- Japanese Breakfast took the stage at Coachella last weekend and will be back on Saturday.
- Singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner spoke to Insider about their joyous performance.
- She also shared her thoughts on her 2022 Grammys nomination and sexism at music festivals.
On Saturday, if you’re lucky, you can find Michelle Zauner in the middle of the desert, break a gong and hum about magic.
The acclaimed songwriter and memoirist, who makes music under the name Japanese Breakfast, took the Mojave stage at Coachella last weekend and will return soon for round two.
During an interview with Insider backstage at the festival, Zauner oozed a kind of honest sweetness — appropriate, since the fan-favorite track from her latest album “Jubilee” sees her pleading with a lover to return the favor. “Be gentle with me baby, I want to believe in you,” she sings.
“Be Sweet” embodies the fantastical energy of “Jubilee,” Japanese Breakfast’s third album, which landed at No. 16 on Insider’s list of Best Albums of 2021 and earned Zauner a Grammy nomination for Best Album of 2021. alternative music.
While Japanese Breakfast no doubt stems from Zauner’s open heart, she’s hesitant to call the title an alter-ego or a personal stage name.
“I feel like it’s a project that I’m leading,” she explained. “But it’s definitely something that wouldn’t be what it is without the collaborators involved.”
“I’ve just been with this band for a long time and it seems unfair to call it a solo project,” she continued. “I would never be in the position I am in without my team and my bandmates.”
Zauner spoke to Insider about her cheerful performance style, creating a Dua Lipa-inspired stage look and, yes, all these comments about her Grammys dress.
I’m very curious how you go about creating a setlist.
I really like festival time slots because they are shorter sets so there is less of a mood swing. It’s all the bangers, all the shiny stuff, all the time.
We usually start with “Paprika” because it opens the new album, and that’s such a thesis statement for the record. It’s a song that talks a lot about being in love with music and sharing it with the world.
We usually end with “Woman Diver” because it’s the longest and strongest song that just builds and builds and builds. So those are usually our bookends, and the rest are just the songs that we think will get the best response.
When you wrote “Paprika”, did you know immediately that it would be the opening of the album “Jubilee”?
I didn’t, no. I do not think so. I feel like I was pretty embarrassed by this song, and this song had so many layers, but as soon as it started to really fall into place, it became clear that this was the thesis of the album.
Unconscious in what way?
I do not know. I was aware of everything, you know?
I was just a little intimidated because I had started writing horn and string arrangements on my own for the first time before taking it to Craig Hendrix, our producer and drummer. So yeah, I think I was just a little intimidated if I did it right.
Tell me about the transition from “Paprika” to “Be Sweet,” which happens on the tracklist as well as your setlist.
Why did I do this? I do not know. It was like a good atmosphere.
I guess I knew it was really a double with “Paprika” and “Be Sweet”, and I still load my albums, to be honest. I always put what I think are the best songs at the start. Even usually, when I’m making a playlist for friends and stuff like that, I always load forward and then cool it down during the playlist or whatever.
Are you the type of person who makes hyper-specific playlists?
I like doing that, yeah. I have a playlist of women’s names only. And I toyed with the idea of making a playlist of litanies, so songs that just list things, like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and 1975’s “Love It If We Made It” .
When playing, do you have any specific ideas about what colors and lights should go with which songs?
I feel like “Be Sweet” is very pink and blue. But most of the colors and lights were all done by Kat Borderud, our lighting designer. She’ll tell me about the color palettes of certain songs, but she’s usually right.
I consider you a visually-minded artist, especially because of “Sable”, the soundtrack of your video game. What prompted you to commit to a project like this?
It’s really sweet that you say you associate me with visual arts, but I feel like beyond making videos, I’m not really a visual artist. But I love the art of “Sable” so much.
Greg, who is the creative director of this project, is such an amazing creative director and artist. I saw the GIFs of the projects very early on, as early as 2017, and trusted them as collaborators. I felt like they had a really good work ethic and vision.
I also really wanted to be part of a creative project that I wasn’t the director of because I never get to do that again, and so I really enjoyed the process of just being a little cog into a greater creative machine. It was really a fun project for me.
If “Jubilee” was the soundtrack to a movie, what genre do you think it would be?
I do not know! I feel like a coming of age story.
Speaking of visual art, how do you compose a staging?
Cece Liu is my stylist and we’ve been working together since 2018. I was actually looking at my Coachella outfits from 2018 and I was like, ‘Oh my God, thank God I have a stylist now’, so I think that’s It was after that that I said to myself: “I really need someone to help me.”
She really opened me up to fashion, and I tend to like to wear something colorful – and especially for summer festivals, something kinda slutty. [Laughs.] But something that’s easy to play and feels young, light and colorful.
And your makeup? I notice you’re wearing jewelry today.
Yeah! It was my idea. I saw a picture of Dua Lipa, and I thought, “Can we do this?”
I also noticed today that your audience was very considerate, especially for a crowd of festival-goers.
A lot of times when our tour managers have safety meetings at venues, they always say, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be really bored tonight. There’s nothing.” They are very nice and polite.
Do you think that speaks to the type of music you make?
My friend calls us “music for asses”. [Laughs.] I do not know. I mean, we just make sensitive and emotional music so that it appeals to a certain type of person. I’m a very serious person, and I think a lot of our fans are very serious as well.
In the meantime, some of your song titles are pretty bold, like “Savage Good Boy” or “Roadhead.” Do you consider this juxtaposition when naming a track?
A lot of my titles and lyrics are always a bit cheeky. Often the lyrics get lost in the sound of a song, so it’s an easy way to get people to wake up and pay attention to what the song is about.
Festivals, including Coachella, have been criticized in the past for undervaluing non-male performers, particularly when it comes to booking headliners. As a songwriter and singer, do you think that’s a fair review?
I’m sure that’s a fair criticism. I was here for Beychella, and I’m here for Billie. I think, in all festivals and in the music industry in general, it is something that is constantly changing and adapting and that is quite criticized.
People reacted and were more aware of it when they put programming in place, and so that seems to be changing, to me. I mean, I feel invited, so I feel like that’s a good thing.
Speaking of big music events, I have to ask you about the Grammys. Were you surprised to get a Best New Artist nomination this year, considering you’ve been around for a while?
I wasn’t upset by that, you know what I mean? I was very surprised that we were nominated for any Grammys.
I was just thrilled, and then when everyone said, “She’s not a new artist,” I said, “Shut up. Everyone, shut up. Let’s go. Because the opportunity to be nominated in a major category and to participate in the main ceremony was such a privilege that I don’t know if I will have it again.
Absolutely nothing to complain about being recognized as a “new artist”. For some people, it takes a long time to become big enough to be recognized. We’re not all fresh out of the gate — like the first time I played guitar I’d make a record that would get me to the Grammys.
Sometimes it takes a little longer to be recognized at this level, so I thought that was fair and I was happy to be there.
How did you choose your dress for the ceremony?
I knew I wanted to wear yellow. Yellow is a great color for our “Jubilee” album. I’m wearing a yellow dress on the cover, and all of our visuals are very yellow because it’s such a happy color, and that’s kind of what “Jubilee” stood for.
I saw this Valentino couture look, and thought it was both very chic but also a little weird and cute and a creepy yellow. It seemed like the perfect dress. I kind of knew this was what I wanted, and tried on a few other dresses, but this was by far my favorite.
Did you intend the texture to mimic the cover of the “Jubilee” album?
Totally. Yeah. I feel like it looks like flower petals, but some people said, “It looks like potato chips.” I was like, “You’re just hunger. What’s wrong with you?” [Laughs.] They thought I looked like I knocked Lay’s down.
Usually I’m pretty good at seeing what people might say about something, but I was like, “I just look like a big flower,” so I was surprised.
But it’s good. I feel like it’s good to be divisive in fashion. I feel like they were just basic people.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.