If a playa plays but there’s no one around to see it, did he ever really play?
3LW‘s legacy has been a hot topic of discussion ever since Taylor Swift was hit with a lawsuit by the girl group’s songwriters back in September 2017 over alleged lyrical similarities between her 2014 hit “Shake It Off” and their 2001 single “Playas Gon’ Play.”
On the latter track, Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams harmonize, “Playas, they gon’ play/ And haters, they gonna hate/ Ballers, they gon’ ball/ Shot callers, they gonna call,” over turn-of-the-century R&B production and bandmate Naturi Naughton’s dismissive ad-libs.
Thirteen years later, Swift released her own admonition that “The players gonna play, play, play, play, play/ And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” and the 1989 lead single shot straight to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the superstar’s longest-charting single as Swifties the world over took to shaking it off.
Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, the writers behind “Playas Gon’ Play,” attested in court documents that Swift lifted the lyrics to her smash directly from their song, and the two parties have been locked in an increasingly complicated legal battle ever since.
In a sworn declaration filed by Swift on Monday, she maintains that “Shake It Off” was “composed independently of ‘Playas Gon’ Play'” and goes further to state that she “never heard the song Playas Gon’ Play and had never heard of that song or the group 3LW” prior to the duo filing a lawsuit against her.
Swift’s statement got us thinking: Just how popular was 3LW’s sophomore single back in the day? Below, Billboard has rounded up all the chart history you need to know about the early 2000s girl group and the track at the center of the lawsuit.
“Playas Gon’ Play” Earned 3LW a Minor Hit on the Charts
“Playas Gon’ Play” was released in April 2001 as the second and ultimately final single from 3LW’s self-titled debut album. The song, which features a rare lead vocal by Naughton, peaked at No. 81 on the Hot 100. The swaggering track performed a bit better on Billboard‘s R&B/hip-hop charts, where it reached No. 56 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 50 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay. The song’s highest chart achievement, though, came via Rhythmic Airplay, where it was a top 20 hit, peaking at No. 17.
The Song Gained Traction Outside the 3LW Album
Three months after its release, “Playas Gon’ Play” was selected for inclusion on Now That’s What I Call Music! 7, the seventh volume in the compilation series brought to America by music executive Bob Mercer in 1998 after the concept became a hit in the United Kingdom under Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
Also featuring tracks like Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” Janet Jackson’s “All for You” and S Club 7’s “Never Had a Dream Come True,” the LP touted “19 chart-topping hits!” on its cover and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with 621,000 copies sold in its first week. Thanks to the song’s tropical, dance-heavy visual, the music video for “Playas Gon’ Play” was also in regular rotation on countdown shows like MTV’s TRL and BET’s 106 & Park at the time.
Swift addresses the Now album and music video’s success in her declaration, stating that she does “not own and have never listened to the albums Now That’s What I Call Music! 6 or Now That’s What I Call Music! 7,” nor that she ever owned “any 3LW albums or singles, or any recording of ‘Playas Gon’ Play.'” She also added that her parents “did not permit me to watch TRL until I was about 13 years old,” which would have been in December 2002, more than a year after the video’s regular rotation.
“Playas Gon’ Play” Wasn’t 3LW’s Biggest Single
While “Playas Gon’ Play” enjoyed slight success on the charts, it failed to match the success of 3LW’s debut single “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right).” With its heavy-rotation music video filmed in New York City’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, the midtempo song charted much higher than its follow-up, peaking at No. 23 on the Hot 100, No. 21 on Radio Songs and No. 10 on Rhythmic Airplay. When fans think of 3LW nowadays, “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right)” is likely the first song that comes to mind from the group’s brief, pre-Cheetah Girls discography.
–Additional reporting by Trevor Anderson