After spending the pandemic cooped up in New York City, the thought of fucking off to the countryside and homesteading with a bunch of chickens and cows sounds pretty nice. But I like being employed and having a good Thai restaurant within walking distance, so having a farm in The Sims 4 Cottage Living scratches enough of this itch for now.
This long-awaited expansion pack, which comes out today, is set in the English countryside-inspired world of Henford-on-Bagley, and introduces thatched roofs and picnic baskets along with foxes, bunnies, birds, and llamas. You can really live out your cottagecore dreams here, TikTok-famous strawberry dress and all.
The trailer for the new pack featured a Simlish (the fictional language spoken by Sims) version of indie rock outfit Japanese Breakfast’s Be Sweet, off of her recent album Jubilee. Bringing music from our world into that of the Sims is a longstanding tradition for the franchise, ranging from Depeche Mode’s “Suffer Well” in The Sims 2 to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” in The Sims 4. And of course, there’s no forgetting this video of Katy Perry in the studio recording a Simlish version of “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” for her eponymous Sims 3 stuff pack Katy Perry’s Sweet Treats.
Michelle Zauner, the Korean-American musician and author behind Japanese Breakfast, performed “Be Sweet” in Simlish with some IRL cows in a music video debuting at the same time as the expansion pack. This comes shortly after the Sims hosted a weeklong in-game music festival, featuring Glass Animals, Bebe Rexha, and Joy Oladokun.
Earlier this week, Waypoint spoke to Zauner about her experience playing The Sims, and recording music for video games.
What was it like having to record and perform a version of your song in a different, made up language?
It was very funny, because I played the Sims a lot when I was a teenager especially and have sunk many hours of my life into creating various families. So to be singing one of my songs that still feels relatively new in a new language was really funny. It was very, very funny to hear the words altered in that way. It was difficult to get through takes without laughing, especially because Be Sweet has a lot of harmonies in it. So you'd have to layer them in all these different ways. It was just really a very funny, enjoyable process.
Did you have to do any of the translating, or was it all translated to Simlish ahead of time?
I was given the translation, but I thought that certain things are really funny. For instance, the first lyric of the song is like, “tell the men I'm coming.” And they translate men to Sim, which is pretty apt and funny. There were certain words like, “fweebin” for feelings, like my co-producer, Craig Hendricks, and I had started taking the words that we were learning from this song, and using them to express ourselves like, “how are you fweebin about that?” It was really a fun process.
I know in the past there have been artists like Snail Mail and others who have recorded versions of their songs in Simlish, but at least, in my recent memory, there hasn't been a real Simlish music video since Lily Allen did “Smile” for The Sims 2 Seasons and like Natasha Bedingfield, doing “Pocketful of Sunshine” back during The Sims 2 as well. How did the music video part of it end up happening?
It came after doing the song and they sent me the idea that there was going to be a field of cows and I just thought, that sounds amazing, I want to be a part of it. And I don't know the last time I saw a cow. Like, we shot this and they were all very nice cows, and they're a lot larger than I remembered cows being. They were very expansive cows...I loved my co-stars and want to shout them out: Vera and Bug in particular were very nice cows, they were very hungry.
Did you get to pet them?
I did get to pet them, I have some great behind the scenes photos of me and Vera, or maybe me and Holly, I feel like we really bonded.
That sounds so nice.
It was honestly like a dream music video. It was a very, very fun day. I just got to like, hang out with cows and pet cows. It was a dream come true.
Tell me more about your experience playing the Sims as a teenager.
I feel like the Sims filled a lonely void. As a teenager, I remember like expansion packs every Christmas, like back when Christmas was just about opening new games. And immediately after you open your presents you rush to the computer to play your games. It's a really fun thing to get to play with interior design. And when you're a teenager and you're so desperate to get out of your parents’ house really envisioning your life in your future years. And it was a real source of comfort.
Was there a specific pack that you remember playing with that you really liked?
I'm embarrassed to like reveal my age, and I can't really remember their name. I remember like, the [second] expansion for a pack, like the house party essentially.
I've also been playing the Sims since the early 2000s. it's crazy to see things progressing in terms of like, not only like game quality, but also seeing technology and everything advanced there within the games. And now it's just funny and interesting to me to see how now it's like, “oh, time for cottagecore, everybody. We don't need the future, we just need to be on the farm.”
Totally. I also feel like, as a musician, and especially during the pandemic, something that we were all wishing for was more space and creating an alternate reality for yourself. And for me, as a touring musician, I'm always kind of divided by this interest in, like, having a garden at home and having this sort of off the grid life that I can never really have because I'm always touring in urban environments. And so I think that I can really see the appeal of getting to have it all in this way.
Sable, the video game that you did the soundtrack for, comes out later this year. What has it been like recording music for video games versus doing your studio albums?
Yeah, it's super different in a lot of ways. The first way is that, you know, Japanese Breakfast is basically like a pop project. And so you're always kind of trying to find a hook within the first 15 seconds and keep people like feeling something; whereas, when you're soundtracking something, especially an open world desert exploration game, it has to be really ambient and sprawling, and there are no real scenes, like if you were scoring a scene for a movie, because you don't know exactly what the player is going to be doing. So yeah, that's a really different experience just creating longer ambient loops for the players in the background. And then there are a couple of songs with lyrics and vocals. That was also a really different experience just because a lot of my writing is rooted in very personal detail. And I had to write lyrics that were more broad and universal that could apply to this sort of character coming of age, so I was listening to a lot of Disney soundtracks like by Alan Menken and Joe Hisaishi's work for Studio Ghibli films and trying to get a sense of how to create a song that was moving without it being hyper specific, which something I've generally really relied on.
Is this something that you're hoping to do more of in the future?
Yeah, I mean, I've been working on the sable soundtrack for almost four years. I really hope to do more. I had just such delightful experiences with those developers and the Sims...I've been playing video games since I was five. It's always been like a really big part of my life. And so to have, you know, a place in that world is really fulfilling for me.