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Michelle Zauner and her ‘Japanese Breakfast’ Music

Michelle Zauner and Japanese Breakfast (via @jbrekkie/Instagram)

With a white father and Korean mother, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast experienced Korean and U.S. values growing up.

In an interview with AXS, Zauner commented that her mother instilled traditional Korean values and raised her daughter with an “inherent cultural divide.” 

Morbid beginnings

Zauner started playing music with an emo punk band in high school and experimented with genres for many years. However, she put her band work on hold when her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

While she moved back to Oregon to spend time with family, Zauner started recording solo music. She signed a record deal as Japanese Breakfast following the unfortunate death of her mother.  

The first Japanese Breakfast album, “Psychopomp,” is mostly about the death of Zauner’s mother and the impact it had on her life. The lyrics comment on feeling disconnected from her Korean self and not understanding how to continue feeling comfortable with her identity, without her mother to relate to. 

Zauner and finding connection

Zauner commented, “In Asian cultures creativity is not valued in the same way . . . community is valued and creativity is seen as a selfish choice.”

The name Japanese Breakfast came from the juxtaposition between Asian identity and U.S. pop culture. “Japanese” represents how North Americans see Asians in pop culture. “Breakfast” represents the image of North American culture. This can be illustrated with two of Japanese Breakfast’s music videos.

In Asian cultures creativity is not valued in the same way . . . community is valued and creativity is seen as a selfish choice.”

“Everybody Wants To Love You” features Zauner in a traditional Korean hanbok, with a modern twist. Zauner is drinking, smoking, riding a motorcycle and playing pool in a bar – in stark contrast to the typical U.S. aesthetic. The video ultimately shows Zauner holding on to her Korean culture while also living a contemporary U.S. life. 

“Boyish” talks about feeling ugly and unwanted. The love interest of the video only shows affection for a white girl, and they may represent the typical U.S. relationship. It’s also important to note the significance of high school dances in the United States. Most U.S. girls are expected to be excited to get a date to prom, but the girl in the video is more interested in herself and her music.

Zauner is currently touring as Japanese Breakfast.

Michelle Zauner (via Instagram)
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7 comments

  1. This article was so cool and very well written and organized! I found it so interesting of the TCK life of Michelle Zauner and her sides of two different cultures, American and Korean. It’s very cool to see her represent the life of TCK’s and showing different cultures in her music and music videos. I think it’s important that there is more TCK representation and people like Michelle are more widely discussed.

  2. This article not only shines the spotlight on a TCK, but it also shines a light on the prejudice that many non-white TCKs face. When I read about Michelles Korean background, I was confused as to why her name would be “Japanese Breakfast”. However, the idea that Asians are often generalized as one “Japanese” ,” Chinese” etc is very realistic. This was a great introduction to TCK inspired music.

  3. This was an interesting read. I was interesting to know where some of this artist inspiration comes from. Its hard not only having a parent die but also losing that immediate connection of culture. I think Japanese breakfast has music that is very relatable for many Asian Americans. I can not wait to see what they do next.

  4. This article is great! It is incredible how she has challenged some of the expectations for creativity in Asian culture. Zauner brings in aspects from both Asian and North American culture. She definitely embodies the ideas that you can bring your identification with multiple identities into art and your passion.

  5. This is a very relatable article. I come from a household of many cultures with my parents being born and raised in Africa, and deciding on raising my sister and I in Canada. A comment my father made to illustrate the difference in cultures, was the fact the inside the home they would raise us as they were raised, but outside we were able to adapt Canadian culture. Having a mix of culture I believe allows a person to become more rounded and unique as an individual.

  6. This is a pretty inspiring story! It’s always cool to see people blend their cultural heritage into the art they make. Japanese Breakfast has gotten quite a bit of recognition and I’ve seen the name float around a lot but I never knew the background she had and how it connected to her music. This article does a great job of detailing her story and how it influences the art she makes.

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