Photo: Miranda McDonald
Julia Michaels On Her Long-Awaited Debut 'Not In Chronological Order' And How Being In Love Inspired It
Julia Michaels is someone you’re already familiar with—whether you know it or not. The songwriter turned singer has several hits under her belt, one being her 2017 acclaimed song "Issues." Before her move to the stage, her career was forged by songwriting for pop stars like Selena Gomez, Fifth Harmony and Hailee Steinfield. After signing with Republic Records in 2016, she released "Nervous System" and "Inner Monologue Pt. 1," toured the world and received three GRAMMY nominations, including one for Best New Artist. But on her debut album, Not In Chronological Order, out today, Michaels is giving you several more reasons to not forget her.
The Iowa-born singer/songwriter admits she's taken her time to release her biggest project yet. "It took me a long time to do this album mostly just because I don't know if I was really ready to do an album and I think one day it just hit me," she told GRAMMY.com. "I realized I had enough songs to be close to an album and I was just like, 'I don't want to stop. I want to make this. I want to put it out.'"
While her debut took her some time to make, Michaels’ ability to make pop music more personal—stemming from her mastery as a wordsmith—continues to shine on her first full-length album. In the past, through her transparent ballads, she has shared battles with mental health and anxiety, inadvertently working to destigmatize these topics within the pop genre. On Not In Chronological Order falling in and out of love are the central themes as she jumps across various timelines in her life, from her early 20s to now.
"Love is Weird" is the common thread between these conflicting experiences and emotions on the album as an acoustic guitar is accompanied by Michaels’ forthright lyrics about her encounters with the good and bad of love and relationships. She additionally shows her range in more upbeat singles like "All Your Exes" and "Lie Like This," which contain messages of reclaiming her own happiness and well-being from the waves of sadness after a breakup. The album shows that Michaels is just as resilient as she is relatable—and she refuses to be a monolith.
Ahead of her keynote conversation with close friend and manager Beka Tischker at the GRAMMY U Virtual Conference on May 7 at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET in which she will open up about what it takes to be an artist, Julia Michaels sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss writing the new album, how finding love inspired it, her favorite track and more.
Before this album, you had two projects under your belt. What was the biggest change that you saw within yourself when songwriting for this album?
I think the biggest change and the biggest thing that's happened is I've fallen in love. I think that's always inspiration for me when I write. It feels good. It just feels good, and I wanted to write about it.
You created the album during a pandemic. Did that have any impact on your creativity?
I think isolation and self-reflection are two things that plagued a lot of my quarantine time. It also was kind of bizarre because we had to socially distance for our sessions and I've never really done anything like that, but I was like I'm not making an album on Zoom. I refuse. I don't want to do that. That was probably one of the biggest things, the social distance stuff.
What does the album's title mean for you and how did you come up with timing as the concept for your album?
Not In Chronological Order, literally just means not in chronological order. None of the songs are in order of the way they happened in my life. And timing—yeah, it took me a long time to do this album mostly just because I don't know if I was really ready to do an album and I think one day it just hit me. I was doing "Lie Like This" and then I was writing "Pessimist" and I was writing all these songs. Then I realized I had enough songs to be close to an album and I was just like, "I don't want to stop. I want to make this. I want to put it out."
Do you think listeners could put this album on shuffle then or does it need to be listened to front to back?
No. I think they can put on a different song. I think my album is very situational. I feel like I have a song for everything on this album. I have a song for if you're feeling spiteful or revengeful, if you're feeling jealous, if you are just having a moment. I have songs for if you're heartbroken, if you're in love. I think my fans can always expect those kinds of things from me, always expect situational songs from me because I am in a situational person.
On "Love is Weird" you sing, "Love is strange for some. It ranges from love to tears." Do you think that the tension of love is what keeps people together or sometimes pulls people apart?
I think if you would have asked me this when I was 23 [years old], I would have said it pulls people together. I don't think that as a 27-year-old. I think for people like me who have anxiety and depression, I think for me personally, I thought I deserved a certain kind of love, like a very kind of toxic traumatic kind of love. And then, you meet somebody that changes all of that for you, and you're like, ‘Oh no it doesn't have to be this traumatic, chaotic, bullshit of a relationship.’ It can be easy. It can be beautiful and it can be communicative and it can be passionate without all the f***ing chaotic energy.
Was there ever a big breakthrough moment that you had in the studio when you were writing or recording?
I wouldn't say there was a breakthrough moment, but I think probably one of the songs that had me sort of more vulnerable than the others would be a song called "That's the Kind of Woman." I wrote that in a session with Michael Pollock. It started as an idea I had in the bathtub. I think it was just one of those songs where I was just thinking about all of the things that I wish I could—if I was sort of a well-rounded human being, what that would look like and I just started all the things that that would look like, and I remember Michael Pollock and I just like crying in the studio and writing it together. It was just a really beautiful moment. It's probably one of my favorites on the album for sure.
Is it tough for you to allow others to see that part of yourself, especially when thinking about "That’s the Kind of Woman?"
I think my fans have always known me to be very openly vulnerable. I feel like that's sort of, in a weird bizarre way, my brand. I'm innately an emotional person and innately a vulnerable person and I feel like some of my favorite music of all time is vulnerable. I wouldn't do this, I wouldn't be putting myself out there on stage and all of this stuff if I wasn't able to be vulnerable.
Do you have a favorite vulnerable or soul-crushing ballad that you listen to often?
My favorite one is probably "Independence Day" by Ani DiFranco. It's the best song of all time.
Do you have any particular inspirations for the production on "Orange Magic," because it contains elements of synth and new wave? What was the story behind that song?
I wrote "Orange Magic" about my boyfriend and about sort of our first date and falling in love and that kind of stuff. I guess "Love is Weird" was how I described the complexities of love. I wanted "Orange Magic" to sonically sound like complexities of love. I wanted it to sound a bit eerie and a bit distorted and just have this sort of weird sonic beautifulness about it.
Are you on TikTok? What are your thoughts about people using certain songs off of this album on the platform?
I am on TikTok, but I use TikTok mostly for fan questions or to talk about the album. I'm not good at doing the trends and the dances and that kind of s***. That's just not me at all, to each their own—and if you can, congrats. I use TikTok a lot just to answer questions and talk to my fans, just like on another platform. If they use my songs and they want it and feel connected to do things with them, that's awesome. Please, by all means, have fun. I'm always interested in seeing other people's creativity and how they personify songs and how they resonate with songs and what their creativity makes them see with songs.
On social media, you can be connected with your fans in such a close way, but it can also be a place with a lot of negativity, do you have any tips on how to block out some of the negativity or what you do to counteract it?
It's complicated because it is such an interesting place. For every 20 comments I get one that's just like, "Is that necessary on a Tuesday, on a nice sunny day, you a******?" Honestly, I try to just focus on the people that are there to support and focus on the people that I love and that lovme and that are really excited about this album. I've just been focusing on them. It definitely gets to me sometimes. I have my moments where I'm just over people and I'm not scared to speak my mind and say if something is fucked up, but I try to just focus on the people that I love and that are excited about the album.
What song are you most looking forward to performing on tour eventually and seeing your fans sing along to?
I think I'm most excited for "All Your Exes." I think that one's going to be really fun live. I also think that "Little Did I Know" is going to be a really beautiful and intimate moment that I think will be a special part of the show.