Julia Michaels has written songs for some of the biggest names in pop music, including Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber. She’s also worked with rising electronic dance music artists such as Zedd and Kygo. Michaels even guested on Linkin Park’s latest single, “Heavy.”
But sometimes a song is just too good, too personal to give to someone else. That’s exactly the case with “Issues,” a playful, breathy pop hit that explores the complexities of loving someone—and being someone—who isn’t perfect.
In an interview with the lyrics site genius.com, Michaels said, “It was never really a plan to keep [“Issues”] to myself. I had written the song after a fight with my boyfriend, and the song was just so personal that it felt kind of uncomfortable hearing someone else sing it. I just thought, ‘No. I can’t do that.’ The song basically spawned right after we got into a ridiculously dumb, petty fight. And then afterward, we realized just how ridiculous we were being, and that the bigger picture is that we love each other and that’s what matters.”
In “Issues,” Michaels is admirably quick to admit that she’s probably not the easiest person to be in a relationship with. “I’m jealous, I’m overzealous,” confesses the first verse. “When I’m down, I get real down/When I’m high, I don’t come down.” Those self-aware musings preface this warning: “But I get angry, baby, believe me.”
That’s followed by her promise that if her apparently easygoing guy ever gets cranky, she’ll be quick to return the favor: “But you don’t judge me/’Cause if you did, baby, I would judge you, too.”
Still, the chorus declares that in the end, they both have messy stuff in their lives that they’ll need to learn how to accept and deal with together. “‘Cause I got issues, but you got ’em, too,” Michaels sings. “So give ’em all to me, and I’ll give mine to you.” And despite the first verse’s warnings about her character flaws, Michaels remains confident that she and her man have what it takes to work through conflict: “‘Cause we got the kind of love it takes to solve ’em.”
I mostly like Julia Michaels’ outlook on rocky moments on romance’s road. We encounter the song’s most glaring lyrical bump, however, at the outset of the second verse. The, ahem, issue is her use of the s-word as she calls out some of her man’s shortcomings.
If her guy seems to have a bit of a temper, though, he’s also apparently quick to recognize when he’s gone too far. “You … /Feel bad, try to fix things.” And when he momentarily pushes her away, he wastes no time closing the distance between them: “And [you] got hands like an ocean/Push you out, pull you back in.”
The song’s video, for its part, has a few issues of its own. Michaels and her man (in this video, at least) are shown playing a bit of peekaboo under the covers with each other. We never glimpse anything more explicit, but the implication that this couple shares a bed (and quite possibly a home, too) is pretty obvious.
Elsewhere in the video, guests at a party drink, and martini glasses can be clearly seen on a table in the background.
So are these lyrical and video issues enough to merit a breakup with this track? Those who are drawn to Julia Michaels’ otherwise mostly positive messages here will have to wrestle with that question.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.