Julia Michaels

The cover art for Davenport-native Julia Michaels' single "Issues" was designed by a Quad-City based artist, Lindsay O'Brien. 


You may not know this Davenport native’s name, but you’ve probably sang along to Julia Michaels’ words in your car.

If you’ve heard “Sorry” by Justin Bieber or “Close” by Nick Jonas or any of Britney Spears’ new album, then you’ll recognize lyrics penned by an under-the-radar Michaels, who moved to Santa Clarita, California, with her family when she was around 6 and has since shared credits on Grammy-winning songs. 

Now, the 23-year-old hit-making songwriter is sharing something new: her voice.

Since Michaels released her debut single, “Issues,” in mid-January, it’s been climbing the pop charts, covered in a viral video with Selena Gomez, streamed more than 43 million times on Spotify and played more than 4 million times on YouTube. “Issues” currently is at No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard “Issues” play on Quad-City radio stations B100 (KBEA-FM 99.7) and Kiss 101.3 (KUUL-FM 101.3).

This week, Michaels and I talked about the single and why it’s striking a chord with listeners.

“It’s about having your issues … and your partner having their issues,” Michaels said via email. “But the two of you working together on them and loving each other through them.”

After moving to California, Michaels’ break came at 17 when she co-wrote the theme song for “Austin and Ally,” a TV show on the Disney Channel. Over the past five years, she has collaborated with such artists as Gwen Stefani, Fifth Harmony and Kelly Clarkson.

The key to writing a hit song, she said, is this: “I listen a lot. I think most of it is just listening to people talk.”

For “Issues,” she made a choice to listen to herself.

“I wrote a song for another artist last year, and for a moment, they were going to keep me on it,” Michaels said. “When they changed direction and got another artist on there, I was so upset. My song husband, Justin (Tranter), said to me, ‘Honey, I think there’s something going on.’ Once I wrote ‘Issues,’ I knew this was for me. I couldn’t imagine someone else singing something that was so personal to me.”

The song, which proclaims, “I got issues and one of them is how bad I need you,” is a favorite for at least one Quad-Citian: Michaels' mother, Julie Scriven.

“Everyone can relate to it because everybody has issues in their everyday life,” said Scriven, who lives in Davenport. "It's really cool to see people loving it." 

Scriven said she heard “Issues” for the first time like everybody else, except she listened while FaceTiming the artist behind the tune.

“Julia is very superstitious,” she said. “I kept asking, ‘Can I hear it yet?’ and she’d tell me to keep waiting, and I’d be biting my nails. That’s just how she does things.”

It’s been on repeat in Scriven’s car since then as an extra connection to her daughter, whom she texts daily. 

“She’s a very busy girl right now; lots of phone calls, radio promos and traveling,” Scriven said. “This is all new to her. It’s something she’s always wanted in the back of her mind, but I think it took this song ... it’s a song she’s very passionate about and fought for.”

It’s not Michaels’ first time in the public eye. In August, Michaels performed “Carry Me” with Kygo at the Rio Olympic’s closing ceremony, something Scriven described as “surreal for Julia.”

Back then, on Michaels’ Facebook page, which has grown to have about 8,000 likes, a description read: “Just a girl from Iowa that was given a pen to write her secrets and out came lyrics."

Michaels, who is set to release a full EP later this year with Republic Records, said she makes it back to her hometown a few times each year to visit family and quench her cravings for Whitey’s Ice Cream.

Michaels has kept Quad-City ties close in other ways: Her manager, Beka Tischker, is from Dubuque, and Michaels enlisted a Rock Island artist, Lindsay O’Brien, to design the cover art for “Issues.”

O’Brien, who is the daughter of Scriven’s fiance, said she aimed to illustrate the “emotions of the material and the artist” and “what issues and anxieties feel like.”

And she thinks, like many fans pressing play on “Issues,” that Michaels is “pure magic.” 

“I think her single is an amazing glimpse into who she is as an artist, and it is a beautiful start to a really amazing journey for her,” O’Brien said. “I can not wait to see what the future holds for her.”


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).