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Paparazzi. I wrote it for the media, always feeling like they need to be in my life. Sometimes they just wish that they could blend in and be there all the time. And that they might know me a little bit better if they were in my house, in my room and my different places. So, it's like going to different spots and trying to get away from them and it's not going away like little annoying flies.
— Miley Cyrus elaborating on the meaning of the song.
The song's lyrics, written by Cyrus, Antonina Armato, Tim James and Devrim Karaoglu, have been mistakenly interpreted in a variety of ways. The song's protagonist sings in first person perspective while condemning an unspecified subject for wanting to invade her privacy. The majority of reviewers thought the protagonist was referring to a "controlling boyfriend". Ben Ratliff of The New York Times sided with the boyfriend, and believed the song's protagonist was "bullying some poor boy for the sin of wanting to know what she talks about with her friends." Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe believed the song could have described a number of subjects, such as "a former boyfriend, the media, and even her fans." However, in an interview with Jocelyn Vena of MTV News, Cyrus said the song was about "the media" and "how they think they know everything about [her], when they don't. They want to be a fly on my wall and watch [her] 24/7."
"Fly on the Wall" is a pop rock song with strong uses of electric guitars, keyboards and soprano vocals. Influences derive from electronic music, industrial music, the 1980s and New Wave. It is set in common time with a moderately fast rock tempo of 143 beats per minute. The song is written in the key of G minor. Cyrus' vocals spans two octaves, from G3 to D5. The song has the following chord progression, G5—D—Gm7. The song's chorus has the use of a vocal hook; the hook sings, "fly on the wall".
"Fly on the Wall" received acclaim. Bill Lamb of About.com called the song an "amphetamine rush" and praised it for its teen pop and generic appeal, classifying it as one of the "top tracks on Breakout". Heather Phares of Allmusic said the song was a "G-rated version" of Britney Spears' song "Toxic" and provided hints of Cyrus' future musical direction. Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe said "Fly on the Wall" was a change of pace for Cyrus and called it "the album's most interesting tune." Mikael Wood of The Los Angeles Times said the song is a result of regular Walt Disney Company standards, yet "the CD's best cut." Along with "Full Circle," Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine said the song was a "more worthy" follow-up to "See You Again." Mordechai Shinefield of The Village Voice stated the song was "blazingly brilliant" and that it was "the best, angriest song [on Breakout]." Johnny Dee of Virgin Media said the song and "7 Things" were "feisty pop belters" that would encourage a long-term career. Ratliff negatively compared "Fly on the Wall" to the Pussycat Dolls and said that although Cyrus' voice is generally rich with a deep range, it became "pinched and stingy" in the single. However, he also said the song was "teen-accurate".
For the week ending August 9, 2008, "Fly on the Wall" charted at number 69 on Hot Digital Songs due to the release of Breakout, but failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100; the following week, the song completely fell from the sales chart. During late 2008, the song reached its peak on several US charts, reaching number 72 in Hot 100 Airplay, and 64 in the Pop 100 and Pop 100 Airplay. For the week ending January 10, 2009, the song debuted and peaked at number 83 in the Hot 100 due to airplay, falling from the chart in the succeeding week. In the Canadian Hot 100, the peaked and debuted at number 73 on the week ending August 9, 2008 due to digital downloads. It then ascended and descended the Canadian Hot 100 before reaching its last week, ending on February 7, 2009.
The song was more successful in European nations. For the week ending January 1, 2009, "Fly on the Wall" debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number 90. Throughout January and February 2009, the song moved up, finding new peaks for four consecutive weeks. For the week ending February 28, the song ascended to number sixteen and became Cyrus' second best charting single in the United Kingdom. It then slid several spots down, until its last week on the singles chart at number 86, for the week ending April 4. In the European Hot 100, "Fly on the Wall" peaked at number fifty-seven on the week ending March 7, 2009 and spent a total of five weeks on the chart. For the week ending January 29 in the Irish Singles Chart, the song debuted at number 49. Weeks later, the song reached its peak at number 23 before falling off the chart on March 12. In Austria, the song debuted and peaked on the week ending March 18 at number 57 and fell from the chart after two weeks. It spent seven weeks on the German Singles Chart, where it debuted and peaked at 62.