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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Is This Thing On?: The woman behind the curtain

What does it take to make a pop sensation today? It doesn’t hurt to coin an iconic hairstyle, date high profile celebrities, have an Ariana-octave range or score a hit song or two. See, a lot of people can sing — just ask our eight a cappella groups on campus. But the real magic of songwriting doesn’t come as easily. Many of these chart-topping pop stars today receive help in this department, working with a team of creative writers and producers to engineer their perfect, infectious hits. One woman's work has been going viral over the past few years, whether you've known it or not.

I present to you Julia Michaels, the mastermind behind some of today’s biggest hits. Maybe you've heard of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” (2015), or perhaps Selena Gomez’s “Hands to Myself” (2015)? The list doesn’t stop at Jelena; Michaels' portfolio includes collaborations with Maroon 5, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears and younger artists like Fifth Harmony and Hailee Steinfeld. She's even worked with some odd combinations, such as Linkin Park and Kiiara. Michaels' ability to adapt to various genres shines through with her catchy yet emotional lyrics.

However, her hit-making success holds greater significance than mere name recognition. As a songwriter, Michaels holds the keys to the pop kingdom since she isn’t limited to influencing just one star’s brand. She has been able to play a part in the emerging female role of the music industry. With Hailee Steinfeld's "Love Myself" (2015), Michaels and the writing team, which actually did not include Steinfeld herself, shaped a song that shocked the radio waves by saying that a young female could, in fact, shamelessly promote loving herself. On Gomez's "Good For You" (2015), the sensual, sophisticated track signalled a major shift in the artist's career. No longer a Disney kid, Gomez made it clear that she was ready to be seen as an adult in the industry. Incredibly, she was able to do so without embarrassing Billy Ray Cyrus on national TV.

More recently, Michaels has been writing and performing her own work, noting a shift toward the front stage. Her first EP "Nervous System" debuted in July 2017, with one song to make it to the Billboard Hot 100 thus far: "Issues" has peaked at No. 11.

At the American Music Awards, Michaels was nominated for Best New Artist, but the title was awarded to Niall Horan, former One Directioner. Michaels has a long way to go before she can be considered one of the best. Max Martin (think Britney Spears and Katy Perry) boasts 22 No. 1 hits to date. The only songwriters with more hits than Martin are John Lennon and Paul McCartney, ringing in 26 and 32 respectively. Accolades aside, working alongside some of the biggest names in music is certain to have some perks. While working with Bieber on both "Sorry" and "Friends" (2017), I can't help but wonder if she knew anything about his aspirations to win Selena back.