Along with scoring her first solo hit this year with “Issues,” Julia Michaels had in hand in one of the biggest rock hits of 2017 with “Heavy,” the Linkin Park single which she co-wrote. Released in February and reaching No. 2 on the Hot Rock Songs chart, “Heavy,” featuring Kiiara, represents Michaels’ first collaboration with the group — and Linkin Park’s last big single prior to the tragic passing of frontman Chester Bennington in July.
“I’ve listened to Linkin Park for years,” Michaels, who co-wrote “Heavy” with Bennington, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and Brad Delson and her writing partner Justin Tranter, tells Billboard. “When I was growing up, my brother was such a huge fan of theirs, so it was always around in my house. So it was really cool, getting to work with Chester and Mike and Brad.”
Michaels adds that the concept for “Heavy,” which focuses on self-care and “dragging around” personal issues, was Bennington’s idea. “He was like, ‘I wanna write a song about how sometimes you get really weighed down by all your problems, and sometimes it’s really hard to get out of that.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that. And we wrote the song in about two hours.”
While the group was writing the track, Michaels noticed “six or seven huge white boards of songs” in the studio, some of which made their way onto Linkin Park’s most recent album, One More Light. She also was relieved that Bennington, a childhood hero, was as friendly as she had hoped he would be.
“He came in and was really funny and really warm, and had the biggest smile on his face,” Michaels says. “He was just cracking jokes and having the best time, and Mike [Shinoda] and him were going back and forth, just making each other laugh.”
Michaels was thrilled when the band landed on “Heavy” as One More Light’s first single, and ended up seeing Bennington with the rest of Linkin Park a few times after the track became a hit. In light of Bennington’s shocking death — the singer died by suicide at the age of 41 on July 20 — Michaels says that her collaboration with Linkin Park has become difficult to hear.
“They were so excited about putting out new music, and just so happy and just so lovely,” says Michaels, “so it’s really strange that these circumstances have happened. I have a really hard time listening to the song now because of it.”
This article originally appeared on Billboard.