MIDAS-LIKE SONGWRITER TURNS EMOTIONAL TURMOIL INTO POP GOLD.
The architect of hit songs for Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and, er, Linkin Park, Julia Michaels has perfected the art of extracting the best lyrics from almost any muse. “I go into full therapist mode,” the 23- year-old, Iowa-born pop virtuoso says of her writing sessions. The results, she adds, can be surprising. “One artist told me they’d never actually been in love.” Perched on a banquette in a central London members’ club, this self-declared “destructive, sad person” and now centre-stage pop entity is just as open when asked what’s on her own mind. “Today I’m OK,” she begins, as most artists might. Then: “Three days ago I stayed up for 24 hours and I cried for six hours. Last night I was up until 6am, crying and sending emails.” It turns out the intense relationship she sings of in her breakout solo hit, the sonically understated but melodically dramatic pop jam, Issues, abruptly ended less than a week ago. Forty-eight hours later she was singing that song, 2017’ s biggest-seller by a new artist, to 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium; today she’s onto the channelling-it-creatively stage. “My [ iPhone] VoiceNotes are pretty filled,” she sighs. “I’m now literally writing a song about the steps of a breakup.” Many of Michaels’s songs find robustness by embracing fragility. She began writing in her teens and made a brief foray into releasing her own music, but in 2013 found a creative foil in “song husband” Justin Tranter. “When I was younger ageism got in the way of people taking me seriously,” she says today. “Nobody wanted to take a chance on the new girl but Justin just said: ‘Do your thing, we can tweak it after.’” Tweaks were largely unnecessary: Julia and Justin became modern pop’s most in-demand songwriting partnership. Among Michaels’s successes is Justin Bieber’s monolithic Sorry, which was released just three weeks after she finished it: “We were like, ‘Don’t you want to simmer on this for a bit?’ Then it was everywhere. It was like an epidemic.” More recently Selena Gomez’s stylish Bad Liar, written over a looped portion of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, saw David Byrne replying “I love it!” when asked for sample clearance. “I’ve always said I wanted to work with David Byrne,” Michaels grins, “and now I technically have.” The success of her solo career means she’s now put co-writes on the back burner. “My attempt to be Bruce Wayne and Batman at the same time is failing,” she notes, but her grin says it all: with both Bad Liar and her new track Uh Huh (think Britney re-imagining Blur’s Song 2) both climbing global charts, failure is one issue Michaels doesn’t have to face.
“MY ATTEMPT TO BE BRUCE WAYNE AND BATMAN AT THE SAME TIME IS FAILING.”
Julia Michaels: goes into “full therapist mode” when songwriting.