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.”
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.