“Most of the time I’m brooding and sad, you’ve caught me on a good day.” Frankly, it sounds like Julia Michaels is fibbing. Speaking down the phone from her Los Angeles home, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter’s bright, enthusiastic sentences are punctuated with laughter at odds with her moody description.
What’s more believable is her admission that she has “a lot of anxious energy”. At the moment, she’s having to adjust to finding new outlets for it. Up until the back end of last year, Michaels unloaded her jitters in the studio as a songwriter.
Together with writing partner Justin Tranter, she’s written 12 Billboard 100 hits, including Justin Bieber’s No.1 monolith Sorry, Selena Gomez’s Good For You and Hailee Steinfeld’s Love Myself.
She’s also written for Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani, and has a credit on Dive, from Ed Sheeran’s upcoming ÷ album.
But she couldn’t stay in the background forever, and in October she signed to Republic Records, whose president Charlie Walk said at the time, “From the first day I met Julia it was clear that she was not just a writer, but a very unique artist.”
Michaels had offered an insight into what he meant a few weeks earlier. Playing her second ever gig at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, the singer stalked the stage in a retina-burning bright green catsuit.
It may have been presented as a performance with Kygo on his track Carry Me, but it served as a luminous introduction to a new pop star.
Not that Michaels, who grew up surrounded by music in Santa Clarita, California but was always too shy to even consider becoming a singer, is comfortable with that tag. “It’s so weird, everything is so different now,” she says.
“The hardest thing is getting used to not writing as much now I’m too busy to be in the studio all day. It makes me sad sometimes, but I can get my anxious energy out by just writing poetry or listening to music or dancing a lot!”
Crazed dancing was Michaels’ reaction to the news that she’d secured her first featured vocal, too. Recorded tearfully in the immediate aftermath of a break up, Michaels’ part on Jason Derulo’s 2015 single Trade Hearts opened her eyes to a possible pop career.
“I was in Mexico with Selena [Gomez] finishing her album Revival,” she remembers. “Jason called and said he wanted to keep me on the song and I ran onto the beach screaming and jumping up and down!”
Issues, Michaels’ skyscraping first solo single, comes from an even more emotional place than Trade Hearts did. Indeed, after she finished it at a Stargate and Benny Blanco-run songwriting camp, she deemed it too personal to be used by anyone else.
“It really is all of the issues I deal with on a daily basis. I felt uncomfortable with someone else singing my life,” she says.
The decision to keep it for herself has already changed Michaels’ life. “I haven’t been anxious in a long time,” she says. “It’s because I’d been denying myself something for so long, I think my body could feel that.”
Now she’s up and running, Michaels is making up for lost time, determined to make an impact. There’s an EP in the works and touring plans are being formulated.
“It’s my life when I sing these words. It’s one thing to write it and another to emote it,” she finishes. “I hope people can feel what I’m saying.”