Julia Michaels has a word for 2017: “Insane.”
After previously making a name for herself as an in-demand songwriter for the likes of Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas, Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Ed Sheeran, John Legend and more, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter is capping this year as a first-time GRAMMY nominee. In her very first outing as a solo artist, Michaels has scored two nominations in the top categories: Best New Artist and Song of the Year for her debut single, “Issues.”
“I had written ‘Issues’ about something really specific and it was the first time that I had kind of forgone giving somebody a song because I didn’t think that it was appropriate with them not knowing the backstory of why I had written it,” she tells ET. “That was kinda the turning point for me as an artist. I had never, ever done that before.”
The raw, heartfelt “Issues” went on to be streamed more than one billion times worldwide and be certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
“I can’t believe it,” she muses. “To be accepted by my peers this year has felt really incredible.” Asked to describe her year in only a few words, Michaels can’t help but gush.
“Remarkable. Amazing. Unbelievable,” she begins. “I mean, overwhelming, but in the most incredible way possible. There’s so many adjectives I could use!”
But in a strikingly honest essay written for Glamour, Michaels admits that success often comes at a price. For her, an ongoing battle with anxiety came to a head while performing at the Billboard Music Awards in May.
“I had a massive panic attack on stage,” she writes. “The hug you see me go in for to my keyboard player was actually me turning to her saying, ‘I can’t breathe!’ I walked offstage and crumbled into a ball in a backstage hallway. I was so afraid that people could see me. I was so afraid what they would think. So afraid that I had hit all the wrong notes. That I wasn’t ready. Or, even scarier, that I was. So many thoughts in milliseconds streamed through my head. My manager sat with me on the floor and held me until I was able to stand again.”
Speaking with ET, Michaels explains that working with A-list artists has forced her to hone her craft in a new way.
“When I’m writing with other artists, it sort of becomes like one big therapy session,” she says. “I think that it’s helped me in the studio to be more open, more honest and confront a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally confront or want to talk about. Writing and being an artist is the place where I get to do that the most, and know that people are going to accept and embrace me for who I am.”
“Writing for me on tour is quite hard,” she says. “It’s just not the same. It’s usually me in the shower or the bathtub and I’m not thinking about anything, and I’m just kinda singing melodies and then all of a sudden there’s a little idea I can sing down in my voice notes.”
But first, Michaels is gearing up to celebrate the 60th annual GRAMMY Awards in New York City on Jan. 28, 2018, where she plans to hit the red carpet in a look that will visually reflect the last year — “bold and brave.”
With reporting by Leigh Scheps.