Julia Michaels: An interview with pop’s behind-the-scenes gem

Whether you’ve heard her name or not, chances are you’ve heard her music. Julia Michaels is the song writing mastermind behind chart-smashing hits such as Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry,’ Selena Gomez’s ‘Hands To Myself’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Dive.’ She has penned nine Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with a stream count of over 10 billion to date. Julia seemed destined to settle for being pop music’s behind-the-scenes song-writing gem. This was until she wrote a song so intensely personal to her that she simply had to sing it herself.

Why did you decide to keep “Issues” for yourself and go solo rather than… hand it over to someone else?

I tend to write really personal songs but I don’t usually write them that personal, and I’d written this song after a song that I’d written for someone else had gone no. 1 on Billboard (Sorry for Justin Bieber). My ex-boyfriend, my boyfriend at the time, was so upset that it had happened for me. He couldn’t be happy for me at all. He was also in the music industry, and I was just so devastated that he would do that. I was so upset that I went in the studio and I cried, and he was actually in a different studio across the hall. I’d had “Issues” written down on my phone, and I was just like “This is so fitting for what just happened.” You know, a lot of our relationship was us sort of knowing that we had these sort of toxic elements and it was almost like the thing that kept us together, which is really just so chaotic and crazy. So I wrote ‘Issues’ that day, and he came in with flowers and said “I’m sorry, I should’ve known better” but I was like “The damage is done! I heard this story once. So, this kid is bullying other kids at school, it’s just like a story. And his mum hears about this kid doing these things, and the mum says “Every time you say something bad about somebody, I want you to put a nail in a plank.” So every time he/she picks on somebody, they put the nail in the plank. Years later, they take the nails out of the plank and say “But there’s still holes!” Even if you apologize those scars are still there. The damage is already done, you know. So that’s how that song came about. And, you know everybody has their own perception and their own take on music when they hear it and I felt kind of uncomfortable with the fact that no one would have known that story or how personal that was to me. I just couldn’t give it away, it was the first time that that had happened for me.

Do you think that going through emotional patches in your life has helped to drive your song writing?

100%! I strive off negative spaces, like when people tell me I can’t do something, or when someone likes to tear me down – I’m like, no, I can do this! It’s not really to prove them wrong it’s really just to prove to me that I can. Every fight that I’ve had in a relationship, every sort of trial and tribulation that I’ve been through is definitely very apparent in my music. I’m very transparent – I don’t hide anything from anybody, you know.

What do you think about “Sorry”, seeing as you wrote it and it did so well?

I’m very grateful for that song. That’s another song I had no idea the impact it would have, I had no clue. But I’m so happy it did.

I’ve heard you’ve had issues with stage fright at times, or maybe felt it but not shown it. How do you sort of deal with that?

I try to just… breathe… as much as possible, and when I’m on stage I can usually find one person that knows all the words to every song. Even if there’s just one person, that’s enough for me to get out of my head. Because that means that there’s that one person across the country that feels connected to me, and I feel connected to them. So, that helps a lot with my anxiety but, definite stage fright! You definitely get kinda dizzy, my throat gets dry.

Who are some of the coolest people that you’ve worked with?

Oh goodness! I mean I’m so fortunate I’ve got to work with so many people. Um, P!nk is one of my all-time favourites, I got to work with her last year, incredible. I got to work with Keith Urban this year too, who’s super amazing. We just had a song come out together and I’m really happy about it. Um, I mean of course Selena Gomez. She’s incredible. She calls me her muse and I call her mine. I’ve been so grateful I’ve got to work with some of the most unbelievable people I’ve ever met.

What’s your favourite song to sing live?

Oh, man. I mean they’re all really fun to sing live. I think my favourites are probably “I Miss You” (Ft. Clean Bandit), just because everybody knows the words to that one, and “Issues,” that’d probably be my second.

Has two very cute dogs called Sampson and Hazel
Loves tattoos
Hates stage fright
Best mates with Justin Tranter
Likes to write songs in closets
Has issues, and isn’t afraid to tell people about them

by Fin Hardie


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