This song was inspired by the work of Jenny Holzer, an artist who displays short, provocative statements using various media, which can be anything from T-shirts to projections on buildings. Here's an example:
"I repeat, for the sake of a last, simple sweetness: the sun goes around the Earth, yes"
Some are more pointed - the stuff that memes are made of:
"Abuse of power comes as no surprise"
After U2's wardrobe assistant Fintan Fitzgerald bought Bono a book of Holzer's statements, Bono started writing his own to form the basis of this song:
"A liar won't believe anybody else"
"A friend is someone who lets you down"
Since these statements didn't reflect Bono's true beliefs, he created a character to say them, which is how The Fly was born.
On a French TV show called Rapido
the band explained that they wanted to build a song "a la Pixies." Bono and The Edge were big fans of the band.
Nicolas - Grenoble, France
U2 chose this as the first single off Achtung Baby because of its innovative sound. The band felt that since they were in a position to experiment, they should. This helped them reestablish credibility as an "alternative" group.
Based on a combination of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Morrison and the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, The Fly became a character Bono used on the group's Zoo TV tour. Wearing huge sunglasses and black leather, it was a parody of an egomaniacal rock star. Behind Bono, huge monitors flashed random words like "Sex," "Panic," "Death," etc. Bono attended some press conferences in the character of The Fly, complete with giant shades. He appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone as The Fly in their issue dated March 4, 1993.
Referring to this song's musical departure from U2's wildly successful 1987 album, Bono called it "The sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree."
The song is a look at fame and excess, a topic that intrigued Bono as he embraced his celebrity but was aware of its downside. Talking about the song in Rolling Stone, Bono said: "It was written like a phone call from Hell, but the guy liked it there. People thought we were just mocking rock'n'roll stardom and all that, but actually I was just owning up to it."
The vocals are heavily processed, adding to the feel that it was not really Bono singing, but a character he was performing.
The 1991 Gulf War started while the band was recording this song.
At the time after the Elevation
tour of 2001, The Edge stated that "The song hasn't stood the test of time."
Bill - Johnstown, PA
P.M. Dawn sampled this on their song "Fly Me To The Moon."
Bertrand - Paris, France
A quarter of a century after the song's release, British singer-songwriter Paul Rose filed a lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court claiming that U2 used elements from his song "Nae Slappin" for "The Fly." He alleged in his 2017 suit that the band must heard his demo tape after they signed to Island Records in 1989 as it was "played and repeatedly listened to in the Island Records office", with U2 "often in the Island Records offices." Rose sought in his suit $5 million (£4 million) in damages and a songwriting credit.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote tossed out the lawsuit in January 2018, reasoning "The Fly" is not an infringing work.
Listen to and compare "The Fly" with Paul Rose's "Nae Slappin" here
Bono notes in the band bio U2 by U2: "The fly on the wall is a really insignificant image outside of voyeurism. 'A man will rise, a man will fall, on the sheer face of love like a fly from a wall.' It's saying: 'Scale this rock face at your peril. Lots have tried before you and have been left on the fly paper.' And the 'Shine like a burning star' part I sang in the Fat Lady voice, which is really a kind of Jaggeresque, campy falsetto."