INTERVIEW: Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast on her new album ‘Jubilee’

It’s been a busy year for Michelle Zauner. Very few, if any, can boast a New York Time’s Best Seller, an album release, and a fifty show tour all within the span of a year. Despite being finished in late 2019 and slated for July 2020 before falling victim to forced delays, Jubilee now sees the light of day in June 2021 in concurrence with Zauner’s personal memoir, Crying In H Mart, which tells the story of her mother’s passing with alarming candidacy and intimacy. The two create a fascinating dynamic when stacked with one another. Each paints a portrait of the same person in severely different ways. “Crying in H Mart was this real purging of everything I had to say about grief and loss and Jubilee is where I’m able to move to next” said Zauner.

There exists such a poignant intention behind Jubilee to separate itself amongst Zauner’s discography. Her 2016 debut ‘Psychopomp’ was written throughout her mother’s cancer treatment with her following 2017 record ‘Soft Sounds From Another Planet’ being a product of the grief and trauma of her mother’s passings. Both projects were currents of emotional, severely intimate phases in her life that pulled listeners into some of her most defining moments. Jubilee seeks a different path as Zauner pursues a desire to find joy within her music. “I find the shift really freeing. I’m looking forward to the new normal about not unpacking huge trauma every time I make something. It was a natural desire for me to want to write about something else after the release of the book. I’m tired of being ‘grief girl’. I want to write about something else.” said Zauner. 

From its opening moments Jubilee’s differences from its predecessors and Zauner’s desire to redefine the path of her work becomes apparent. Bold, glimmering horns blare as Zauner sings between them on the record’s opener ‘Paprika’, a clear indicator of the records 80’s beholden, near Cyndi Lauper-esque opening run. “I’ve always felt like the third album is where people really understand who they are and become the most confident and ambitious versions of themselves. I kept trying to think of myself in that context, think of the hopeful longevity of my career, and asking myself how to get to where I want to be.” Citing specific inspirations of Bjork’s ‘Homogenic’,  Beach House’s ‘Teen Dream’, and Wilco’s ‘Summerteeth’,  Zauner aligns herself and Jubilee with these definitive tertiary releases as she navigates Japanese Breakfast into a new focus. “So much of being artist is just finding out what works and what doesn’t. Deep down you know if something isn’t working even if you don’t know why it isn’t working. You have to return to things over and over again and you can feel a lift in your spirit when it happens.’ said Zauner. “You try to force perspective on yourself. You know when you feel it and you’re trying to make other people feel it too.”

At a quickly paced ten tracks, Jubilee enables Zauner to chase these broader horizons. We see Zauner keeping the emotional core of what has made her work so impactful while seamlessly pairing herself with a newly explored energy within her work. It possesses all of the intimacy and thoughtfulness that made Japanese Breakfast’s previous releases so profound and effective while being supercharged with new musical possibilities. It’s a fascinating evolution that allows us to ask “What if your therapy session had a Fast and Furious style NOS tank?”.  

Similarly Jubilee, despite its name, is not a record exclusively packed with sunshine and happiness. Even as the record darkens throughout tracks such as the desolate “Posing in Bondage” or the aptly named “In Hell”, Zauner’s sugary sweet vocals and the record’s continuous glossy production reels in a momentum to each track. You can feel Zauner grappling with these battles and comprises of loss and grief as if a knowing nod to its place amongst her discography and her personal life — an attempted shift away from severity and towards a purposeful emotional ambition.  It can be tempting to define Jubilee as an album about joy. It’s not. It’s an album about pursuing joy. The process of acknowledging your past, recognizing the weight and severity of what got you here, and trying to move past it without dismissing it. More directly, it’s an album focused on healing and movement.

Jubilee is the latest form of an ever-evolving artist. It’s fun, thoughtful pop laced with deep moments of humanity and intrigue. Jubilee comes at a moment where we all collectively trying our best to look forward and, like us, it’s exactly what the record is trying to do. It’s fearless in execution, admirable in concept, and is a truly awesome display of an ever-conscious auteur operating at the peak of their powers.