Taylor Swift clearly believes she’s being played in court, as a declaration she filed to the judge in a “Shake It Off” plagiarism lawsuit laid out her contention that she never heard the song she’s accused of lifting, “Playas Gon’ Play,” until after she was made aware of the legal action.
“The lyrics to ‘Shake It Off’ were written entirely by me,” Swift said in paperwork filed in response to the allegation from two songwriters that her 2014 smash infringed upon a single from the group 3LW that peaked at No. 81 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2001.
“Until learning about Plaintiffs’ claim in 2017, I had never heard the song ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ and had never heard of that song or the group 3LW,” Swift wrote in a filing first reported on by Billboard. She said she would have had little opportunity to hear it during its brief chart run, since her parents “did not permit me to watch (MTV’s hit countdown show) TRL until I was about 13 years old.”
Regardless of exposure to the tune, Swift and her attorney made the case that any similar phrasing is a result of the terminology being a part of everyday language, and was part of the popular vernacular before Sean Hall and Nathan Butler wrote “Playas Gon’ Play” around the turn of the century — at which point the hitmaker says she was hearing that language on the playground, not on the airwaves.
“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,” the Pennsylvania-bred star wrote. “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.’ … I was struck by messages that people prone to doing something will do it, and the best way to overcome it is to shrug it off and keep living.”
Swift noted that the phrasing was common enough that she had worn a T-shirt bearing the words “haters gonna hate” at a 2013 concert — one that was not custom-made, but purchased at Urban Outfitters.
The songs appear to have nothing in common except the core contested lines — with the 3LW tune repeating the lyrics “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate,” while Swift’s track uses the lines “‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” as the linchpin of its chorus.
Still, that was enough for an earlier judge to overturn a prior dismissal of the lawsuit, which has been making its way through the courts for five years. It was set aside by a federal judge in 2018, but the suit was reinstated by an appeals court the following year. It’s due to be decided by a jury at an undetermined date in the future, but Swift attorney Peter Anderson is arguing that further evidence shows the plaintiffs’ claims are baseless enough to not warrant a trial.
Although “Playas Gon’ Play” made minimal impact on the pop charts in 2001, Billboard did place the song at No. 87 on a 2017 ranking of “the 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.”
As internet sleuths have pointed out, the contested phrases or close variations on them have appeared in a number of other 21st century songs, both before and after “Shake It Off,” including Eric Church’s “The Outsiders” in 2014 and BTS’ “Mic Drop” in 2017. The Notorious B.I.G. is often credited as popularizing the phrase “Playa Hata” with his 1997 song of that name.
In his initial dismissal of the case, before it was sent back to him by an appeals court, federal judge Michael Fitzgerald wrote that the lyrics were “too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative” to be protected. “In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused with the concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas … gonna play’ or ‘haters … gonna hate’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run,’ ‘drummers gonna drum,’ or ‘swimmers gonna swim,’” he continued.
Subsequently, upon having the case returned to him by the higher court, the judge said that Swift’s lawyers “made a strong closing argument” but added that it was not so clear-cut that leaving it to a jury was unwarranted.