Q&A with Miley Cyrus songwriter Jessi Alexander: 'The Climb' being pulled from Grammy noms is 'devastating'

Songwriter Jessi Alexander and her co-writer Jon Mabe may be two of the briefest Grammy nominees in history: “The Climb” got pulled from the Best Song Written for a Motion Picture race yesterday, after Disney determined that it hadn’t been written specifically for the Miley Cyrus vehicle Hannah Montana: The Movie (as Grammy rules for soundtrack songs require), and withdrew it from the category. Naturally, this came as quite the shock to Alexander, who has been under contract as a Disney songwriter for, as she puts it, “three and a half years that have been really good to me.” We are still awaiting comment from a Disney rep, but in the meantime, we spoke to Alexander about the “gray areas” of the songwriting process, and her questions regarding the technicality that got “The Climb” disqualified.

Entertainment Weekly: I’m assuming you found out earlier than the rest of us that this was happening. Did Disney tell you? Or did the Grammys tell you?
Jessi Alexander: Some of the Disney brand staff members congratulated me about the nomination. So I spent one night on a high. And then the following morning was a new low, when I was told it was gonna be pulled by Disney.

Did they talk to you before they pulled it?
They were in the process of pulling it. And of course, my take was, I understand that there are rules — although I knew nothing about the rules when I found out about the nomination — but let’s at least just tell NARAS where the gray areas are and let them make the decision. But Disney made the decision, and I was just told.

So was the song written specifically for the Hannah Montana movie?
This is the gray area. The story is, originally, me and Jon Mabe sat down as songwriters, like we do every day, and I had this melody that came to me on the way to work that morning. I knew that it was special. I knew it was pop. And I knew it was Disney. We started a song. It was actually called “It’s the Climb,” and it was a more spiritual song, sung in third person. And it was really about my woes, and Jon’s woes in the music business. But when I write songs, being at Disney, I turn them in and of course think they all should be submitted to film and television. That was one of the reasons I signed at Disney, was to hopefully get placements at film and television. So before filming, Peter Chelsom, the director of Hannah Montana: The Movie, actually came to Nashville and heard my music, and wanted me to submit songs for the movie. I put the song “It’s the Climb” on a CD, and he called back within weeks and said the song was gonna be an integral part of the movie, and the only thing he needed was for me to change what I would consider to be a substantial amount of the song. And that’s where the gray area is. For me, when you change something from third person to first person, it can change the whole meaning of a line. And I remember Jon and I wrestling over taking words out—there was a line about prayer. Like I said, it was a more spiritual song. And we had to think about, you know, how much can we change to keep the integrity of the song. But after many back and forth drafts, we all came to a great place, and it felt like it was perfect for the movie, and they told me, you know, “This is perfect for Miley, it’s gonna change her life, gonna change your life.” As a songwriter, my job is just to follow these wonderful little pieces of music and lyrics that I get. And so many don’t find homes. It’s one in a million that you get this kind of placement. It’s hard to say when a song is finished. And it’s hard to say what you’re writing a song for. And that’s not my job. That’s why I have a publisher. And that’s why I feel like NARAS needs to reassess the eligibility requirements for this particular category. Because I think I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last.

Are you upset with Disney that they did this without consulting you and giving you a chance to plead your case?
I did get to plead my case with NARAS. But yeah, you should talk to them. Disney pulled the song. So. Yeah. It sucks. I’ve got flowers and champagne showing up and people constantly congratulating me, and now I don’t know how to respond.

Do you want to try and regain your eligibility?
I don’t even know if that’s possible. I know that there’s been big, big people out there fighting for me, and being my advocate. This has been a huge debate within NARAS. Because it’s a hard call. Disney’s standpoint, and you should get this from them, is that the song has to be commissioned. But that’s another hard part. I am in some ways commissioned, being a Disney writer. I get paid to write songs for them. And then also, you know, “It’s the Climb” was a different song than the one that found its way into the film. You can look at it a million ways. And I’m sure they wouldn’t do this if there wasn’t a true belief that it wasn’t eligible. To be honest, it’s devastating. I’ve had such a roller coaster ride in this business — I’ve lost record deals, I’ve had big songs get kicked off big records, I’ve gone through a lot. But this is a new low. Just to have NARAS grant me a nomination and then take it away has been tough. And humiliating, really. It makes it look like I tried to submit it, or I’m covering up. We all know how difficult it is to get a Grammy, especially as a songwriter. There’s only two categories for us, and those are so sought after and hard to get to. And the other thing that’s sad for me is that this song has just been such a blessing to so many people, to Miley’s fans, for me and my family. I hate for it to be tainted at all with politics. When I got that melody, I couldn’t have said, “This is for Hannah Montana: The Movie!” I have to just write songs. And I send them to my publisher and they go out and find a home. That’s the process. The real question is, Who submitted it? And don’t they have a screening process? Why put an artist or songwriter through this? By taking this song out, how does that alter the voting? People who voted for me could have voted for something else. There’s a lot of weird parts to this. But like I said, I really want to do whatever to make sure this doesn’t happen to another songwriter. If nothing else, the good that can come is that hopefully this particular category will be reassessed to make sure that the eligibility is black and white.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Axl Rose issues statement on ‘unprovoked’ paparazzi scuffle
Miley Cyrus song disqualified from Grammy noms
Kanye West responds to EW’s Best of the Decade honor
Lil Wayne’s Rebirth delayed yet again to 2010
Did Eminem call Adam Lambert a homophobic slur?

Comments (35 total) Add your comment
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  • javi

    the climb was a good song i guess this is how corporations work by screwing there employees the disney company sucks.

  • GoMe!

    wow she seems really upset. but the song was really popular on the charts…that should be her greatest reward.

    • Russ

      You’re kidding, right? If she did it as “work for hire” for Disney—which many contracted writers in these circumstances have to do to get ANYTHING placed—
      she won’t ever see any royalties for her efforts. So her greatest reward is this Disney-driven nomination embarrassment? It sure won’t be “back end” money!

  • jen

    why would Disney do that? don’t they know it would be great for them if “The Climb” won a grammy? cause it probably would’ve won…it is an amazing song.

    • Laura

      Yeah, it might have won, but then the truth would be exposed sooner or later and they would have to return the Grammy and it would be an embarrassing scandal for all involved.

  • Semaphore

    Jessi has a great look and can write songs. Can she sing? If so she doesn’t need Miley, she should branch out on her own.

  • Whitney wasn’t eligible for Best New Artist either

    Their rules are arbitrary at best. I noticed that MGMT’s Kids was nominated for a Grammy THIS year….didn’t that song come out three years ago? Maybe they can give an award to Taco for Puttin’ On the Ritz this year too…it’s never too late.

  • Ben

    This is not a grey area. The song was not written specifically for the movie. Making some revisions to the lyrics does not change that. Disney was right to pull the song from the nomination list.

  • sam

    I don’t like this song, but shouldn’t somebody have discovered this before the nomination list went out? The Grammy organization if not very organized–this is cruel.

  • sam

    sorry, meant “is” instead of “if”

  • Rich

    The Grammys are run by a coven of fossils who are completely out of touch with the real world. I see no reason why the song must be specifically “written for the film.” Or why different versions of a song can’t be nominated in different years–which is the stupid rule that cost “I Will Always Love You” the Grammy in ’94. Ridiculous, counter-intuitive rules that make no sense and serve no purpose, and lots of untalented, undeserving nominees. This is why the Grammys have become a joke. They’re irrelevant.

    • HKP

      It’s true that the Grammys really have o get it together with their rules, but it is also true that writing for film is different than just taking an existing song and slapping it on to a soundtrack. Should have been caught earlier, but at least it was taken care of before the awards.

    • Urvy

      What award shows are “relevant” to you? The VMAs?

  • zach

    She wouldn’t have won over Jai Ho, Once in a Lifetime (beautiful Beyonce song), or The Wrestler (Springsteen) anyway.

  • d

    I’m sure it’s a huge disappointment for her, but it seems like she’s whining a bit too much about it. The song was a huge hit and got tons of exposure. The grammy thing just sounds like a mix-up. Disney is just doing their job. They have to pull the song if it’s going to come back and bite them later. They don’t want that embarrassment. At least they’re trying to be honest and follow the rules.

  • Russ

    Jessi has an awesome voice and is a great talent. She put out a great album called Honeysuckle Sweet in 2005. She was dropped by her label though. I would love for her to record again.

    • IDLE

      I’m seconding this 100%. I saw Jessi a few years ago at Joe’s Pub in NYC. I already had the CD but her performance was beautiful. Really wish we had another CD from her.

  • sarah

    She kinda says at the end of that interview that when she got the melody, it wasn’t intended for Hanna Montana. She says she wrote it, sent it to her publisher and they find it’s home. It sounds like the nominations need to be, from day 1, written for a movie. Not a song that is submitted to a movie.
    Disappointing, though, for sure. And handled very poorly.

  • gogo

    love her

  • anon

    Certainly music and lyrics often come from different moments in time, often from different sources.
    Wonder how many songs would truly qualify in this category upon further investigation.

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