By now you’ve no doubt seen the YouTube video wherein the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is pushed through 64 languages of Google Translate and back into English. The collective known as CDZA–who make experimental music videos–are responsible for the inventive clip. We spoke to CDZA co-founders Joe Sabia, Michael Thurber, and Matt McCorkle as well as actor and Will Smith-avatar Jeremie Harris about how the idea of a multi-lingual deconstruction of the classic theme came to be and why the word “apricot” makes so many appearances.
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Where did you get the idea to mass-translate the Fresh Prince theme?
Michael: We used to get email from people all around the world, and they would always use Google Translate to talk to us. One day I got this email and it began “Michael, I am your music. Your bass playing? Really great job!” And we all just thought it was hysterical. And then Joe said “wouldn’t it be funny to do that to a song?”
Joe: And then, it was kind of like Inception. What if it wasn’t just one translation? And I’m sure, with Google Translate, people thought “what if something was translated 64 times?” The idea of bringing it back to English was something we were really excited about and, since we do music, we thought it would be really funny to do that with a song.
Was the “Fresh Prince” theme always the song you were going to do?
Matt: “Fresh Prince” was the one that Joe was very adamant about. Everybody knows it.
Joe: We wanted to do a song that everybody has a strong emotional connection with.
How did you feel going through the translations as it started to take shape?Joe: It was hilarious. The strategy was to use the languages that were most spoken, and then put it through descending order where not many people speak the language. The hardest part was to communicate this on a clear level, and that’s the reason why there’s me as a host. The results were fucking hilarious. You had lines of 20 words that were reduced to one.
Michael: Google Translate is like “That’s what that paragraph meant? We’re gonna trim it down to one word.”
And sometimes that word is “Apricot.”
Joe: “Apricot” has been the funniest part of this experience. We figured out why. The word “Maxing,” as in “chillin’ out maxin’, relaxin’ all cool,” is translated to “Xing” in Mandarin. But when you take that word “Xing,” because every word has four different meanings, it decided to translate that word back to apricot. There you go.
Jeremie: My first reaction was like “What the hell is this?” It was bugged out. I was down for it, I knew it wasn’t going to retain its meaning after being put through so many languages, but I was surprised by how off it was.
Which language was the most accurate?
Matt: Well, any of them, when you just do one round, is pretty accurate. It starts to get inaccurate when you start to go through multiple rounds. Any of the languages with a symbol starts to get a little tricky, but it doesn’t get super distorted until you get five or six at a time.
Was it a challenge nailing the off-words in a proper rhythm?
Jeremie: The actual video is one continuous short, so we could stop and start. It became really difficult because at one point it stops rhyming, so it became difficult to make everything flow and make everything fit within the structure of the music. I think my acting training helped a bit with that.
Joe: Jeremie was such a good sport the entire time. He was so prepared and ready to do this because this is very demanding to sing something that unfamiliar.
Do you have a favorite like from the final version?
Michael: “I see you!”
Matt: “I have nothing!”
Joe: I have to agree that it’s a tie between “I see you” and “I have nothing.”
Jeremie: I liked “cold Apricot.”
How’s the response been?
Jeremie: Everyone that I spoke to thought it was funny, and that it really highlighted the saying “lost in translation.”
Joe: It’s been good. 1.6 million views in its first week. It’s turning people on to what we’re doing, and put people on to our other ideas.
Michael: I think that we really abused Google translate with the 64 languages. Usually, like we said, it’s pretty good. But, when you keep going back-and-forth and back-and-forth 64 times, I’d be hard-pressed to find any algorithm that could handle that.
Joe: Yeah, we didn’t do this as an ad for Google Translate because if we did, it kind of implies that Google Translate doesn’t work. Many people have commented that it’s a symbol of religion, and how the Bible’s been miscommunicated. Obviously it’s different because it’s over the course of 2,000 years, but we’re doing this over the course of 10 minutes in a living room psychotically. Say we put it in Mandarin, and the only difference is “apricot,” but you still can comprehend what the whole thing is about, that’s the purpose of Google translate.
Michael: It was literally just a ridiculous idea. That’s it.
Matt: I’d be interested in seeing 64 different expert translators in each language do the same thing and see what they’ll come up. I think it would be something similar.