The Fresh Prince, Lost in Translation

Children of the 80s: you remember “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” right? For all of you young whippersnappers out there, this was the TV series that launched the acting career of Hollywood actor Will Smith.

In the series, Smith stars as a teenager from one of the rougher parts of West Philadelphia. To keep him out of trouble after a fight, he is sent by his mother to live with a rich aunt and uncle in Bel Air, Los Angeles. Shenanigans ensue. Most American kids of my generation have the lyrics to the show’s theme song tattooed somewhere deep in our collective memory.

Just for fun, a group called Collective Cadenza decided to run the lyrics of that iconic theme song through Google Translate 64 times, once for each of the language options Google provides. Then, they translated it back to English and performed the result. Their YouTube page explains the experiment in a little more detail:

“Technically speaking, all but the first verse were translated. The lyrics were translated from English to the world’s most spoken language (Mandarin), to the second most (Spanish), to the third most, to the fourth most, ETC, putting all 64 languages in order by finding the demographic population size on every language on Wikipedia.”

After all of that machine translation, the resulting song bears only a passing resemblance to the original. Just as with the childhood game of “telephone,” the end result is a word salad. Or perhaps a surreal beatnik poem, with lyrics like “I bring fear. She speaks: I have nothing!” and “He said ‘I love you.” then how do you know how?”

Watch the video below to see for yourself. I promise, it’s worth it:

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