On Friday, April 19, Whitman Events Board welcomed Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner, more commonly known as Japanese Breakfast. In an intimate solo show, Zauner played some of her more well-known music along with lesser known works of music, of which she referred to as being from the “B-side.”
The concert occurred on the Reid Coffeehouse stage, accentuated by colorful lighting and reverberating acoustics. Whitman musician Claire McHale ‘19 opened the night, performing original music and covers on the guitar. Zauner took to the stage afterwards, performing an hour-long set followed by an informal Q&A session.
On her own style of music, Zauner said, “I like experimental pop music. I think that ultimately I really like pop music as a format and when it’s done really well and weirdly.”
Playing on a Jazzmaster electric guitar with occasional piano accompaniment, Zauner combined atmospheric sounds with poetic, emotional lyrics. This performance offered a unique glimpse into Zauner’s individual musical identity without the band that usually tours with her. She said, on her Whitman show: “Playing solo shows is a rare thing for me so I get a little bit nervous about it because it’s a lot of quiet songs and usually Japanese Breakfast shows are a little more loud.”
Zauner’s music constructs intriguing anecdotes drawn from both fantasy and reality. While her song “Boyish,” was written about an unreciprocated crush, “Machinist” tells the story of a love affair with a robot. Her songs range in ambience from reflective and melancholy to spunky and upbeat.
“I enjoyed how she had a pretty good variety of music, where she had her slow songs, her popular songs, her bops,” said Chelsea Goldsmith ‘21, on Zauner’s set.
Coupled with Japanese Breakfast’s alluring sounds are profound verses commentating on identity, loss, love, sex and self. Zauner said, on her creative sources: “For the last two records, I’ve written mostly about grief and losing my mom. It usually comes from a really personal place. The songs that haven’t been written about my mom usually come from a place of vengeance, of wanting to write about someone who’s wronged me in some way.”
Zauner’s stage name speaks to the Western exoticism of Asian identities. Her Korean-American identity continues to be a driving force of inspiration for her lyrical and narrative writing. She is in the process of transforming her personal essay, “Crying in H Mart,” to a full-length memoir.
“As an Asian-American woman, I have noticed a profound lack of representation of Asian women both at our campus and in general, so I wanted to bring Japanese Breakfast so that people within this community can feel important,” said WEB music director Cara Casper ‘19. “I think ever since I became the WEB music director, this has actually been my dream show, so it was really, really exciting to see it actually come to life.”
Zauner’s performance provided entertainment for prior fans, and introduced some to her music. Goldsmith added, “I’m excited to see how she develops as an artist. Clearly she still has a lot left to go, and she seems to be a creative being.”
Zauner’s array of work, including her music, film and writing, elucidate her ability to create community through vulnerability and radical honesty.
“I really like narrative. I really like telling stories in different mediums,” said Zauner. “I think I’m really enchanted by the human experience.”