By LJ Karam
When I met the frontwoman of Japanese Breakfast two years ago, I was a different person than I am now. Michelle Zauner was performing at the WHUS Spring Fling, and it was the first time in my entire life that I had ever seen a live indie musician who looked like me. I even named one of my guitars after her.
Since then, I have followed her career with an almost annoying fervor. People who have added me on Spotify probably find it hard to believe that I could listen to the same song seventeen times in a row. Quite honestly, that’s how I’ve listened to all the tracks on Japanese Breakfast’s 2017 album,
“Soft Sounds from Another Planet”.
It also might explain why I almost bawled my eyes out seeing her perform at the Space Ballroom in Hamden, Connecticut on a brisk January night.
After an incredible, bare-bones set by opener Meg Duffy of Hand Habits, Michelle and the rest of Japanese Breakfast took the stage under a haze of artificially-created fog and red and pink lights.
They started off their set with “Diving Woman”, the opening track of “Soft Sounds from Another Planet”. Zauner’s energy was electric. She jumped around onstage in her Doc Martens and plaid pants—an outfit I could definitely see myself wearing.
The first half of the show was marked by its upbeat tone which was peppered with tracks from Japanese Breakfast’s 2016 release “Psychopomp”, including “In Heaven”, “Heft”, and (the classic!) “The Woman That Loves You”.
She also played a single from “Soft Sounds”, “Boyish”, a song I have sung in front of my mirror time and time again. The song resonates with a message that seems to have been personalized to my experience that I felt like she was speaking to me when I heard it performed live.
The show’s second half was representative of the band’s much slower, and much more introspective catalog, including the tracks “This House”, “The Body is a Blade”, and “Till Death”. That was when I really started crying.
Japanese Breakfast’s music is relatable to anyone who has ever felt love or loss, but there is something about it that looks at these emotions through the lens of being an Asian American woman. I have lived my whole life without books, television, movies, or music doing something, anything for someone who looks like me.
Before her (or other acts like Mitski or Jay Som), I hadn’t even seen an Asian American woman playing the guitar—let alone indie music. I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore.
When I look at Michelle Zauner, I see myself. And I see that I am good enough.