“My mother prepared for our reunions in her own way, marinating short rib two days before my arrival,” Michelle Zauner writes in Crying in H Mart, her memoir out this week. “She filled the fridge with my favorite side dishes and bought my favorite radish kimchi weeks in advance, leaving it out on the counter for a day so it was extra fermented and tart by the time I got home.” Love is complicated, sometimes hard to recognize through its camouflage of discipline or routine. It’s also delicious, devastating, tender—all of which Zauner lays bare in searing detail.
Crying in H Mart, whose namesake opening chapter was published in the New Yorker in 2018, has dovetailing arcs. One is her mother’s declining health (she died of pancreatic cancer in 2014, leaving Zauner her dedicated kimchi refrigerator). The other is the musician’s coming of age, which begins with a $100 guitar from Costco and winds up, by the final chapter, with her debut album under the name Japanese Breakfast. 2016’s Psychopomp and the following year’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet cemented Zauner’s place as a charismatic force, equally comfortable shotgunning beers in her mother’s traditional hanbok or spoofing horror-movie tropes. At the same time, the narratives around both were entwined with grief.
“I feel like I had to write the book, honestly, in order to pave the way for Jubilee,” Zauner said in a recent call, referring to her exuberant third album, due out in June. The persimmons hang-drying on the album cover allude to that shift. Left to the elements, the vibrant, bitter fruits “mature into something a little softer and sweeter,” she said. These two projects, while representing the far poles of the emotional spectrum, both arrive in tune with this year: her luminous writing making sense of death while her music impels us to really let live. She’s already imagining Kodachrome looks when her tour kicks off this summer. “Yellow is such a joyous color—initially, I only wanted to wear yellow for this album cycle,” she said, laughing. “I came to realize it was a bit limiting.”
Still, that mandate—sunny colors, bright sounds, extra gochujang—seems right for right now. “At this point, it’s been so long since we’ve played a show I would be happy to perform anywhere. I would be just completely thrilled to play a chicken shack to 10 people,” Zauner said. But another inspiration floated to mind: “I would love to play an H Mart parking lot.”
Friday, April 2
8:30 a.m.: Woke up from a dream that I was getting press photos taken in a long dress in a fresh body of water. Today is the first day all week I haven’t had to Zoom into nine interviews to promote the book and record. I drink a French press of Reanimator coffee and fill my 32-ounce water bottle, of which I try to drink two a day. I am way too proud of myself for drinking 64 ounces of water when it seems like other people are drinking way more.
11 a.m.: I eat an arugula salad with chicken, almonds, and a hard boiled egg. I’ve been trying to eat healthier lately, and this is for that or whatever.
I start working on editing a livestream we taped, where the band played some new songs off the record. It goes way too smoothly and then it really kicks me in the ass when I try to export and get all sorts of error messages.
Me: This new album is called Jubilee! It’s about joy! I’m ready to embrace all feeling!
Also me: PLEASE LET ME FEEL ANYTHING BUT THIS OVERWHELMING ANXIETY OF ADOBE PREMIERE CRASHING.
One of Zauner’s virtuous salads.
Courtesy of Michelle Zauner.
3 p.m.: I interview my absolute hero over the phone. I guess for most people it’d be like the equivalent of meeting Michelle Obama or David Bowie or something. I was so nervous for this all day, but it goes so well and I can literally die happy now. I can’t wait for it to come out.
5 p.m.: I have never been so overjoyed to proudly proclaim I am 30+ as I head to Wyckoff Heights Hospital for my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I tell my nurse I will remember her forever, and so she flips her ID around and tells me she hopes she gets to give me my second dose. Thank you, Ana!!!
6 p.m.: My husband, Peter, and I stop by H Mart in Paramus to pick up some groceries and get some take out at the food court, but the food court is closed so we opt for Shake Shack from the mall across the street. We eat in the car and drive four hours north for a weekend in the Adirondacks. #wellness.
Saturday, April 3
9 a.m.: I used to shower every day, but I’ve been trying to shower less frequently for my hair health. I brush my teeth and do a new skin-care regimen. My friend Jason Kim recommended I see a dermatologist named Dr. Belkin, and I’ve been following his prescription regimen religiously ever since, because I’m in my thirties now and all I can see are my expanding pores. I wash my face with a Cetaphil cleanser and apply a prescription antioxidant serum, then an Aesop facial barrier cream as a moisturizer and MDSolarSciences SPF. I have to use sunscreen now even when it’s gray out and I don’t leave the house because I started using retinoids at night, and I’m convinced my skin will fall off if it is even so much as pecked by the faintest glimpse of natural light. My Korean mom would be so proud.