It's been a big year for Julia Michaels, but if you ask her, she'll use the word "bizarre." Not only did she write, record, and produce her debut LP Not in Chronological Order (out Friday, April 30) and earn her second Grammy nomination in the prestigious and elusive Song of the Year category, she also fell deeper in love with her boyfriend and frequent co-writer, JP Saxe. Considering all of this happened in the middle of a pandemic, the word bizarre works, but so does "impressive."
But her successes didn't come without their roadblocks. When asked to share her lows and highs over the past year, she says "making an album in the middle of a pandemic" filled both categories. "I had to make a whole album socially distanced, with my friends being so close to me, but I couldn't touch anybody." She refuses to do Zoom sessions with her co-writers because she feeds off the energy in the room, so she and her producers had to get a little creative for the sake of safety: She started bringing her own mic into the studio so she would never have to share, and they ran cables between rooms separated by sliding glass doors. These fixes made the process more collaborative than had the album been written virtually, even if it still felt more distant than she's typically used to.
While producing the record did take up a ton of her time, she went from her pre-COVID routine of two or three sessions to sometimes having whole days with no studio time at all. "I kept thinking, 'What do I do with myself?'," says Michaels. "I was just twiddling my thumbs, like, 'Okay, how do I get this creative energy out?' That's been really weird — going from being creative all the time, every day, to only having instances of creativity." So in between those bursts of creativity, she has found that "small little things that make me happy have become bigger than I anticipated."
The pandemic has also forced her to take more time for herself, whether it's indulging in a bath, reading a book, baking a new recipe for dessert, or taking time to cuddle up on the couch with Saxe, a movie, and some popcorn. "Those little things have kept me sane, through this whole situation," she says wistfully.
And of course, part of that self-care time is all about fine-tuning her beauty ritual. Her current favorite product? The Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. "I use it every day without fail, I swear by it, I could probably write a Bible on it," she raves. "I use that every single night. Every night. I don't know if I'm supposed to, but I do every night. It truly changed my skin. I am obsessed with it." She also never leaves the house without Charlotte Tilbury's Lip Cheat Lip Liner in the brand's best-selling Pillow Talk shade. (In fact, this is another holy grail product for her; she tells Allure she has six or seven of them, enough to make sure she never runs out.) She's also a fan of Rare Beauty, a line from fellow musician Selena Gomez (fun fact: the two are actually friends, and Michaels has even co-written a few of Gomez's hits). The brand's Perfect Strokes Liquid Liner is currently in her rotation.
Another big part of her self-care and self-expression is her tattoos. She's covered in them, and as a storyteller who shares her life through songs, tells Allure they are a huge part of how she releases her creative energy. "I love tattoos and I love the way that they make me feel," she explains. "I love when I get a new one, and I'm really close with the people that tattoo me. It's such an intimate thing. It's sort of like songwriting, you know? You're going in there, you don't know this person at all, and you're like, 'Here's my story. This is what I want on my body. I trust you to make it look the way that I want it to look.'"
Michaels has two full sleeves in addition to other pieces scattered around her body, but she can somehow remember when she got them and who she got them with. She files her tattoo ideas away in her brain until she has enough to justify a two-hour trip to her usual artists, London Reese and Jim Sylvia, and tries to do a bunch of them at once in her preferred styles, Americana and Neo-Traditional.
But sometimes, things don't always go according to plan. She tells the story about getting one of her more recognizable ones, the "I Love You" in the center of her palm. It was supposed to be the first of a few pieces in a session, but says the pain was so unbearable that she ended up leaving right after that one was finished. (It wasn't too much of a deterrent though; she ended up getting the word "more" tattooed on the opposite palm not too long after.)
Most of her tattoos are on her arms, ranging in size and theme — a typewriter on the outside of her bicep, an Americana-style pinup girl in boxing gloves on the opposite inside bicep, and a vintage microphone surrounded by roses on her forearm, among many others — as well as other pieces of various sizes placed around her body. She has the words "speak up" scrawled across her neck, for example, and a straight line that runs down her chest. She even has a few on her legs that she did herself. "Wouldn't recommend, but I was bored and on tour," she explains. All of the pieces she did herself are stick-and-pokes, and she clarifies that there definitely was not alcohol involved. ("When you're handling a needle you want to be as careful as possible," she says.)
Now, her first album is finally out and the music video for the album's first single has already garnered over a million views. There might be a tour on the horizon (pending venue reopenings), but for now, Michaels is ready to enjoy her album release, spending time with Saxe, and is setting into this new phase of 2021 before things get inevitably busier.
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