Pop punk has infiltrated the mainstream, creating the sonic backbone for some of this year’s most listened to albums. From Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR to Pinkshift’s song ‘i’m gonna tell my therapist on you’, the sounds of the 90s and early 00s have been making a definite comeback. Even one of the Kardashians is dating Travis Barker, drummer for the band Blink-182, propelling the genre’s heavily tattooed and grunge-inspired aesthetics into the mainstream in a big way. However, gen Z has adapted the trend to their own style and perspectives, ultimately creating a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere around the genre.
The most telling example of gen Z’s reiteration of 2000s punk can be seen in egirl and eboy aesthetics. This subculture was popularised in the internet of the early 2010s—think the height of Tumblr—and made prominent again by TikTok users. Closet staples of the community include thick chains, monochrome stripes, and heavy eyeliner paired with softer anime-inspired qualities.
In July 2019, Kish Lal wrote for Dazed that the aesthetics of this punk subculture are “the antidote to the homogenised IG aesthetic” as reinforced by cookie-cutter influencers. Embracing the internet-saturated world they grew up in, gen Zers have been using the skills they’ve learned from online makeup tutorials to create alternative, rainbow-hued looks as opposed to full-contour glam. Taking the rise of this punk-inspired subculture into account, it seems inevitable that those engaging with the aesthetics would champion a sound that matches their outlooks.
Though the pop punk sound has flourished in 2021, the revival has been a few years in the making. The first musical inklings of its re-emergence can be traced in trends in the heavily autotuned, melancholic rap and hip hop of the internet in recent years; think Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD. Rolling Stone writer Stephen Witt cited the decline of the emo rap genre as taking place in early 2019 after the death of Lil Peep, Tekashi 6ix9ine’s legal battles, and a slew of other events, both tragic and notorious, took place.
While contemporary pop punk has many roots in the sounds of Soundcloud rap popularised in the late 2010s, the genre is significantly more diverse. In contrast to the cis-male dominance of its predecessors, headlining acts of the present genre include Olivia Rodrigo, Meet Me @ The Altar, and Pinkshift. Even Willow Smith, who previously specialised in soulful, alternative R&B tracks, has veered into pop punk territory.
On her most recent album lately I feel EVERYTHING, released 16 July 2021, Smith works with pop punk icons—and childhood heroes of hers—Travis Barker and Avril Lavigne. Coming a long way from ‘Whip My Hair’, the singer infused the sounds of her youth into tracks like ‘transparent soul’, ‘XTRA’, and ‘¡BREAKOUT!’ while incorporating her own specific emotional experience as a black female into them. This perspective she shares wasn’t in the mainstream in the early 2000s, as Fall Out Boy and Green Day took centre stage.
It’s incredibly noteworthy that this time around—in the aftermath of the Me Too movement and rise in awareness of intersectional marginalisation—the once-male-dominated pop punk genre is now being frontlined by women, gen Z women in particular. When interviewed by The Independent in April 2021, 20-year-old guitarist for Meet Me @ The Altar, Téa Campbell, said, “It’s so incredibly important to have representation as POC women in this scene […] The scene belongs to everyone and it’s time that the stages reflect that.”
While feminist and LGBTQIA+ voices gained popularity in the 80s and 90s through queercore and riot grrrl movements, they were outshined by the male-dominated alternative genre. Today, as the space has gradually widened and continues to do so, these voices have confidently resurfaced. The prominence of egirl and eboy cultural attitudes could also have a role in this increased inclusivity. In Dazed, one self-proclaimed eboy and influencer named Jamison offers that the eboy subculture “allows for more freedom of expression and the chance to experiment with traditionally feminine looks that men—especially straight men—have been taught to shy away from.”
Another component to the genre’s renewed popularity could be due to gen Z’s deep awareness of systemic flaws, as echoed in Willow Smith’s interview with The Evening Standard from September 2021. In the piece, the singer is quoted saying that her generation “has an insatiable desire to right the wrongs of the world […] We’re tired of all the decisions that have been made before us.” She finishes this statement off by saying, “We’re raising awareness of the issues that affect us all, we’re taking control.” Taking this into consideration, the re-emergence of pop punk seems even more inevitable. When collective emotions seem to be at an all-time high due to the very social media platforms that give so many young people a voice, it seems inevitable that this emotion-laden genre and its signature abrasive vocals have come back into the spotlight. Similar to other bands engaging with the sound, Willow recognises the power she has in drawing attention to the experiences of her generation and is using her voice, in a pop-punk cadence, to do so.
The pop punk genre and the specific internet culture that comes with it can be viewed all-in-all as a rejection of the dominant attitudes often expressed by older generations on the internet. By using the digital skill sets they’ve developed throughout childhood and the music genres of their youth, gen Zers are able to express their own concerns with the world they’ve come of age in.
If you were a 90s baby and were lucky enough to have access to a decent computer by 2005, chances are you spend an unhealthy amount of time playing the life simulation video game The Sims. I know I did—me and my best friend used to lie to her mum about the amount of time we’d been playing, unaware that she could check our session’s time on their old PC.
We did it all, from leaving our Sims to die in their pool by removing the ladder and using the weirdest cheat codes (rosebud, motherlode, ;!;!;!;!;!;!) to add crazy amounts of Simoleons (§) in our household’s funds, to constantly imitating Simlish sentences we’d heard while playing. If, so far, you haven’t been able to relate to a single thing I’ve mentioned, you probably don’t know what Simlish is, and I don’t blame you—but you’ve been missing out.
The first The Sims game was originally designed by American Will Wright for personal computers and released on 4 February, 2000. At the time, because of the nature of his game, Wright knew that it needed dialogue, but thought that using real-life languages such as English would cause the conversations to be too repetitive and expensive.
Instead, he decided to go for Simlish, a ‘language’ made up of gibberish words that could not be translated, so that the dialogue’s meanings would be left open to the imagination of the player. Wright later commented that using a nonsense language turned out to be the right development choice, as people were capable of imagining it more realistically than a computer could simulate a real language.
The actual sound of Simlish was improvised by voice actors Stephen Kearin and Gerri Lawlor. As the games grew in popularity, so did Simlish. Robi Kauker, who has been The Sims’ audio director since the game’s inception, told The Verge, “He [Wright] wanted the idea of emotions to resonate with people, but he didn’t want the Sims to say anything that was meaningful so not to mess with the characters’ storytelling.”
In that sense, Simlish did a terrific job. In the early days of The Sims, Kearin and Lawlor achieved moderate celebrity. At one point, the city of Budapest extended an invitation for the two to appear in a parade, spouting Simlish from atop a float. Kearin now works as a TV and voice actor. Lawlor continued acting, and was an activist for San Francisco’s homeless population, up until her death in January 2019.
As the games depicted a more perfect approximation of human society, and the Sims’ expressive possibilities began to multiply, Simlish expanded to underscore new and specific emotions to mirror the complexity of the gameplay. The activity “Anna cooks” evolved into “Anna cooks happily” or “Anna cooks triumphantly.”
Certain nouns in the universe are now identified. ‘Nooboo’, for example, translates to the English ‘baby’, and can be used as a term of endearment, or to reference an infant or a crib. ‘Fliblia’ refers to fire. The now-iconic ‘sul-sul’ is akin to ‘ciao’, appropriate as a greeting or a farewell.
During the early stages of sound recording and development, the plan was to base Simlish on real languages. One of the first languages considered was the Philippines’ Tagalog. However, after further experimentations with other languages including Estonian, Ukrainian, and the Navajo code used in World War II, Wright opted to develop an entirely new language instead. One in which words or phrases have no actual meaning.
After trying an improv game called “Foreign Poet,” where the actor retells a poem in impassioned gibberish and the listener is asked to interpret it, Kearin began speaking in an unintelligible, gummy version of English. The team loved it, and asked him if Lawlor could record as a female counterpart.
Both served as the Simlish actors for the first several iterations of the game, spanning about up until 2006. “The two would remain in the booth for unbroken hours in chains of unbroken days, speaking gibberish to one another, playing off what the other just said by extending a syllable to see what happened, or switching out a melancholy ‘vitash’ for a livelier one,” wrote The Verge.
Having no attachment to actual words and languages, the gibberish that eventually became Simlish is nearly impossible to learn, no matter how hard some fans try. Being born out of complete improvisation, it lacks the structure that is necessary for language-learning and communication. “Unlike other constructed fictional languages like Star Trek’s Klingon and Game of Thrones’ Dothraki, Simlish does not have defined parts of speech,” an article published in VICE further highlights.
Yet, it hasn’t stopped players from congregating online to try and piece together what they understand about the made-up language. Some have even created fonts based on the written form of Simlish featured in the games, and started blogs dedicated to the language.
Most players are already able to recognise some words and phrases, while more dedicated ones can figure out how their character is feeling just by hearing them say a certain word. You can find an introductory list to Simlish terms that are widely known here. You can also try your hand at learning Simlish using this WikiHow guide. Good luck!
Although it hurts to say this, it’s clear that The Sims games are not as popular as they used to be—it’s fair enough when they have to compete with new technologies such as VR games. Yet, gen Zers have been exposed to the games’ archetypical gibberish thanks to the generation’s go-to app, TikTok.
Posted on 26 June, singer Bebe Rexha posted a video where she announced that her song ‘Sabotage’ had been granted a Simlish remix for TikTok’s new #SimlishSessions challenge. In the video, the singer asked people to sing along with her.
The new song is part of a catalogue that has been created for the EA Games’ in-house concert. Various music artists such as the singer of Glass Animals, Dave Bayley, and Joy Oladokun have performed. The Sims has a long history of collaborating with artists, over 500 in fact, from Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ to ‘Don’t Cha’ by the Pussycat Dolls.
Since the game’s new strategy first got rolled out on the video-sharing app, TikTokers have been jumping on the trend. With over 11 billion views on its hashtag, it’s safe to say that gen Zers appreciate Simlish just as much as their ancestors.