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Taylor Swift says peers, not 3LW, taught her about ‘players’ and ‘haters’

The musician filed a declaration in court saying she had ‘never heard’ the 3LW song she’s accused of copying in her 2014 hit

Taylor Swift with her trophy at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles last year. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock)
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For decades, musicians have griped about players and haters on the airwaves. But those common complaints are playing out in a courtroom in a lawsuit the writers behind a 3LW hit filed years ago against Taylor Swift.

The copyright suit accuses Swift of ripping off lyrics from the 2000 single “Playas Gon’ Play” in her 2014 hit “Shake It Off.” Since it was filed in 2017, the case has been tossed, appealed and revived by the courts — but it’s now heading to a jury trial. Ahead of the upcoming legal proceedings, Swift filed a declaration Monday, defending the track in question as “entirely written by me.”

The pop star added that she couldn’t have copied material from a song she’d never heard.

“Until learning about Plaintiffs’ claim in 2017, I had never heard the song ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ … or the group 3LW,” Swift wrote in the filing.

The singer, who was 10 when 3LW’s song burst onto the scene, also said she wasn’t allowed to watch MTV’s “Total Request Live” until she was a teenager — meaning she wasn’t able to hear “Playas Gon’ Play” during its brief chart run in the early aughts. The song peaked at No. 81 on the Billboard Top 100 before — six years later — being placed on the magazine’s “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time” ranking.

Andrea Swift vouched for her pop-star daughter, adding that she “carefully monitored both the television she watched and the music she heard.”

“Taylor did not attend sleepovers at friends’ houses as a young girl because we lived on a farm until she was 10 years old and I always preferred having friends come over to our home,” Andrea Swift wrote in a filed declaration.

Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who wrote the lyrics to “Playas Gon’ Play,” shrugged off those explanations. Their attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post, but in a statement to the Guardian, they said “the two works are so strikingly similar that Ms Taylor’s denial of access makes no difference to the outcome.”

The members of 3LW, short for 3 Little Women, are not affiliated with the lawsuit.

When it comes to rhythm and style, the songs differ greatly. While “Playas Gon’ Play” is a seminal piece of Y2K R&B, “Shake It Off” is pure bopping pop. Nevertheless, the two share a couplet of lyrics with the same play on words — 3LW’s “Playas, they gon’ play / And haters, they gonna hate” versus Swift’s “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

In 2018, a judge tossed the lawsuit because he found the lyrics were “too banal” to be stolen. A year later, an appeals panel resurrected the case — prompting Swift to request a dismissal. However, the same judge who had earlier dismissed the case refused the star’s motion in December, saying the songs had “enough objective similarities” for the suit to proceed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Short phrases and cliches typically don’t qualify for protection because they lack the originality required by the federal Copyright Act. And the concept of players and haters isn’t necessarily groundbreaking — neither in the music scene nor in English lingo.

In 1977, Stevie Nicks crooned about how “players only love you when they’re playing” in Fleetwood Mac’s song “Dreams.” Then, the idea of brushing off criticism gained popularity in the ’90s thanks to myriad songs, where it manifested itself in phrases like “haters gonna hate” and “playa haters.” The Right Rhymes, a hip-hop dictionary, traces the term “hater” back to Cypress Hill’s 1991 song “Psycobetabuckdown.” Some years later, the combo of players playing and haters hating took off with the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 “Playa Hater” and Ice-T’s 1999 “Don’t Hate the Playa.”

In the 2010s, the phrase “haters gonna hate” became a popular meme genre, peaking in Google searches in 2012 and being enshrined as Urban Dictionary’s word of the day on Jan. 25 that year, according to Know Your Meme.

Its frequent use is what inspired Swift when she was writing “Shake It Off,” she wrote in Monday’s filing.

“I recall hearing phrases about players play and haters hate stated together by other children while attending school in Wyomissing Hills, and in high school in Hendersonville,” Swift said of growing up in Pennsylvania. “These phrases were akin to other commonly used sayings like ‘don’t hate the playa, hate the game,’ ‘take a chill pill,’ and ‘say it, don’t spray it.’”

The phrasing was so common, she added, that she even wore an Urban Outfitters “haters gonna hate” T-shirt during a 2013 concert — a year before “Shake It Off” was released.