This Cali-native singer and songwriter to the stars (we see you, Rihanna, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber) just landed two Grammy nominations: for Best New Artist and Song of the Year. Here’s a primer on the 24-year-old breakout, as told to us by Michaels herself while she was recovering from food poisoning with a bowl of plain rice on a snowy day in Toronto.
1. She got her start writing songs for other people at 15. “My older sister did demos around L.A.—when a songwriter wrote something, they’d hire her to sing it so it could be played for an artist. I would follow her around the studios because I just loved being in that world. As a kid, I’d always tell her when she was singing the wrong melody, and then one day my mom was like, ‘Why don’t you sing then?’ And we actually ended up writing together.”
2. But her break only came at the ripe old age of 19. “My first big song was for Selena Gomez, called ‘Slow Down,’ but ‘Miss Movin’ On’ for Fifth Harmony was the first song of mine I ever heard on the radio. I was driving around in the Valley, and I heard them actually do an acoustic version on KIIS FM. That was even cooler because it was the words we had written stripped down. I bawled!”
3. She didn’t dare to dream of actually being a performer herself for the longest time. “I always thought I was going to follow in the vein of [non-performing songwriter] Diane Warren. But then I wrote ‘Issues,’ and it was like the insecure-slash-not-good-enough side of my brain just went silent for a second and I was like, ‘I need to do this.’”
4. She is a huge therapy advocate. “I was at a point where a lot of songs I had written for other people came out at the same time, and suddenly the pressure was overwhelming. I had panic attacks every day, and eventually I texted my manager and said: ‘Find me something—pills, anything. I can’t do this if it’s going to be my life every day.’ And she put me in touch with a therapist, which changed my life. I even FaceTime her on the road!”
5. Julia Michaels isn’t her real name. “My last name is actually Cavazos. When my dad moved to L.A. to be an actor, an agency told him to change it so people wouldn’t be deterred by how ‘Hispanic’ it was. So he picked the whitest name he knew, which was Michaels. Cavazos is really hard to pronounce, so I chose Michaels as my stage name too.”
6. Please don’t invite her to a bar. “I tend to have an overstimulated brain. The last thing I want to do is go somewhere and hear all this music and people talking over each other. I just like hanging out with my puppy, watching TV, baking and snuggling with my boyfriend.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of ELLE Canada.
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