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Julia Michaels On Her Long-Awaited Debut 'Not In Chronological Order' And How Being In Love Inspired It

Julia Michaels

Photo: Miranda McDonald

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Julia Michaels On Her Long-Awaited Debut 'Not In Chronological Order' And How Being In Love Inspired It

Ahead of her keynote conversation at the GRAMMY U Virtual Conference on May 7, Julia Michaels sat down with GRAMMY.com to candidly discuss her debut, love, relationships, social media, and more

GRAMMYs/Apr 30, 2021 - 05:15 pm

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 SteinfieldAfter 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 IChronological 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. 

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Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Scott Goldman and Julia Michaels

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com

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Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Go inside the bright mind of one of pop's most promising singer/songwriters and learn about her songwriting process, her transition to the spotlight and the three female artists she admires

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2018 - 11:57 pm

Julia Michaels' career has soared within the past year. Already a talented songwriter with writing credits such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, and Fifth Harmony to her name, Michaels took a leap of faith with the release of her third solo EP, 2017's Nervous System.

Listen Now: "Required Listening," Episode 3 With Julia Michaels

Though Michaels has admitted to being nervous about moving to the forefront as an artist in her own right, the gamble paid off. The single "Issues" went gangbusters all the way to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and her EP cracked the Top 50. Plus, the Davenport, Iowa, native scored two nominations for the 60th GRAMMY Awards: Song Of The Year for "Issues" and Best New Artist.

What makes Michaels tick musically, how did she overcome her trepidation and why does she rely on feelings to guide her songwriting?

You'll learn the answers and so much more on the latest episode of "Required Listening," the new music podcast by HowStuffWorks and the GRAMMY Museum in partnership with the Recording Academy.

"It depends on the person. A lot of the times I'll just talk to them [first]," said Michaels regarding collaborating with other artists. "I mean we're all human. We all cry the same. We all bleed the same. So I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible to be able to tell me things, even if the artist that I'm with doesn't write, just having them talk is lyrics in itself. You know, them explaining their day or expressing how they feel. It's like, "That's amazing ... if that's how you're feeling we should write that.'"

As a matter of fact, Michaels told the host of "Required Listening," GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman, that she lets her feelings pilot her songwriting instead of traditional conventions — a process that has yielded gems such as "Issues."

"I'm not that calculated when I write," said Michaels. "I'm all heart when I write so I don't think about the algorithm of a song or the mathematics of a song. I just think, 'This feels good to me,' and just kind of go with that."

When peppered by Goldman with a question about coming into the limelight as a recording artist, Michaels was quick to point out that she has benefitted from plenty of help and encouragement.

"I think a lot of people have helped me get there," said Michaels. "My manager, Beka Tischker, she's been with me for six years. She's always believed in me. … And this year a lot of people have come into my life. I mean even my band — Dan Kanter, who's my guitar player … he's been with me since the beginning of the artist transition. I can't even do it without him at this point. ... There's a lot of people in my life, especially this year, that have made me feel comfortable and confident."

Speaking of confidence, Michaels has taken cues from plenty of her self-assured peers. She cited three artists, in particular, who have inspired her career path.

"I'm not that calculated when I write. I'm all heart." — Julia Michaels

"[Pink is] a bad*," said Michaels. "I love Fiona Apple. I love a lot of artists that are not afraid to say what they want to say. I love artists that write their own music. Laura Marling — she's very much from her point of view, very much whatever she wants to do. And plus her voice is so haunting and beautiful."

"Required Listening" launched on GRAMMY Sunday, Jan. 28, with the first episode featuring an in-depth conversation with GRAMMY winners Imagine Dragons and the second detailing "The Defiant Ones" with Allen Hughes and Jimmy Iovine.

Future guests will include Sean "Diddy" Combs, Dan Auerbach, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and Lindsey Buckingham and Christie McVie of Fleetwood Mac, among others.

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How Holiday Music Affects Your Mental Health

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How Holiday Music Affects Your Mental Health

Love it or hate it, there's no doubt holiday music has an impact on our mental health

GRAMMYs/Nov 28, 2017 - 01:17 am

There are generally two kinds of people in this world: Those who love holiday music and those who can't stand it. Regardless of which side of the fence you stand, it turns out science has an explanation.

Scientists tell NBC News it all comes down to your childhood association with holiday music.

"Our response to Christmas songs depends on the association," said Dr. Rhonda Freeman, a clinical neuropsychologist. "Many of us associate this music with childhood and a happy time of presents and traditions and all the specialness that happens around that time of year."

However, on the other side, those who had a difficult childhood or who associate the season with loss find that holiday music brings on more painful associations.

The reason these childhood holiday music impressions have so much power over us even as adults is thatthe prefrontal cortex area of the brain, the rational thinking part of the brain, is still developing in children. As a result, a child's brain is more emotional, and those emotional associations around music stick well past adolescence. 

Because we listen to the same body of holiday music year after year since the time we are small, and tunes like "Silent Night" or "Carol Of The Bells" are designed to elicit an emotional response, it makes complete sense it's hard to get these songs out of our heads and hearts.

So love them or hate them, know you're not alone in your holiday music feels.

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Australian Group Tigertown Take On Mental Health In New Single

Tigertown

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Australian Group Tigertown Take On Mental Health In New Single

Alt-pop quartet's latest release deals with helping someone through depression

GRAMMYs/Oct 27, 2017 - 12:48 am

Australian alt-pop band Tigertown — comprising husband and wife Chris and Charlie Collins and Chris' siblings Alexi and Elodie — have released their latest single, "Come My Way," and it covers a difficult topic.

The single has, according to Billboard, "warm, bouncy synths, cascading keys and an anthemic chorus you can't help but chant along to." But while the song evokes a joyful mood, the subject matter is mental health and overcoming depression.

"We wrote 'Come My Way' last year in Nicaragua with our friend [British songwriter] James Flannigan. It's about helping someone through a time of depression," Chris Collins said. "We make ourselves so emotionally vulnerable these days, which can be great but it means, now more than ever, we need to be looking out for each other always."

"Come My Way" is the first single released from the Tigertown's upcoming EP, Warrior, out Nov. 17. The band will embark on a November tour in support of Great Good Fine OK.

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Khalid, Julia Michaels Set To Perform At Vevo Halloween Show In S.F.

Khalid

Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images

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Khalid, Julia Michaels Set To Perform At Vevo Halloween Show In S.F.

Vevo LIFT program expands to add Bay Area event after four years in the U.K.

GRAMMYs/Sep 20, 2017 - 12:19 am

Three of today's hottest up-and-coming artists we've spoken to recently will all come together in the Bay Area next month for Vevo's special Halloween Event when Khalid, Julia Michaels and Aminé, join Jesse Reyes at San Francisco's Craneway Pavillion on Oct. 28, as Vevo's flagship Halloween event makes its American debut.

For the past four years, Vevo has presented this event in the U.K. with great success. This year's U.K. show will take place in Manchester at Victoria Warehouse on the same day as the U.S. event. Performers for the U.K. event include Jonas Blue, JP Cooper, Rag 'n' Bone Man and Yungen.

The U.S. show will offer 4,000 fans the chance to see this lineup of four of tomorrow's stars as part of Vevo's LIFT series, with a fifth performer still yet to be announced.

A statement from Vevo outlines the experience: "In addition to a night jam packed with new music, Vevo Halloween guests can expect to take a journey into the Other World, a parallel universe where nothing is quite what it seems, a place where reality and nightmares collide. There are sounds coming from the darkness. There are objects moving in the shadows. Something is watching and following your every step."

Tickets are up for presale on Sept. 14 for only $5, available on Vevo's site.

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