Julia Michaels has written songs for all your popstar faves. Everyone, and I mean everyone[!] - from Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Little Mix, Demi Lovato, Hailee Steinfeld and Fifth Harmony, to Ed Sheeran and Nick Jonas.
If you want to get mathematical about it, the songs that Michaels has co-written exceed over 8 billion streams (with the consumption equivalent of over 50 million songs sold worldwide). So yeah... she’s a talented songwriter to say the least.
Now, Michaels has released her first ever solo single, 'Issues', which is the first song to drop from her forthcoming debut EP (expected to be out sometime this year), and the perfect pairing of emotive instrumentation soundtracking ardently frank lyrics.
YOU WILL LIKE, IF YOU LIKE: Astrid S, Phoebe Ryan, Ryn Weaver, Muna, Dua Lipa, Olivia O’Brien, Hailee Steinfeld, Jojo, Selena Gomez.
COUP DE MAIN: Congrats on your debut single 'Issues'! It just went in at #7 on the New Zealand Heatseeker Singles Chart last week, so I think that means you have gotta come over and visit us soon!
JULIA MICHAELS: Oh! I would love to! I was so sad that I didn’t get to this time!
CDM: Have you enjoyed Australia?
JULIA: Oh my gosh, it’s beautiful. Now we have to go home to cold and rain. Here it’s been so sunny and beautiful. We climbed a bridge last night!
CDM: You’ve said that 'Issues' was inspired by "knowing that there is power in your vulnerability." That’s such a compelling sentiment, so it’s weird to think that there’s such a social stigma against showing weakness. Why do you think it’s so hard for people to just be open and honest?
JULIA: I think people are just afraid to show that side of themselves because they think people aren’t going to accept them or love them for being vulnerable - especially for women. There is such a huge typecast with women being afraid to be vulnerable just because there is that stereotype of women being emotional. So I think this song is really important for that, because women, especially now, need to know that there is power in vulnerability, and you don’t need to hide who you are just because you’re afraid that somebody is not going to accept you or love you.
CDM: The unconditional love that you sing about in 'Issues' is really powerful. Aside from no judgement, what else do you consider to be the hallmarks of unconditional love?
JULIA: Being able to communicate and accept each other in your complete form. I think a really big part of unconditional love is just accepting each other in your full-form, emotions and all. I think that is a really, really big part of unconditional love.
CDM: In the past you’ve said that "the future is weird" and seemed uncertain about pursuing a career as a solo artist. What changed your mind? Why did you decide upon now as the time to go for it?
JULIA: Well, I actually wrote a song last year that had affected me to the point that I was crying over the fact that I had to give it away. I’ve never been that kind of person, I’ve never been the kind of person to want to keep songs for myself. When that happened, my co-writer Justin [Tranter] was like, 'I think this is affecting you so much because I think you are denying yourself something that you really want and you’re just afraid of it.' I was like, 'Yeah maybe you’re right, maybe I’ve just suppressed this for so long because I’ve been so afraid of it.'
CDM: Well, I’m glad you took the plunge! 'Issues' is amazing.
JULIA: Thank you! Thank you!!
CDM: Your writing partner Justin went through the music industry wringer with Semi Precious Weapons - has he given you any good advice about this artist-side of the music business?
JULIA: Just to be myself - that’s been a big thing. I’ve just been so nervous to do this. Like I’ve said, I’ve wanted to but I’ve suppressed it, and he’s always been super, super supportive about everything. His big advice was just to be myself!
CDM: You’ve written so many amazing pop songs, but I have to say that I think my favourite of them all has got to be 'Hands To Myself' because of the "can't keep my hands to myself / I mean, I could but why would I want to?" key-change. You just can’t argue with a good key-change.
JULIA: Thank you! Oh yeah, no, never! Never, never, ever. Modulate always! <laughs>
CDM: In the past you’ve likened yourself to a "musical therapist" trying to get the most out of people when songwriting. Is it ever tough taking on so many other people’s emotional baggage?
JULIA: It’s definitely emotionally taxing, but when you’ve done it for so long you kind of get used to it and you kind of start to find comfort in it. There’s literally nothing better than sitting down with an artist that knows exactly what they want to say, but can’t articulate it the way that they want to. Helping to be that person and complete the puzzle, it’s a really special feeling and it’s a really intimate feeling.
CDM: It must feel quite rewarding?
JULIA: Completely. And you establish a connection with somebody so fast just because of the simple fact that it is a very intimate situation.
CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
JULIA: My biggest thing is that I just want people to feel something. That’s the most important to me, I don’t have any crazy goals or anything like that. My main thing is that I just want people to be able to connect to this song in the way that I have. Maybe get in touch with a certain emotion that they don’t feel comfortable with or haven’t really explored yet. I think self-awareness is a really, really big part of growth and I think that is what this song is for me, and I hope it reaches people.
CDM: I’m not sure if your Wikipedia page is correct or not, but it lists Laura Marling as one of your inspirations, which is super awesome but slightly unexpected. What is it about Laura’s songwriting that you like?
JULIA: Yeah! I just like her honesty and her darkness. Her voice is so eerie and stunning, and when she sings you really feel it. And when you watch her sing, you really feel it. I think that’s a really beautiful moment when you can actually feel somebody mean what they sing. I feel like singing something is one thing, but really fully emoting it and feeling it enough to have other people feel it is really special, and I think Laura does that really well.
CDM: Do you think honesty is the most important thing about songwriting?
JULIA: Yes! 100%!!
CDM: At what age did you write your very first song ever, and what was it about?
JULIA: Oh boy, I’ve been writing songs since I was like 5 or 6, so I couldn’t really even tell you what the first song was that I ever wrote. I remember singing it and I remember coming outside to my Mom like, 'Come listen to my song,' with my terrible lisp that I had as a kid. My Mom would be like, 'That’s nice, dear!' <laughs> I couldn’t tell you what the first one was!
CDM: You started learning music on the keyboard right? Do you still write using a keyboard/piano?
JULIA: Yeah, every once and a while. I have a piano at my house, so when I want to just write or when I want to come up with an idea or feel really overwhelmed, I’ll just sit at the piano and fiddle. I’m super shit at it, but I know enough to get my ideas down and to sing my songs.
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
JULIA: This is such a hard question. I don’t know if there is one element that makes a song great versus good, but I think it is maybe just a feeling that makes something special. I don’t know if I could actually pinpoint what makes a song good versus great.
CDM: I saw that you were in the studio with Olly Alexander from Years & Years last year, what was it like working with him?
JULIA: I love Olly! He’s awesome, he’s one of the most precious people I’ve ever met.
CDM: What do you think is the strongest human emotion?
JULIA: That’s a hard one. Honestly, I think love is probably the strongest human emotion. I really truly honestly do.
CDM: You said yesterday via Twitter that, "I think now more than ever girls need strong female role models that aren't afraid to be vocal." Do you think that anyone that has a celebrity platform available to them has a responsibility to be a champion for change?
JULIA: 100%! Yes!!
CDM: You’ve talked openly about experiencing panic attacks in the past, and it’s very heartwarming to see more and more popstars become open about their mental health problems and encourage dialogue around these issues that effect a lot of people.
JULIA: Anxiety is a very, very big part of my life, and I know that it is a very big part of other people’s lives. I know there is a lot of people that don’t understand it. For a long time I didn’t understand it or why I was feeling like this all the time. So I think it’s important to talk about, because there are a lot of people that feel alone and I felt alone. And that is something that I don’t want people to feel, I don’t want people to feel alone in that situation.
CDM: You’ve said that your Dad named you after Julia Roberts. Do you have a favourite movie of hers?
JULIA: 'Pretty Woman' is pretty classic! That’s the movie I was named after - he saw her in the red dress, "Okay, I need to name my daughter Julia." I know... ridiculous! I love him so much. <laughs>
CDM: What’s on your bucket-list?
JULIA: Well I did just climb a 440-foot bridge, so that is crossed off! And I did get to pet kangaroos too while I’ve been here, so that’s another one to cross off my bucket-list. I’d love to perform at the Grammys, that would be a really, really special moment for me. I probably could make a whole list of things on my bucket-list, but those are probably the three coolest things that I’ve gotten to do and that I really want to do.
CDM: You’re one of our 'must-know’ artist picks for 2017... who are yours?
JULIA: I really like this group Muna, they’re super, super awesome. And this group A R I Z O N A, I think they’re super, super talented!
Click here to check out more of Coup De Main’s 2017 Must-Know Artists.
Listen to Zedd’s song 'Daisy' featuring Julia Michaels below...