Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast's 'Epic Year' Included Grammy Noms and a Hit Memoir: 'Gratifying'

"I felt like what I was going through was very abnormal," Zauner tells PEOPLE of her experiences growing up

2021 was a big year for Michelle Zauner. She released Jubilee, her album with pop-alternative band Japanese Breakfast, as well as her memoir titled Crying in H Mart.

Now, Zauner has two earned Grammy nominations for best new artist and best alternative music album for Jubilee — and her New York Times best-selling memoir is being turned into a film.

Reflecting on her successes, Zauner, 32, tells PEOPLE she's in "shock" as she "thought at least one of them would fail."

"I at least had a good chance of one of them doing OK," she says. "But I did not expect both them to do so well! It's really gratifying because I spent a long time working on both of these projects and feeling like I was a crazy person, not getting to release them for so long."

She adds, "It's just an extremely gratifying experience that both of them have been so successful — on so many year-end lists and receiving one of the highest honors."

Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner. Tonje Thilesen

When Zauner learned she earned two Grammy nominations, she was watching TV in her Brooklyn apartment — and suddenly K-pop group BTS announced her nomination for best alternative album. She "ran around the apartment and yelled out of joy."

When it comes to her music, the "Be Sweet" singer says she's constantly pursuing a "goosebump-type feeling" — and for Jubilee in particular, she hopes that her listeners feel the emotion.

"I'm always chasing that goosebump-type feeling where someone just has hit the nail on the head of what a particular emotion or experience feels like," she says. "It feels like someone has pulled this inexplicable thing out of you and expressed it in this perfect way."

Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner. Tonje Thilesen

"Particularly for this record, I wanted to elicit that type of feeling — just an epic release and an overwhelming feeling of joy and teenage unadulterated feeling," she says.

For her memoir, which she worked on for five years, Zauner was simply writing her emotions. Now, given its success, she finds it comforting that it connects with people on so many levels.

"So much of my book is about growing up mixed race and being raised by an immigrant parent — and growing up, I wasn't exposed to a lot of art that explored those topics," she says.

"I just felt like a crazy person. I felt like what I was going through was very abnormal. And so to receive so much praise and have so many people connect with it on such a deep level, it has made me feel much, much less alone in those experiences."

In her teenage years, Zauner turned to music for comfort — and now, she's happy she can return the favor.

"That was what really helped me during some depressed teenage years — getting to watch artists that I admire and see them in concert. It is really comforting and exciting to get to do that as an adult for other people," she says.

Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner. Tonje Thilesen

As her star has risen, the "Paprika" singer had the chance to connect with one of those artists she was a fan of back in the day.

"Karen O from the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs was a huge influence for me and I talk about her in the book. She's also half Korean and when I got my Grammy nominations, she DMed me on Instagram and was like, 'Hey, if you ever need someone to talk to, I was really alone out there when I was nominated. Here's my number.' That was such an incredible full-circle moment for me," she tells PEOPLE.

Looking ahead to the Grammy awards ceremony, Zauner — who enjoys reading, cooking, and playing video games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Stardew Valley when she's not working — says she's "celebrating with my team and my band and just being happy."

She adds, "It's just a really incredible feeling to have your art bring you somewhere of this caliber."

The 2022 Grammy Awards, hosted by Trevor Noah, will air live from Los Angeles Monday, Jan. 31 on CBS.

Related Articles