MUSICJune 12, 2021

"A festival to usher in the hope of a new era:" Japanese Breakfast wows with its third studio album, 'Jubilee'

Multi-talented singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner leads the summer of 2021 to the funky fanfare of her happiest project to date.

Named by its lead singer, 32-year-old Korean American musical artist and author of New York Times best-seller Crying in H-Mart Michelle Zauner, indie pop rock band Japanese Breakfast derives its name from Zauner's desire to create an attention-grabbing title that combined "something that sounded really American and well-known" and something "American people just associate with something exotic of foreign" as she explains in a Teen Vogue interview in 2017.

Now, the four-member musical group is grabbing attention with its new album, Jubilee, which released on June 4, 2021.

As stated by the band, Jubilee represents “a festival to usher in the hope of a new era in brilliant technicolor,” a triumphant third-act after Japanese Breakfast’s first two albums, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet respectively, were used as a conduit to explore Zauner’s tumultuous mental state and life circumstances as she struggled to cope with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death. Zauner herself describes the album as “a record about fighting to feel,” “recalling the optimism of youth and applying it to adulthood,” “making difficult choices,” “honoring commitments” and “confronting the constant struggle we have with ourselves to be better people.” 

Jubilee successfully embodies a celebratory spirit with its uplifting and up-tempo sound throughout, a timely release as summer is on the cusp of arrival, and more and more people are venturing back out into the world as a harsh, lengthy global pandemic seems to finally be slowing down. 

“Be Sweet,” Jubilee’s lead single, channels the electric energy of the ragin’ 80s with its funky beat, heavy electric guitar and drum instrumentals, and Zauner’s vocals that immediately call back to 80s legends like Olivia John Newton, Madonna and Janet Jackson amongst others. It’s almost impossible not to smile and even break out into dance with the song’s infectiously happy sound. To me, “Be Sweet” clearly stands out amongst the ten-song tracklist of Jubilee and succeeds as the lead single of the album—no other song would be able to take its place. 

Jubilee’s second single, “Posing in Bondage,” takes a completely different route than its predecessor, with its slow, mind-bending, even hypnotic beat that better suits as the backing track to the scene in an indie movie when the main characters run through the streets at night, sloppily swaying side to side in a drunken daze of adrenaline. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the song feels like a combination of Lorde, Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers all wrapped into one unexpected, yet surprisingly pleasant diversion from the expected upbeat trajectory of the album “Be Sweet” seems to be introducing us to. 

Conceptually, Jubilee's third single, "Savage Good Boy," is by far the most interesting song off the album. Zauner describes the song as an examination of "villainy" of billionaires; she states that she "adopt[s] the perspective of a rich man coaxing a young woman to come live with him underground, attempting to rationalize his almost impossible share of greed and miserliness." "Savage Good Boy" comments on the patriarchy and capitalistic greed throughout, with Zauner singing, "I want to make the money 'til there's no more to be made / And as the last ones standing we'll be tasked to repopulate / And as you rear our children, know it's the necessary strain / They're the stakes in a race to live" as its chorus. Though I do of course love to jam out to mindless pop and hip-hop Top 40 songs, I deeply appreciate songs like "Savage Good Boy" that conceal more nuanced, insidious lyrics beneath an up-tempo drum beat and sweet-sounding vocals—the juxtaposition between the two as well as the careful listening required to understand the song’s meaning instills within me a greater sense of respect for the craftsmanship of the song. Though other songs like “Be Sweet” trump “Savage Good Boy” in terms of musicality and catchiness, its coverage of such a niche and unheard of topic makes it another must-listen off of Jubilee.

The strengths of “Savage Good Boy” point towards Jubilee’s most alluring aspect: lyrical creativity. Zauner shines not only as the lead vocalist, but also as a talented songwriter—which should come as no surprise since she is a best-selling author, after all. 

Some of her best lyrics come from “Posing for Cars,” a gentle and slow song that Zauner described as a “very sweet observation of how two people in a relationship can love each other” in an interview with The Ringer. The fourth verse of “Posing for Cars” in particular is especially poetic with lyrics like “This adolescent heart skipping beats / When all your love, it grows full and firm beneath / Without a festered thought, without an emerald want / Just a single slow desire fermenting.”

“Paprika,” the opening song of the album and the doppelganger of “Be Sweet,” also impresses with its lyrical strength as Zauner asks, “How’s it feel to be at the center of magic / To linger in tones and words?” and “How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers / To captivate every heart? / Projеcting your visions to strangers who feel it, who listen, who linger on еvery word” in a powerfully optimistic and uplifting chorus. 

Though some of its songs can feel a bit audibly redundant, Jubilee ultimately holds its own as a uniquely radiant album that imbues listeners with a warm, bubbly feeling and reminds of a zesty, refreshing glass of orange juice on a hot summer's day. Its songs are so clearly well-thought out and lovingly produced with its meaningful lyrics and strong instrumentals, and Zauner occupies critical space within the indie rock genre as a half-Korean woman, especially as this genre has historically lacked representation from Asian and other POC voices.

You can find more of Japanese Breakfast's discography here and buy tickets to their upcoming tour here.

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