make it up to me, you know it’s better

I haven’t posted in two weeks, so I’m serving an upbeat, sugary treat to butter you up. If you’re not in the mood for sweets, don’t worry – there’s a bit of saltiness ahead (ofc) in the elegant hodgepodge that is Japanese Breakfast. 

It’s no wonder that this band has blown up over recent years. Lead vocalist and songwriter Michelle Zauner has kept herself busy churning out three albums since 2016. Their success is evidenced by two recent grammy nominations and last summer’s 5-nights of sold out shows at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia that marked a welcome homecoming celebration for their third release Jubilee (2021). 

Before recently, “Road Head” was the only Japanese Breakfast song I knew well. On first listen, its cheeky title and memorable lyrics have a very different vibe from this week’s “Be Sweet” earworm. Musically, the two are very disparate as well – one embracing a sort of mysterious, dark guitar riff, and the other leaning into 80s dance energy with a slice of the Bee Gees mixed in.

While “Road Head” describes a “last ditch desperate” scenario of trying to save a relationship via sex, “Be Sweet” offers an alternate method for second chances, though still packed with a familiar sense of regret. Zauner opens with distinct candy-flavored vocals:

Tell the men I'm coming
Tell them count the days
I can feel the night passing by like a mistake waiting for me

Her words are a little threatening and demanding, though the delivery and tone is quite upbeat and, well, sweet. The tempo is fast, and the drums that kick in at the pre-chorus come to drive our head movements as she repeats the earworm: “Make it up to me, you know it’s better/Make it up to me, you know it’s better.”

Eager to believe in something, anything, she takes her directness a step further in the chorus: “Be sweet to me baby/ I wanna believe in you, I wanna believe.” It’s sung as a positive affirmation that she’s ready and willing to smooth over whatever issues are at hand.   

But unlike the Sour Patch Kid slogan, first she’s sweet, then she’s sour: 

So come and get your woman (Comе and get your woman)
Pacify her rage (Pacify her rage)
Take the time to undo your lies, make it up once more with feeling

These lyrics are especially poised and ironic if we take the woman to be the speaker of the song, who is singing much too hopefully to be enraged. She’s even welcoming of second chances: “Recognize your mistakes and I’ll let you back in.”

Even still, the reality portrayed is questionable here, with marked lyrics in phrases like “make it up,” “fantasize you’ve left me,” “believe in something.” It’s all a supernatural feeling baby. This is also a nice moment to nod to the parallel subjects in her quirky music videos, like the alien in “Road Head” or the space agents in “Be Sweet.” Not to mention the heavy influence from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode titled “Once More, With Feeling.” 

In the case of both songs, unfortunately either solution sounds like an emotional band-aid.

While “Road Head” grapples with the post-coital regret of using sex to cover up a larger issue, “Be Sweet” also carries a forced facade on closer look. 

Whether we wanna believe or not, we’ll need some action to follow up these hopes. I’ll be diving into Japanese Breakfast’s full discography now to right my former wrongs (and maybe watch Buffy, too?). I suggest you do the same!

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