The Meaning Behind “Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast and Why the Album ‘Jubilee’ is Michelle Zauner’s Catharsis

Author, indie musician, and foodie Michelle Zauner named Japanese Breakfast’s joyful third album Jubilee following years of intense sorrow, as documented in her 2021 New York Times bestselling memoir, Crying in H Mart.  

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After losing her mother to cancer in 2014, grief defined Zauner’s work, and Jubilee marked the exuberant other side of her devastating loss.

Four years after Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast evolved from Pacific Coast shoegaze to ’80s pop. While Soft Sounds lives inside hazy dreams, Jubilee is the morning-after celebration. And “Be Sweet” is the peaking neon bliss of that glorious jamboree.

I Wanna Believe in Something

Zauner pleads for kindness from a partner on “Be Sweet.” The song opens with a declaration: Tell the men I’m coming. The broadcast that she’ll soon be available for dating is followed by a mistake in waiting.

Tell the men I’m coming; tell them count the days
I can feel the night passing by like a mistake waiting for me
Caught up in my feelings, overthink the truth
Fantasize you’ve left me behind
And I’m turned back running for you

She fantasizes about her partner leaving, then looks for proof of love and devotion. Zauner’s character is desperate for assurance and displays her anxiety, switching faith in her lover to the unspecified object of “something.”

So come and get your woman (come and get your woman)
Pacify her rage (pacify her rage)
Take the time to undo your lies
Make it up once more with feeling
Recognize your mistakes, and I’ll let you back in
Realize not too late. Love you always

Finally, she reveals her loyalty in the hook.

Be sweet to me, baby
I wanna believe in you. I wanna believe in something

Weird Pop

Moving consciously to vivid pop, Zauner worried how her fans might receive the band’s new direction. She told NME she wanted the album to “feel bombastic.” Björk and Kate Bush were Zauner’s left-of-center North Stars—mass appeal, yet still beautifully weird.

“Be Sweet” echoes Madonna with ’80s synths while dialing up the Material Girl’s nasally soprano timbre. It follows album opener “Paprika,” completing a one-two punch of fete electropop.

Jack Tatum co-wrote “Be Sweet” with Zauner and produced the track with her and bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Craig Hendrix. Zauner studied piano and music theory in the years between Soft Sounds from Another Planet and Jubilee. Her determined training shows brightly in “Be Sweet’s” lush layers. It’s the most radio-friendly song in the band’s catalog, reaching No. 7 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs Chart.

Something to Celebrate

Japanese Breakfast originated from a Tumblr project, where Zauner and Rachel Gagliardi from the punk band Slutever recorded and posted one song daily for a month. Zauner’s former band, Little Big League, had disbanded in 2014 after two studio albums when she returned to Eugene, Oregon, to look after her ailing mother.

The project led to Japanese Breakfast’s 2016 debut album Psychopomp, released while Zauner worked at an advertising agency. She’d contemplated quitting music, but Psychopomp’s warm reception and commercial success changed her mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space

To escape trauma, Zauner wrote Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Feeling the weight of expectations following Psychopomp’s unexpected success and a new recording contract with Dead Oceans, Zauner reached out to Hendrix to help produce the album.

While the first album existed in a wistful lo-fi haze, Zauner and Hendrix created hi-fi space pop on Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Drifting whimsically, Zauner is floating, and you can hear her escaping intense pain. Still, the hopeful light remained opaque.

Jubilee’s nourishing air floats above the waves of grief Zauner wrote about in Crying in H Mart.

She’d visit H Mart, searching for the Korean half of her identity. How much culture would she lose with her mother gone? Zauner glimpsed others in an H Mart food court, trying to find something like home in a faraway place.

Above all, her journey led to a celebration where Zauner had landed, finding the ground beneath her feet. The touching hesitation of her first two albums exposed gaping vulnerability. Zauner’s new album is reassuring, evoking survivor’s wisdom and strength.

All Your Favorite Things

Working through—or over—walls of trauma, Zauner kept writing. She wrote a book, and she wrote songs across a variety of projects. The point is, she kept going. Life requires constant work, and while tending to both grief and happiness, Zauner’s toil resulted in two Grammy nominations in 2022 for Jubilee. Though she didn’t win a trophy that night, the improbable success of her life’s work is a golden lesson in perseverance.

“Be Sweet” entices on many levels. It drops hints of nostalgia while moving through sub-genres viscerally exploring intimacy. Within the expanse of a conceptual pop project, the human condition is front and center of Zauner’s universe.

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Photo by Justin Shin/Getty Images

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