In April 2021, Julia Michaels put out her debut album Not in Chronological Order. It was a highly-anticipated record from one of pop music’s finest songwriters after years of penning hits for the likes of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, in addition to releasing a number of her own EPs. As Michaels rallied fans to get her song “Issues” to a billion streams (which quickly happened on Jan. 26), LA Confidential caught up with her to reflect on NICO, what she has in store for 2022 and her social media project, You, that celebrates people challenging beauty standards.
You’ve put out a number of EPs and done so much songwriting for huge pop stars, but now that 2021 is officially over, was there anything from your debut album cycle that surprised you?
No. The thing that was surprising the most is that we were able to make an entire album in quarantine, socially-distanced, at the height of a pandemic. It's something obviously none of us could have ever anticipated. I was like, I'm not gonna make an album on Zoom, but I want to make an album. I've been an artist now for almost five years and I was just like, “It's time, it's time for me to do this.” And I wanted to write from the place that I was at, which was just very in love and unlearning a lot of things that I have learned.
I had had the ache to finally make my first album, but it was in quarantine, in the height of boredom and self reflection that I was like, “Oh, I really think it's time,” and then I started writing songs for it. And then it just came together pretty effortlessly.
You've always been intrigued by the challenging of Hollywood beauty standards. Can you tell us more about that?
I was born in ‘93, so when I really understood music, it was the early 2000s. And so it was Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and NSYNC and Backstreet Boys and Jessica Simpson. I remember growing up thinking like, “Oh, you have to be perfect.” And this was pre-social media, so anytime somebody f****** gained weight or changed their hair color or cut it or anything, it was always ridiculed. Always. And I found that to be very odd. Why are our bodies just constantly there for people to judge?
I stopped shaving my armpits. Everybody grows hair there, it's not new news. We all f****** have it. It became such an ordeal across my platforms. It was talked about in different publications that I have grown my body hair out and there were a bunch of men in my comments section being like, “That's disgusting,” and a lot of women that were saying that it was unhygienic and unsanitary for women to have body hair. I was just like, “How is there so much deep-rooted misogyny everywhere? I don't understand”
It really all kind of started there. I get a lot of people that want to talk shit about the fact that my teeth are crooked. I'm not typically pretty and I'm f****** fine with that. I actually really love my teeth and I love my body hair and I love my body. And it's taken me a very long time to get there and to be able to say that and do that. I know that with social media, there's just so much information and there's so many different people that sell the idea of beauty. And I just think about, I think about that girl that's in Kansas that has glasses and freckles and she's got beautiful curly hair and she doesn't think that she's beautiful because she doesn't meet beauty standards. And that makes me really sad because there's so much beauty in all of those things that that person is.
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Can you tell us about the development and evolution of You?
It started actually from a photo. I had taken a picture where I was in a dress, my arms were up and my body hair was showing. I wanted people to to realize that pretty comes in all f******* forms. It comes in all forms and all shapes and all sizes, and it's so diverse. I wanted to make You about you. I wanted people to be able to write in about things that they have overcome because it's not just physical. It's emotional, too. It's emotional pretty. I wanted people to be able to write in and talk about things that they've overcome and things that have challenged their bodies and it was pretty amazing. The first week that we put it out, we got 5,000 submissions. We really just want to to give people a voice and say, “Look, I am f****** beautiful. I'm not perfect, but this is who I am and I accept it and I love it and I embrace it.” And I just want those people to inspire other people to see the good in themselves and the beauty in themselves.
Recently on Twitter, you teased about releasing a new song. What plans do you have this year for new music?
Definitely gonna put out new music. I am going to potentially tour this year. I haven't released the dates yet, so no one knows when. I'm excited to do that. But I want to have new music out before I do that. I've told my wonderful fans that if “Issues” gets to a billion streams that I will tease the song. I'm really excited for them to hear it and they've been streaming like crazy, so I know they want to hear it too.
Right now I'm just writing, and I'm just writing things that feel good to me. Whatever may come of that, comes with that. I'm not trying to package it and put labels on it. I just want to write songs and however that rolls out it rolls up.
How do you stay excited about your craft?
I love what I do. I love music. I love the songwriting process. It's never the same to me. It's always different and everybody's process is so different. And every time I walk in the room, I'm just grateful. I remind myself every day that this is my job. I come in, I take my shoes off, I sit on the couch, I wear my PJs. I hang out with the most talented people I've ever met, and I write songs with them. That's my f****** job and it's amazing and I don't take that for granted even a little bit.
What is your songwriting process like?
I feel like I start with more lyrical ideas or just things I really want to talk about. And usually I'll just go in on the piano, just something really simple. And then once I figure out what I want to say, I’ll write the song and then build production from there. Sonically,I don't really know when I wanted to sound like. For the most part, I know that I just want it to mean something and I want to be able to articulate what I'm feeling in the best possible way. That's really just how I go in and sometimes I don't even have an idea. Sometimes I'll just go in and then play chords or hear chords and then I'll just go on the mic and sort of close my eyes and just whatever comes out, comes out really.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Brendan Wixted