From songwriter to singer, how Julia Michaels puts her pain to paper

As we count down to music's biggest night Sunday on CBS, and we're traveling down the "Road to the Grammys" all week.

  • Watch the 60th annual Grammy Awards Sunday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on CBS.

With vulnerable lyrics and a raw voice, a song about "Issues" became a best-seller for Julia Michaels last year. And while you may not know her name, you know her music. At 24 years old, Michaels is already an established hit-maker, writing for some of pop music's biggest names including Justin Bieber and Gwen Stefani, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas.
In all, 18 singles penned by Michaels have charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Now, Michaels is ready to make a name for herself. She's nominated for two Grammys as "best new artist" and "song of the year."

Until recently, creating confessionals for other artists has been Michaels' comfort zone.

"You basically learn about all of these super intense things that are happening in people's lives. And because they're trusting you to help them get all their words into a perfect puzzle piece, there's just this beautiful connection that happens," Michaels said.
An argument with a music producer ex-boyfriend proved to be the spark that transformed her from songwriter to singer. She said he became jealous when a song she wrote became a chart-topper.

"And he was so upset that I had done that," Michaels said.

"That you had achieved something so high?" Yuccas asked.

"Yes. And he just projected all of his insecurities on me that day, to the point that I was just in tears," Michaels said.

Michaels put her pain to paper, and the words became "Issues" – a plea for acceptance rather than judgment, a song too personal to give away to another artist. 

"When you're writing for other artists, you can write the song and just leave it there," Michaels said. "When it's yours, you basically have to relive those memories all the time." 

Julia Michaels - Issues by JuliaMichaelsVEVO on YouTube

"Issues" became the first single off Michaels' debut mini-album titled "Nervous System," a name she selected in reminder of her ongoing battle with anxiety.

"I was having panic attacks almost every day. I would be in sessions and I would end up in a fetal position for two hours," Michaels said. "I had become so overwhelmed that I had just fully debilitated myself. I couldn't do anything."  
Many are surprised to learn one of her most crippling panic attacks took place on stage at the Billboard Music Awards last May.
"I just literally had a total breakdown on stage," Michaels said. "And I remember turning around and looking at my keyboardist. And I was just like, 'I can't breathe. I can't breathe.' And she was like, 'I don't know what-- I don't know what to do.' … And I got offstage. I just fell on the floor in a hallway and was just hysterically crying. … If this is what the rest of my life is gonna look like, I can't do this. I cannot do this."
Michaels does not shy away from sharing her struggles with mental illness. Therapy, she said, changed her life, giving her tools to help cope especially while performing. 
"Have you been able to channel your anxiety? Can you work off the crowd now?" Yuccas asked.

"That's the only way I work on my anxiety when I'm onstage," Michaels said. "It's like you're on a blind date with 10,000 people. … You're like hoping that at least one of 'em loves you, you know? Somebody!"

As her career keeps climbing, her tattoo that says "i love you" is a constant reminder to love herself, focus and breathe. 

Watch the Recording Academy's 60th annual Grammy Awards Sunday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on CBS.