ACL Artist Spotlight: Japanese Breakfast

Written by on October 3, 2018

Japanese Breakfast first officially came on the scene in 2016 with their debut album, Psychopomp, and have been slowly but surely rising in popularity ever since. Before we delve any further, here are a couple of misleading things to note about the name Japanese Breakfast, just right off the bat:

  1. Japanese Breakfast is not a band, but a solo act, consisting of
  2. One woman, Michelle Zauner, who is not Japanese.

These are neither first nor last on the long list of ways Japanese Breakfast, defies expectations – even those which she set herself. Zauner, who is herself of Korean and Jewish decent (and penned an excellent essay on the struggles of feeling connected to her ancestry), named the band as an allusion to the exoticism of Asian culture in America. If you dig enough into her discography, you’ll find that these deviations from norms are where Zauner flourishes: she’s solidly indie but unafraid of deviation from genre. Her poppiest songs are off of an album that’s explicitly about grief, and she’s managed to succeed as an Asian American woman in a white male dominated field. She has the unique capability to take an expectation and not just run with it, but twist it until it’s entirely her own.

Photo by Mauricio Castro

Zauner exhibits this subversion best in the music video for the 2018 single “Boyish,” off her sophomore release Soft Sounds from Another Planet. The video follows a teenage girl flanked by her two equally cool friends at her high school prom, interspersed with shots of her gazing dreamily at what we assume to be a love interest. Of course, this only lasts until Zauner twists the narrative to reveal the girl’s true inner fantasy: herself on stage playing the everloving life out of a guitar, cheered on by a sea of her peers.

Japanese Breakfast (or, as Zauner affectionately refers to her act, JBrekkie) lives in the intersection of moody, introspective production and catchy pop hooks. Comparisons to other female artists within the genre can often be reductive and dismissive, but a quick look at Zauner’s social media will show that she doesn’t reject the notion. When she isn’t busy being incredibly relatable or announcing serving looks on stage, she’s supporting her realm of fellow female indie darlings which notably includes artists like Mitski, Jay Som, and Empress Of.

Japanese Breakfast will be commanding the Austin City Limits Festival stage on both Saturdays (October 6th and October 13th). Be sure to purchase your tickets now while you still can, and check out Japanese Breakfast at their website or anywhere you can buy or stream music.

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