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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS: JULIA MICHAELS

Interview by Simon Glickman

Republic’s Julia Michaels was well known in the biz before she emerged as an artist—as a writer, she’d penned songs for and/or with Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, Zedd, Hailee Steinfeld, John Legend and plenty more. Then came her first look as an artist, the Top 5 Pop radio hit “Issues,” which was certified double platinum in the U.S. and earned big streams and sales worldwide. Her EP, Nervous System, dropped in July. 

What do the Grammys mean to you?
I’ve been at the Grammys every year for the last three years, and I’ve had songs nominated and been on albums that were nominated. That’s always been really awesome for me. But the idea that I can possibly be nominated for the first time as an artist is so crazy, because I know how many people I idolize have stood on that stage.

What has the transition been like for you from behind-the-scenes writer to artist in the spotlight?
So many things have changed. Before this year, I was just writing in the studio seven days a week, and writing for other people. I still get to do that now, but I also get to write what I want to say and sing my songs. I get to see people singing songs with me. Even though I get nervous up there, it’s really awesome to see everyone smile and be in it. There have been so many amazing achievements this year: performing at Billboard, performing and being nominated for Best New Artist at the VMAs, getting to do a song with Maroon 5—and of course putting out my own music. There have been so many things this year that have changed my life in so many amazing ways.

 “There are always these pockets of trends; it just takes someone to break the pocket and start a 
new one.”

How do you define or describe yourself stylistically in the universe of pop music?I like to say that my sound is lyrics. I always try to make my words the focal point of my music, and use the production as added texture to tell the story. I’ve always been a really big fan of juxtaposition in music; if something is kind of dark lyrically, I like for the music to feel slightly positive. I feel like I’m one big walking juxtaposition. 

Can I get a macro perspective from you on pop writing right now and where things are going?
I think music is always changing. There are always these pockets of trends; it just takes someone to break 
the pocket and start 
a new one.

What’s your feeling on the number of writers who seem to be on a typical pop track these days? It’s frequently a giant group.Well, it depends on the artist and the process. I tend to have four to five writers, max: me as a writer, two producers, or me and my songwriting partner, Justin Tranter, and two or three other producers. Some people work well with collaborations; some people really like the idea of doing a certain part and then having someone else help. Maybe they have a cooler sound or a cooler take on it, so two becomes four. And then a songwriter asks for more help, so those five become seven. I don’t think every pop song has that many writers. It just depends on how much people are willing to collaborate and how much confidence people have in their ability to do it.

What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working on my second chapter of music, and I’m going to be touring with Shawn Mendes in the fall and doing some Jingle Balls after that. I’ve got a nice fall coming up.

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With a gigantic check. Soon.
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