At 23-years-old, Julia Michaels has written more hits than most songwriters do in a lifetime. If you don’t know her by name, you certainly know her by song. To name a few, Michaels’ repertoire includes “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, “Hands to Myself” and “Good for You” by Selena Gomez, “Love Myself” by Hailee Steinfeld, “Used to Love You” by Gwen Stefani, and Ed Sheeran’s recently-released single “Dive.” Believe it or not, this is just a bite sized sample of the hits Michaels has written for other artists. On January 13, 2017, Julia Michaels released her first single under her own name as a signed solo artist with Republic Records.
Watch: “Issues” – Julia Michaels
“Issues” is a pop ballad with melodies running up and down the scale and lyrics too honest to give to someone else. The song starts with crisp plucks of notes contrasting from low to high and Michaels’ unique voice singing:
I’m jealous, I’m over-zealous, when I’m down I get real down, when I’m high I don’t come down. I get angry, baby believe me, I could love you just like that and I could leave you just as fast.
There’s something effortless about her voice. It flows softly from one lyric to the next, yet it’s incredibly precise – hitting notes a whole scale away from the last in the matter of a second. It’s in a wheelhouse of its own. The plucky notes carry through the verse before a low bass drops into the chorus beneath Michaels’ breathy background vocals.
I got issues, and you got ‘em too, so give ‘em all to me and I’ll give mine to you, bask in the glory of all our problems cause we got the kind of love it takes to solve ‘em.
The end of the chorus closes out with an unexpected hook. It’s similar to the hook in Selena Gomez’s “Hands To Myself;” you’d be lying to say you don’t find it catchy when that song goes off the beaten track and Selena sings, “Can’t keep my hands to myself… I mean I could but why would I want to?” That’s the kind of hook “Issues” provides in the chorus: The words stray slightly from the straight beat, grabbing your attention and successfully earning a spot on your most listened to playlist. Michaels sings,
Yeah I got issues…. and one of them is how bad I need ya.
The bass continues to beat throughout the second verse, accompanied by contrasting snaps. The lyrics of the second verse are where Michaels’ songwriting prowess shines through:
You’re perfect, poorly wired circuit, got hands like an ocean, push you out pull you back in
A good songwriter is able to break through the clutter by writing about something so common and relatable, while somehow, through some musical magic, making it different. That is what Michaels is so easily able to do through every single one of her songs. The only difference with “Issues” is that it somehow feels even more honest and relatable, likely because we know it’s coming straight from her pen to her paper. In “Issues,” the artist captures the feeling of how in relationships, you can go from feeling the happiest you’ve ever been one day to the lowest the next, and not only that, but the uncertainty of wondering if what you’re feeling is your fault, or the fault of your partner. Somehow, through song, Michaels makes perfect sense of a situation that is nothing of the sort.
The chorus repeats through the end of the song. Her voice harmonizes through every note, swaying in and out of words and crisp breaths. Anticipating the expectations of the its listeners’ ears, the music cuts off at the end of the song and closes out with the hook of the chorus, “Yeah I got issues… and one of them is how bad I need ya.”
There are a lot of pop stars who try their hand at songwriting, and sometimes they even succeed. It’s another story when a songwriter has the ability to be as good as, if not better than, the most successful pop stars in the world. Julia Michaels has it. She is a rarity in the industry, and she will only rise from here. Whether it is behind the scenes or on the surface, Michaels is here to stay, and pop gods and goddesses alike are forever grateful.
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cover: Julia Michaels © Meredith Truax