Michelle Zauner, 29, is about to be everywhere. She’s been a festival darling – performing at Coachella, Pitchfork Music Festival, Panorama Music Festival, and more. She performs under the name “Japanese Breakfast” — confusing, because she was born into a Korean and Jewish family in Oregon (Zauner’s grandmother is Jewish). She’s released two albums so far, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet.
Here are 18 more things to know about Zauner:
1. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to Eugene, Oregon when she was only 9 months old.
2. She grew up in Eugene, a predominately white town. She writes, “In my adolescence I hated being half Korean; I wanted people to stop asking, ‘Where are you really from?’ I could barely speak the language and didn’t have any Asian friends. There was nothing about me that felt Korean — except when it came to food.”
3. She started music at age 5 with the piano, and started playing guitar at age 15 so she could write music.
4. She graduated from Bryn Mawr and studied creative writing and film.
5. She won an essay contest in Glamour magazine for an essay called “Real Life: Love, Loss, and Kimchi,” writing about how Korean food became her comfort food throughout her mom’s struggle with cancer.
6. Her mom, Chong mi, passed away in 2014. This ultimately led her to create Japanese Breakfast; as she told Teen Vogue, “I moved back to Oregon to care for her, and I kind of put the band on indefinite hiatus. Unfortunately, she passed away, and while I was in Oregon, helping take care of the house and being a support system for my dad, the only way that I could have something for myself was if I made my own record. So I kind of carved out some time to do that. That’s how I made Psychopomp.”
7. After writing her debut album, “Psychopomp,” she abruptly left music. She explained, “I wanted to do something that maybe my mom would’ve wanted me to do.” So she got a job in advertising, but was let go after nine months.
8. She wants to write a food memoir about her childhood: “When you grow up in a largely white community as an Asian American, you kind of resent that part of yourself, because you so badly want to fit in when you’re a teenager. I really rejected that part of my identity for a very long time. When my mother passed away, I suddenly found myself so desperately want to connect with it in a way that I never had before. I want to write a book that I would’ve liked to have read when I went through that.”
9. The name of her act — Japanese Breakfast – is weird because she is not Japanese. She explains she wanted “something really American and well-known” (breakfast) combined with something “American people just associate with something exotic or foreign” (Japanese). People assume she’s Japanese, and she says, “It’s kind of cool because sometimes it’s like I know who the real fans are who know that [I’m Korean]. You know what I mean? It exposes them quite quickly if they assume I’m Japanese.”
10. Vogue called her the “newest festival style star to watch” in July. Honestly, her style is amazing:
11. She is a joyous performer. In a review of her Pitchfork Music Festival performance, one critic writes, “Whether slinging a guitar or forgoing it to stalk the stage with a microphone, Zauner is often dancing, bouncing, beaming, rejecting the serious-artiste posturing you’d expect from a critical darling out of America’s current cool-kid music capital. Her demeanor transforms her songs. Although they remain shaded in melancholy, they burst from the stage with a delighted enthusiasm.”
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) August 9, 2018
12. She’s obsessed with video games (and recently released her own, Japanese BreakQuest).
13. At one point, her phone background was her family’s golden retriever dog, Julia, in slippers, which makes us smile.
14. Her husband is Peter Bradley, who she married two weeks before her mom passed away. In a heartbreaking essay, she writes, “I called my partner from the hospital. I asked him to marry me. I asked him because I knew it would make my mom hold on a little longer. Because I didn’t want things to end that way. I wanted it to end with flowers and macaroons and my mom watching her only kid get married. Because I was in love, and it would have broken my heart if we’d just waited and she wasn’t there when the day did come around.”
15. Growing up, she was really into chess. She even had a chess tutor.
16. In a profile of Zauer, one writer describes her room: “Along with family photos and posters of Leonard Cohen and New Yorker covers, a friend’s painting of Zauner and a bowl of kimchi hang on her wall.” Seems right.
17. She performed at NPR’s Tiny Desk concert in October 2017, and it is worth a watch:
18. Her twitter bio on @Jbrekkie (Japanese Breakfast) is three simple words: “PSA: I’m Korean.“