“From Shea Stadium to SNL.” That’s how one Japanese Breakfast fan summed up the news that the group would be performing on the May 21 episode of Saturday Night Live, referencing Shea Stadium, the DIY venue in Brooklyn. Japanese Breakfast, fronted by Michelle Zauner, has been a part of the independent indie rock scene ever since its first recordings were published on Tumblr in 2013. To see the group play Studio 8H of 40 Rockefeller Plaza is an accomplishment worth celebrating. For those unaware, here’s what you need to know about Japanese Breakfast.
Japanese Breakfast Is An Indie Rock Band
Fronted by Zauner, a Korean-American, Japanese Breakfast began in May 2013 when Michelle spoke with musician Rachel Gagliardi about “feeling stuck creatively.” Michelle suggested that she and Rachel “start a blog” where they “wrote, recorded and posted one song every day for the month of June.” The blog popped up two days later. This would mark the first recordings under the Japanese Breakfast name. In 2016, the project released its first album, Psychopomp.
The band released Soft Sounds From Another Planet in 2017. The group’s third album, Jubilee, arrived in 2021 to critical acclaim. It was placed high on many “Best Of 2021” year-end lists and reached No. 56 on the Billboard 200.
So, where does the name come from? “I think I just wanted something that sounded kind of curious, like something that sounded really American and well-known, like breakfast, and combining it with something that I think American people just associate with something exotic or foreign,” Michelle told Teen Vogue in 2017. “I thought it would make people curious, like, ‘What is a Japanese breakfast?’ Japanese Breakfast is quite like beautiful, and I really enjoy it. I think I was just looking at pictures of it one day and was just like, “Oh, I’ll just release this album under this name.”
Michelle Zauner Was In A Band Called Little Big League
“I started writing music when I was 16,” Michelle told Teen Vogue in 2017. “I had like a solo project, and I had an all-girl band in college for a couple of years. Then I was in a band called Little Big League for about three or four years.” Formed in 2011, Little Big League incorporated elements of alternative rock, lo-fi, and garage into their sound. The group put out two albums – These Are Good People and Tropical Jinx – which featured Michelle on vocals and guitar.
“Then my mom got sick, so I moved back to Oregon to care for her, and I kind of put the band on indefinite hiatus,” Michelle told Teen Vogue. “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.”
Japanese Breakfast Was Nominated For ‘Best New Artist’ In 2022
Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee was released on Dead Oceans, an independent record label that has put out music by Khruangbin, Bright Eyes, Destroyer, Toro y Moi, Mitski, Dirty Projectors, and Phoebe Bridgers, just to name a few.
For Indie rock fans, this is a lineup of A-listers. However, many people – including the Recording Academy – remain unfamiliar with these artists, especially Japanese Breakfast. The group somehow earned a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2022 Grammy Awards, despite being around for almost a decade. They were nominated alongside Jimmie Allen and Glass Animals, both established music acts in their own right.
Jubilee also scored a Best Alternative Album nomination but lost to St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home.
Oddly enough, Machine Gun Kelly also didn’t know who Japanese Breakfast was when Rolling Stone ran an article comparing the cover art of his album, Mainstream Sellout, to Jubilee. “2022’s feud of the year,” she tweeted when sharing the Mar. 14 article. MGK responded, “So, should we beef over tomato’s (sic) or…should I thank them for introducing me to your album because I just listened and I really like it.” Michelle responded with, “Thank you [tomato]s,” which prompted indie rock band Best Coast to reply with how they were “screaming.
Thank you 🍅s
— Japanese Breakfast (@Jbrekkie) March 15, 2022
“I don’t actually think it looks anything like my album cover at all,” she told Pitchfork, “but I think it’s very funny that Rolling Stone put up an article about it just because there’s a circular fruit in the foreground. I mean his is people throwing tomatoes at him, and mine is persimmons peacefully hanging around me, so I think they’re very different concepts.”
Michelle Loves Her Fender
In Spring 2022, Michelle teamed with Fender to launch the Player Plus Meteora HH guitar. Michelle is an avid Fender fan, and the team-up with the brand for the latest model in Fender’s 75-year-long legacy was a no-brainer.
“I play a Fender Jazzmaster. It’s not, like, vintage, or anything. This is a new Fender Jazzmaster, and I really like it,” she told Guitar World. “I was really intimidated by the Jazzmaster for some time because it’s a bigger guitar, and I’m a pretty small person.”
Michelle’s Memoir Is Being Made Into A Movie
In addition to fronting Japanese Breakfast, Michelle is a New York Times best-selling author. Her memoir, Crying In H Mart, details her experiences as growing up as one of the few Asian-American kids in her school in Oregon, per The Hollywood Reporter, who adds, “At the center of her story is Zauner’s relationship with her mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, at which point Zauner reckons with her identity both as a daughter and a Korean American.” In July 2021, MGM’s Orion Pictures picked up the rights to the memoir, with Stacey Sher and Jason Kim on board to produce.