Julia Michaels Talks Shawn Mendes Withdrawal, Ed Sheeran Boot Camp & Her Most Personal Song Yet

Julia Michaels
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Amazon

Julia Michaels performs onstage at the Amazon Music Unboxing Prime Day event on July 11, 2018 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Even before landing her own smash hit with the Grammy-nominated "Issues," Julia Michaels was behind some of the biggest songs for Selena Gomez, Hailee Steinfeld, Justin Bieber and more superstars. And 2018 has been no different: The 24-year-old singer-songwriter has penned a duet with Keith Urban, Janelle Monae's sassy hit "Make Me Feel" and album cuts for 5 Seconds of Summer, Troye Sivan and Christina Aguilera. And it's only July.

Two of Michaels' most notable songwriting credits this year include Anne-Marie's latest single "2002" -- co-written with Ed Sheeran, a frequent songwriting collaborator -- as well as Shawn Mendes' "Nervous" and "Like to Be You." Amid all her success with other artists, Michaels has also managed to put out another catchy single of her own, "Jump," which she released last month.

"I don’t really get to write as often as I’d like to, but I try to be Batman and Bruce Wayne at the same time," Michaels tells Billboard with a laugh. "It makes it hard because I’m literally somewhere different every single day, but I just love writing. When I became an artist, that was something that I wanted to keep doing."

The hit-writing machine brought her own tracks and some of her biggest co-writes to Amazon's Prime Day launch event in New York last week, where she performed alongside Alessia Cara, Kelsea Ballerini and Ariana Grande. After Michaels'  performance, Billboard caught up with the star to hear about her experience in the studio with Shawn and Mr. Sheeran, the real-life inspiration behind "Jump," and the hit that's closest to her heart. 

Shawn Mendes’ Energizing (And Hydrating) Songwriting Process

He is so funny in the studio. He does this thing where he’ll open like four water bottles and have them at different points in the studio, and by the end of the day they’ll all be drunk. He’ll stand on the piano bench, then he’ll be on the floor playing the guitar, then he’ll be on the couch, then he’ll sit on the edge of the table. He’ll just like have one and there’s different points to drink, he’s kind of just like all over the place.

I remember waking up the next day and actually being kind of depressed because the session was so energetic and lively, and he was just so excited about so much. I feel like it’s kind of rare when someone is that excited. He has so many ideas and just wants to do song after song after song. The next day, you’re so stimulated that you’re not simulated. You’re like, “I feel kind of depressed.” I think I texted him and was just like, “How ya doin'?”

Ed Sheeran’s Impressively Quick Studio Skills

For him, it’s very much his own thing. It’s his words, his mind, and you’re just kind of there in his universe. It’s so crazy because it happens to fast. It’s like, boom, song’s done, and you’re like, "How did that just happen?" I don’t know how he does it. It’s like he knows how to make things sound huge. It’s incredible. He’s one of the few artists that I know that can write consistently, like five songs in a row, that are hits.

Her Panic Attack That Resulted in Ed Sheeran's “Dive”

I was invited to this camp to work with him and basically all these people that he works really close with on a daily basis, and I was the only new person. I was the youngest person, and I just felt so out of place and so much pressure to bring it. I was writing with Foy Vance in this little courtyard, and [Ed] comes over with these cameras like, “You guys got anything?” I literally, like, backed away and just stealthily walked away and said nothing, like a coward.

I ran into Benny Blanco's room -- who was kind of curating this camp with Ed -- locked the door, and I was panicking. He went to the kitchen, grabbed ice and put it in my hands. I was holding ice because it basically burns your hands so much that you have to think about that and not what's on your mind. He basically was like, “OK, you and me, we’re gonna do this together. We’re gonna be in this room, no cameras, just you and me, you got this.” That day, we listened to a bunch of tracks and I started the course melody, and I was like, "I have to leave," because I was so tired and so overwhelmed.

The next day when we came back, Ed had heard ["Dive"] and was like, “I love this, can we finish it?” I was like, "Yeah, definitely." We shut all the cameras out and wrote the song. We actually wrote [Anne-Marie's] “2002” that week as well, I think maybe that same day right after we had written “Dive.”

Her Real-Life Relationship That Inspired “Jump”

I wrote “Jump” about this guy that I was seeing. I went through a really bad breakup last year and this was the first guy that I started to have feelings for, and he was ready to just go full force. He came over one day and was just like, “You know, I’m like, totally obsessed with you, this is nice,” and then I was like, “No.” But yeah, I wrote “Jump” about him. It’s basically just about wanting to be in love again and not be so cautious and scared.

Her Not-So-Awkward Feelings About Using Exes as Inspiration

It is [weird], and it’s not. Actually, no. If it’s a song about a shitty person, I’m really happy that they’re hearing it, and if you know it’s about you, then you are a shitty person. If you text me and you’re like, “Is this about me?,” then I shouldn’t have to answer that question. When it’s a cute love song, I usually tell the person. I don’t usually tell the person when it’s a song about how much I don’t like the person, 'cause they usually know.

Her Co-Written Hit That Means the Most

I think the song I’m most proud of is probably [Clean Bandit's] “I Miss You.” Mostly because I wrote that one by myself and it’s the only song that I’ve put out that I’ve written completely by myself besides [Nervous System track] "Don't Wanna Think." I wrote it while my ex-boyfriend was in Cabo for his birthday -- that’s how I started the song and just kind of went from there. I wasn't really expecting it to come out, I was just sort of getting it off my chest. Jack [Patterson of Clean Bandit] played chords and I basically just went in the booth and sang everything as you hear it. A month later, Jack called me and was like “We’re gonna put this out.”

That was kinda scary, not knowing how that was going to be taken by audiences because it is a very personal song. But people experience the same emotions. We’ve all experienced heartbreak, we’ve all experienced loved, we’ve all experienced loss, it’s just not the same exact experience, but we’ve all had those emotions. I always forget that people can find their own perspective in a song like “I Miss You.”