There is a phrase that is very common, an overused cliché at this point, and yet embodies all that Japanese Breakfast is at this point in her career. The phrase is “you can’t have a rainbow without rain.”
That is Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee in a nutshell – although that does gloss over the elegance found within her oversharing with the public. This latest record of the East Coast native and current Brooklynite is her third official LP to date – yet it feels eerily similar to that of her debut record, Psychopomp. That is in the sense of the ever-evident feelings tracing the perimeter of every song on each respective track list.
Five years and a whole lot of changes distance these two records by the critically acclaimed indie rocker, whose real name is Michelle Zauner. When Psychopomp dropped, it was immediately seen as a stylish, yet obviously homemade. Which in most ways, it was, for it merely appeared in the world as an artistic endeavor that the starlet needed to get off her chest in the wake, literally, of her mother and the immediate lifestyle shift that followed her death. It is a harrowing dream pop record with roots in the obvious dark cloud hanging over her head – and yet has an overarching understanding that upbeat music, in some way or another, flawlessly juxtaposes the heaviness that lyrical content music post-death-in-the-family can have.
This feeling was always evident in the whirlwind musical sensation’s career – particularly within the last five years of going from waitress and caregiver to singer and author. Yes, Zauner is a newly appointed, quickly adored author of her very own memoir, Crying In H Mart.
The ironically whimsical, purposefully evocative series of personal essays let Japanese Breakfast’s Asian-American story shine in an understated, but much-needed way. There is heritage being discussed, grief being documented, and lives being put on hold for one circumstance or another. Throughout its vibrant storytelling are vignettes of deep-seated emotion that get almost trampled over in the artist’s music usually. As expressed, exuberance and zeal, joy and excitement, are laced within what could be melancholy, reflective tracks. Without an upbeat background and uptempo musicality, the prose that stems straight from Zauner’s artistic heart and soul takes precedence. (Diving into the lyrics of just about any Japanese Breakfast song, without explicitly listening to the track, opens up a whole other world of introspection.)
The colorful, sunshine-y Jubilee comes just weeks after the heartfelt debut book, which truly does read as a complementary component of the Japanese Breakfast career that the world has quickly come to know and love. This third studio record is an ode to positivity and the message that rainbows are deserved to be seen by everyone who experiences rain. She tackles grief again, yes, but this time without that dark cloud hanging around. Each song showcases awareness for feelings, but hones in on the warmth that any and all feelings can have.
To absorb events in such a way that it makes you feel is to experience joy in itself, for feeling anything, even on the surface, is a powerful tool. Jubilee‘s joy, warmth, positivity, and rainbow-ness hits the nail on the head when it comes to moving on with life and reaches down into the core meaning of hope.
This cohesive understanding and explaining of hopefulness comes at a time where Zauner herself is taking charge within a non-white industry and the world is coming to terms with a pseudo-normal, COVID-vaccinated society once again. Throughout all of these relatable, agonizing, worrisome trials come triumph through the simple act of recognition. Japanese Breakfast recognizes her stance as a Korean woman making a successful career in the music business as a multi-hyphenate artist. She also notes the new outlook people have on the media in terms of the socio-political climate – media of which includes the work of creatives and pop culture figures like herself.
The star expressed this in an interview with Vox, which perfectly supplements that depth of Jubilee in a 2021 atmosphere.
““In some ways, through purging everything I needed to for Crying in H Mart, I was able to begin this new chapter. I had written two albums about grief, and I still felt like there was so much left to say about that experience. […] I finally feel like I’ve said everything I need to say about loss and grief and my mom in this way. I felt ready to tackle a new scene.”
Jubilee, right out of the gate, takes the underground indie rock image of the grief-ridden Japanese Breakfast and throws it out the window. There are alternative pop soundscapes riddled with emotion and vulnerability that don’t seem as diary-entry-based as they once were. Now, even in a fictional world (or lightly socially tinged narrative), the singer-songwriter can bare her feelings about more than just one subject – therefore doing so in a way that let’s us into her life as a whole and not just the heartbreaking one she started out with. We are getting to know the evolved, progressive, soulful, and thrilling Michelle Zauner through pop songs that are as intimate as they are danceable. Songs like “Posing in Bondage,” the album’s second single, and “Tactics” open up a fresh, new world that fans new and old can get on board with.
While being the creative director on the surprisingly joyful musical project that is June 4’s Jubilee, Japanese Breakfast allowed herself to expand her horizons on both a personal and professional level. She illuminates her soul in modern times, focuses on the future, and gives the lo-fi genre of music something to hold onto as 2021 rolls on and this record quickly becomes a pinnacle for shifts in tone, balancing of emotions, and artistic takes on overdone clichés.
JAPANESE BREAKFAST’S JUBILEE IS OUT NOW ON ALL STREAMING PLATFORMS!