Michelle Zauner, the frontman of the indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, has visibly close ties with her mother, and that mostly came from bonding over the dining table eating Korean cuisines. Zauner, who was born to a Caucasian father and a Korean mother, and raised in Eugene, Oregon, has her last bit of affinity with her Korean ethnicity through the memories of her mother.
Growing up, the singer’s classmates had little to no knowledge about Korea and would often presume her to be Japanese or Chinese. As much as enjoying a pleasant upbringing in Eugene as a child, in her teenage years, Michelle wanted to break out into a different place.
She would soon move to Pennsylvania for college. The indie songwriter started writing her songs under the name Little Girl, Big Spoon shortly after learning to play the guitar at the age of 16.
It was in the year 2014 that Michelle’s life took a momentous turn, most of which had to do with the period in which her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
This devastating news, which would trigger substantial emotional trauma in her, made her move back to her former hometown to look after her mother. It was during this time of catastrophe that she wrote her first album as Japanese breakfast. By that point in her life, Zauner was already distanced from her Korean roots.
At the same time, the scorching illness of her mother made her revisit in her mind all the memories that she had with her, and how they got on well through sharing a love for Korean food. Michelle’s mother, despite being disciplinary, showered affection on her, while serving her food.
In many ways, food was how my mother expressed her love. No matter how critical or cruel she seemed—constantly pushing me to be what she felt was the best version of myself—I could always feel her affection radiating from the lunches she packed and the meals she prepared for me just the way I liked them. When I was growing up, with a Caucasian father and a Korean mother, my mom was my access point for our Korean heritage.
After the demise of her mother on 18th October 2014, the Boyish singer desired to embrace that part of her background to a great degree.
Healing Through Artistic Expression, Backlash & Husbands Support
More often than not, after a crisis, human emotions metamorphose into earnest motivations. With her mother’s death, the musician took from it a memento of her mother’s memories by subsuming her love for Korean food. Rather than being a unidirectional impulse of seeking identity, Michelle’s motive for it has many spectrums. For her, it is an honest appreciation of her mother’s identity, something she would cherish throughout her life.
Having expressed her love and attachment with Korean culture, especially the food and her memories of H Mart (an Asian food focused supermarket), in her New Yorker essay, the singer was exposed to a lot of ramifications for her writing, a common issue that the Asian-American women who are vocal in public outlet often go through, mostly coming from fellow Asians and Asian-Americans.
The backlash was mostly centered around the opinion that Michelle, who was born to a white father and married a white guy, is no proper representation of the Asian, and in this particular case, the Korean culture.
To have that side come after me hurts so bad. I get treated the same way that you do in this country. I’ve still been called a fucking chink
Nevertheless, Michelle persevered embracing her Korean heritage sprouted out of love for her mother and the support of her husband Peter.
The singer’s immaculate leadership and vision when it comes to taking up a project all the way through its life yields fathomable while relating it to the character traits of her zodiac sign- Aries. Industrious when it comes to actualizing her professional needs, and at the same time, sensitive when it comes to writing together characterize her persona pretty well.
The bisexual singer married Peter Bradley, a fellow guitarist in the band, and shares a close-knit bond with him. In the context of work, Peter brings lots of professionalism to the table and doesn’t let personal emotions get in the way of performance as well as the relationship between bandmates.
I’m really lucky that my husband plays guitar in the band, so it would’ve been a really miserable experience if I had to never see him again basically. I have created this little family in my band … They’re basically the only three people I could spend as much time with without killing.
Aside from throwing in riffs for Japanese Breakfast, the guitarist also has a music composition app.
Coming to Zauner’s inspiration for songwriting, it emerges from coming to terms with the unfairness that comes with living in a society and yet maintaining a positive attitude. Flanked by iniquitous dealings in life, there is always a sense of bitterness that comes with it- something that Michelle does not want in her life. This perspective of the musician also emanates from her writing.
I don’t know how much I think about other people (when writing). I think a lot of this record (Soft Sounds from Another Planet) were things I wanted to tell myself and to believe in. Body Is A Blade is basically a series of mantras.
As of now, the songwriter is very content with the success of her debut book Crying in H-Mart and interestingly, it has already been finalized to be adapted into a feature film. The movie that is still in the pre-production phase is being produced by Orion Pictures alongside Stacey Sher and Jason Kim. As expected, the soundtrack will be contributed by none other than Japanese Breakfast.