Julia Michaels kicked off her career as a songwriter penning hits for other artists, so when she finally broke out as a singer, it was no surprise to see her become a chart-topper in her own right.
But the feeling that comes over her when she takes the stage to perform her hits might come as a surprise to the cheering fans who watch her. That’s because, despite appearing at ease behind the mic, the 27-year-old suffers from intense stage fright.
However, thanks to those same fans, she’s found a way to get through it.
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During a Wednesday morning video visit to TODAY, Michaels explained that when she wrote her 2017 hit “Issues,” she knew she’d have to step into the spotlight directly, even though she struggled with anxiety and depression.
“I was just like, ‘I don’t know if I feel comfortable having somebody sing something so intimate about me,’” she recalled thinking at the time.
But then she discovered how uncomfortable she felt when performing the single.
“Yeah, it was pretty wild,” she told TODAY’s Carson Daly. “All the sudden I was on these stages that I wasn’t familiar with, opening for people in stadiums. It was pretty horrifying; I’m not going to lie.”
For instance, when she belted out “Issues” at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards, one of her first live performances ever, she suffered a panic attack on stage.
“I literally turned around and was like, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Michaels said.
That was in May. By August of that same year, she found herself performing in front of another huge crowd at the MTV Video Music Awards. That’s when she found an unexpected coping mechanism.
“I remember I was doing the VMAs. I was having so much anxiety — my hands were sweating, my knees were shaking,” she said. “I looked out into the crowd, and there was a girl that looked at me and she goes, ‘It’s OK. You’ve got this,’ and I just looked at her the whole time.”
According to Carson, who’s been open about his own battle with anxiety, that fan was her “guardian angel.” And since then, other fans have filled that role.
“So every time I would open for somebody, I would focus on the people that knew the songs,” Michaels said. “Like, ‘Oh, I don't feel so alone up here by myself.’"
She’s not alone offstage, either. Nearly two years ago, Michaels met fellow singer-songwriter JP Saxe when the two sat down to write music together. They began dating almost immediately, and since then, her music has packed more references to love than any “Issues.”
“I'm in a very healthy, wonderful relationship,” she told Carson.
And while she may be singing a different tune these days, it’s important to note that doesn’t mean things have changed. Love may be a cure for loneliness, but it’s not a panacea for mental health.
“Even though I sing about love and being really happy and healthy, I still have anxiety,” she said. “I still have depression. Those don't just go away when you're happy.”