
The fury died down, as it always does, but once “Wrecking Ball” became a certifiable hit (with Skarbek listed as a writer on the track), the controversy re-erupted. Radar Online did some basic digging in early 2014 and slapped one hell of an inflammatory headline (“DOES MILEY CYRUS OWE BEYONCE HER CAREER?”) onto a mostly benign post. It was enough to incite instigatory “content” from other outlets who could benefit from a Bey-Miley feud. Within 24 hours Hollywood Life had projectile vomited a string of erroneous Beyonce-bashing Miley quotes, claiming they’d appear in an upcoming LOVE Magazine cover story. To wit:
“I got the total package you know, the curves, the rhythm, and the voice. I’m just the best … As Beyonce grows in motherhood and all the crap it does to your body, it will create a vacuum for fresh young faces to rise up and no one else can properly fill that void right now … I’m the only white female singer that could fill that slot right now and do it right, you know? I’m just the total package, you know?”
Song-stealing outrage and fake quotes make for good artificial theatre. But the true story behind “Wrecking Ball” has more nuance and emotion than your typical diva battle, with much of the intrigue generated not by the performers, but by the considerable talent responsible for writing and composing the song.
The Beyonce Session
During a pair of concerts in the United Arab Emirates last week, Grammy- and Oscar-nominated composer and pianist Stephan Moccio offered first-hand insight into the writing session that produced “Wrecking Ball” — and how the song ended up in Miley’s hands rather than Beyonce’s toned arms.
On Tuesday night, within the walls of a 19th century open-aired desert fortress rich in Abu Dhabi history, Moccio settled in to play “Wrecking Ball” for an intimate group of local dignitaries. The cozy piano recital was part of the region’s Abu Dhabi Classics series, meant to expand Emirati exposure to the arts, and Moccio was taking delight in telling the stories behind his most famous pieces (including hits for The Weeknd and Celine Dion, as well as the theme for the Vancouver Olympics) before playing piano versions of each song. But as he prepared to play “Wrecking Ball” for the exclusive group gathered under the Arabian moon inside Al Ain’s Al Jahili Fort, he seemed apprehensive about launching into this particular backstory.
As Moccio tentatively told it, his publisher, Universal Music Publisher Group, had put him in a room with fellow accomplished multi-hyphenates Skarbek (who’s written for James Blunt, Lana Del Rey, and Adele, among others) and Maureen “MoZella” McDonald (One Direction, Rihanna, Madonna, the list goes on).
The purpose of the session: To write a song for Beyonce.