Julia Michaels admits she didn’t think she was ever good enough to be an artist. Sure, she had co-penned monstrous tracks such as Justin Bieber’s Sorry, Selena Gomez featuring A$AP Rocky’s Good For You and Nick Jonas featuring Tove Lo’s Close. In fact, of all the multiplatinum chart-topping songs 23-year-old Michaels has written, to date they have gained over 8 billion streams worldwide. And Gomez is a very vocal fan of this new trademark vocal.
In January 2017, she took the plunge and released her first single as a singer-and-songwriter, Issues, a track inspired by an argument she had with her boyfriend. “We realised how ridiculous it was and came back to each other and I wrote Issues,” she tells GRAZIA, her voice sweet albeit shy. “I think communication and understanding that the argument isn’t malicious are important. It’s just an internal problem that you have that you don’t quite know how to work out. Talking out what makes you upset really helps a lot.” The subject is still her boyfriend ICYMI. “He loves it, he does,” she insists. “He’s like, ‘Oh why do you have to write such a sad song about me?’ but he’s into it.”
Once she got through Joel Creasey’s awkward joke about Cassie Sainsbury tonight (and how the music industry might be a little miffed those cocaine-wielding headphones didn’t make it to Australia for the ARIAs afterparty), Michael’s performed an incredible rendition of Issues. We caught up with the singer-songwriter and reluctant performer about her new life on the very public side of music.
GRAZIA: What has the experience been like for you to go from songwriter to a singer with fans?
Michaels: “It’s definitely a transition for sure. I’m used to being in the background and not being in front of it all and when your songs go out with different artists, there’s a special-ness to it but it’s this whole other level. I’m so much more vulnerable as an artist. Luckily, I have fans now though and they have been so supportive and warm to me, that’s definitely calmed me down.”
It’s documented that you found it difficult to give away songs in the past. Can you name the big hit you were referring to?
“I’d rather keep that a secret.”
How hard is it to give a song away?
“That was actually the first song that it had happened to me. Normally, I’m a songwriter and that’s what I do, I’m supposed to give my babies away so I’m not usually precious about it. That first song though that it happened on, it really affected me and when I wrote Issues, I thought, ‘I can’t do that again,’.
Why did you shun the idea of becoming an artist in the beginning?
“Good question. I’ve never really been a confident person and my co-writer Justin Tranter could tell how sad I was about [giving away a particular song] and he said to me, ‘I think you’re denying yourself something because you’re afraid of it,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think you’re right.’ I even have a tattoo of a faceless woman because it represented me for a very long time being in the background.”
You wrote Close for Nick Jonas which featured Tove Lo. That song was one that felt incredibly tangible and so emotional. Was that a hard song to part with?
“Yeah, that was a really special song.”
[Editors note: Could this be the track she found so difficult to give away?]
In those moments of not feeling so confident, what do you tell yourself?
“I breathe a lot and just try to decompress and calm myself down. My team is so supportive… Selena [Gomez] is very open and very supportive… and I talk to my co-writer every day, every moment of the day.”
You aND Tranter have been dubbed the hottest songwriting duo in pop music. What’s your relationship like with him?
“I mean, he’s my best friend. I see him almost every day and we write everyday and if we’re not writing then we’re talking on the phone and if we’re not taking on the phone, we’re doing something. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
Issues is available now. Michaels has hinted at an EP release soon.