Julia Michaels – ‘Not in Chronological Order’ review: masterful solo debut by pop hitmaker

A decade in the making, the songwriter makes a graceful, intriguing leap to solo stardom

It’s little wonder that songwriters are a bit fed up at the moment. As streaming services turn their focus towards massive and marketable names, the very people who pen the smash hits are being sidelined. Until recently, songwriters and producers were seldom listed on streaming platforms, while a recent petition implored music’s big names to stop “taking credit” for songs they did not write.

For much of the last decade, Julia Michaels has been straddling both sides. She honed her craft as a songwriter, having penned Justin Bieber‘s ‘Sorry’, Selena Gomez‘s slinky Talking Heads-sampling ‘Bad Liar’ and many others while still pumping out her own solo material. The interest in Michaels’ solo work to date – five EPs and countless singles – has therefore largely stemmed from an appreciation of her status as one of the elite pop songwriters of her era.

Michaels is now finally ready to embrace her debut album proper, and credits it with having her heart in the right place. “Now that I’ve experienced love in a very healthy way, I realised how pessimistic I’ve been in the past, how bitter I’ve been and how in love with toxicity I was,” she explained to NME ahead of the record’s release. “I wanted to just really talk about this new healthy relationship I have with love.”

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Romance permeates the record at every turn: there’s competitive break-ups (‘Wrapped Around’), ex anxiety (‘All Your Exes’) and the comfort of a healthy relationship (‘Little Did I Know’, ‘Orange Magic’). This debut confidently chronicles every dizzying high and crushing blow that love brings – affairs of the heart have, after all, long been Michaels’ specialist songwriting subject.

Most notably, each song is anchored by Michaels’ distinctive one-liners. Her lyrics are personal, if sometimes slightly unusual for the pop songs they’re placed in. ‘All Your Exes’, a wicked pop-punk moment, becomes wonderfully jarring when Michaels belts: “I wanna live in a world where all your exes are dead“. Brutal. Nu-disco number ‘Wrapped Around’, which wouldn’t sound out of place on Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’, is equally entertaining as Michaels teases an ex-partner and celebrates moving on with a new beau: “Well look at me now / Watch me wrap round somebody else now“.

The subtler moments, like the lethargic ‘Love Is Weird’, are often at odds with the stellar pop hits they’re nestled between, but occasionally these quiet moments land the most devastating blows. As a picture of insecurity and envy emerges on remarkable closing ballad ‘That’s The Kind of Woman’, a resigned whisper is all it takes: “That’s the kind of woman / I’d leave me for“. It’s brought on wonderfully; the sheer might of Michaels’ songwriting pen remains unrivalled.

Details

  • Release date: April 30
  • Record label: Republic
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