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Julia Michaels, Winner of the Citi Voice of Impact Award, on Real-Life Stories as Inspiration

Julia Michaels could brag about being the voice behind several No.1 hits like Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and, most recently, Selena Gomez’s “Lose You To Love Me.” But she won’t — the singer and hit songwriter is too humble.

Michaels — who will receive the Citi Voice of Impact Award at Variety’s Hitmakers event on Saturday for her work in supporting women in the music business — says that real-life stories are her greatest source material for songs.

“The thing that inspires me the most is conversations, conversations I have with other people and ones I have with myself. That helps me figure out what I want to say lyrically,” she tells Variety. “I write everything as if you’re talking to the person you’ve wanted to confront; if you could say it to somebody, why couldn’t you say it exactly how you would in a song?”

“When [Gomez and I] first started working together [in 2013], it started as me writing the songs,” she continues. “I walked in to the session one day because she wanted to change some words to the song, and [Gomez] was like, ‘We must be going through the exact same thing because you’re writing everything that I feel.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, cool, you had a s—ty ex-boyfriend too? Let’s go!'”

Michaels — pictured above in the middle of an enthusiastic concert audience in London earlier this year — described her intimate working relationship with Gomez, explaining everything they had been through together: “She walks into the room and we instantly start pouring out our feelings. There’s a blending of perspectives, and then we write.”

Originally from Santa Clarita, Calif., Michael got her start writing Disney syncs, i.e. the background music heard during transitions on TV shows. When she was 17, she received the news that the song she wrote with fellow songwriter Joleen Belle was going to be the theme song for Disney’s comedy series, “Austin & Ally.” Now 26, Michaels has written for major players like Ed Sheeran, Britney Spears and EGOT winner John Legend.

Michaels began her solo career with her 2017 single, “Issues.” The single went on to nab a 2018 Grammy nomination for Song of the Year, and played no small role in her receiving a Best New Artist nomination as well.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities, and I’m really grateful to have people believe in me enough to have me in the room and talk about how their lives are going and trust me enough to help me put them on the paper and into the world,” Michaels says.

Again, there are many opportunities for conversations leading to songs, as women have gravitated to the front of the music conversation over the past couple of years.

“There’s more light being shed on women,” Michael says. “This year, in music, has been so different; women are pushing boundaries more than ever and they’re creating their own genres. They’re singing whatever the f– they want to sing about and doing it in a way that feels authentic to them.”

“I get a lot of aspiring songwriters at my meet-and-greets and shows,” she continues, “and I really take the time to tell them to keep going. I was them too, writing in my room, trying to escape my world as a kid. I’ve had a couple of girls tag me in their Instagram posts. Some of them, I love their voices so much that I’m like, ‘Send me your stuff! Let me help!’ I know what it’s like to want to be heard and that no one will take you seriously because you’re too young. I had a lot of s— to say at 16. Billie Eilish has a lot of s— to say at 17. Age is not a f—ing thing.”

Yet for such a determined songwriter, Michaels is uncertain what her next release might be. She says has no plans to release “Inner Monologue Part 3” (which would seem an obvious follow-up to her last two extended plays) but instead might release a full-length album.

“I have no idea,” Michaels admits. “I change my mind about it all the time.”

Either way, she’ll be ending this tumultuous decade on a high note: She’ll be honored — along with Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion and others — as one of Variety‘s Hitmakers on Saturday, Dec. 7, and will receive the Voice of Impact honor from Citi’s global consumer CMO, Jennifer Breithaupt.

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