When you hear a Julia Michaels song—and you’ve probably heard more of them than you think—they’re almost instantly recognizable. Songwriters have their habits that are unique to them, and Michaels really leans into her quirks in songwriting. If you want to write a song like hers, try out the following tools.
Start before or after the beat
Perhaps the most identifiable aspect of Michaels’ songs is that she stays away from beginning her melodies on the first beat of the bar. She places a lot of emphasis in her melodies and melodic rhythm by making sure she starts before or after the first beat, sounding off-kilter. This pairs with…
Use a lot of words
Michaels uses a lot of words, almost like she’s talking. It gives a quality of confession, as though she’s speaking to a friend. We talk a lot about contrast (for example, using a wordier Verse and less wordy Chorus) but she doesn’t usually pay attention to that. If anything, only her Post-Choruses tend to be quite sparse.
Michaels doesn’t completely stay away from imagery or specific references, but because she writes as though she’s speaking, she tends to use less imagery and metaphors on the whole.
Quick, specific, precise truths
The confessional-style of writing really comes from the way she writes her lyrics. She uses precise lines that seem to flow together like a conversation, but taken apart, the lines are very specific truth bombs. Sometimes, they come and go so quickly, you really have to be paying attention to catch all of them.
She uses a lot of phrases that repeat. In “If The World Was Ending”, she uses “I know, you know, we know”. In “Bad Liar”, she uses “I’m tryin’” over and over. This is common on Post-Choruses, but she will place them in other parts of the song and it can feel unexpected.
Michaels likes to use interesting words that really catch your attention. In “What a Time”, she uses the word “nauseous” (not a word I ever would think to use in a song!). In “Jealous”, she uses the word “overzealous”.
Big Choruses not necessary
Michaels writes Choruses that stand out in many different ways that don’t have to do with having the melody jump up in a higher register. Many of her Choruses are in the same range as her Verse, like in “Lose You to Love Me”, or just a little bit higher, like in “Hands to Myself”.
She spotlights her Chorus mostly by creating a feeling of resolution. Sometimes this is in her lyrics, by going straight to the point that she was dancing around in the Verse. She might use chords that resolve to the tonic chord or have the melody centre around the tonic note. She might start her melody on the first beat, which she tends to stay away from otherwise.
Using the tools
No one should copy other writers exactly (plagiarism is not encouraged!). Julia Michaels writes confessional, rhythmic songs, and her tools can be useful when your song is calling for them.