December 21, 2022 Musicology No Comments

Did someone at CNN get shut out of tickets to the Eras Tour or what?

It strikes me very odd that a week or so after the “Shake It Off” case was dismissed and presumably settled, there’s still a court of public opinion battle worth waging, and a news banner. The press announcement that I believe came out Dec 20 reads:

CNN Flash Docs” will investigate the copyright lawsuit brought by songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler against Taylor Swift for her hit song “Shake it Off.”

Taking On Taylor Swift scrutinizes the legal and ethical issues of the case and explores cultural appropriation , featuring insights from…

CNN’s Press Announcement

We’re calling it “Taking on Taylor Swift?!” Like someone is a rebel taking on the evil empire? Is there another way to interpret a title like, “Taking on Taylor Swift?”

And then you’re gonna “investigate” the lawsuit? Like, there’s something weird going on here and you’re going to blow the lid off it? There’s no need, the opinion of the plaintiffs is spelled out in the complaint. The beliefs of the defendants is that the plaintiffs are imaging things. It’s fairly simple.

The initial ruling was to throw it out. In the initial ruling, Judge Michael Fitzgerald, according to Hollywood Reporter, decided that by the time Hall and Butler penned “Playas Gon Play,” “American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters.” And then he pithily added, “The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.”

But CNN evidently thought, “What if we raise cultural appropriation?”

On one hand, let’s not ignore a forest for the trees. Are there musicological issues such as cultural appropriation to explore when Taylor Swift’s sings “Players gonna play?” I wouldn’t presume to say, “No.” I’d err on the side of, “Let’s definitely be thoughtful about that.”

But if CNN conflates that with any presumption of righteousness on the part of an infringement lawsuit, particularly one that has presumably been settled, that seems like a bit of an ethical issue worth exploring on its own. The press release continues…

Since its release in 2014, Swift been accused that that the chorus of her hit song, “Shake It Off” (“’cause the players gonna play, play, play…”) is a direct lift from the 2000 song, “Playas Gon’ Play” written by Hall and Butler, and made famous by the girl group, 3LW.

CNN’s Press Announcement

The case was launched in 2017. Was there really all that much of a public outcry prior? Generally speaking, I either notice that sort of thing or it’s brought to my attention somehow. For what it’s worth, I didn’t, and it wasn’t. Continuing on… isn’t the supposed “famousness” of “Playas Gon’ Play” a material question in the case? Swift said, as reported by Variety, that she had never heard of the song, or of 3LW. And here again, neither had I. I think “Playas Gon’ Play” peaked at 80-something on the Billboard Top 100. That’s something to be awfully proud of, but is it “famous?” Maybe sorta, but it’s arguable? And if it is both arguable and material to a recently settled case, shouldn’t CNN be more thoughtful about the implications of its language?

I don’t know what settlement was reached here, how much Taylor Swift paid, or even if she paid anything at all. It’s merely the assumption I and pretty much everyone else I know made because the case went away before trial. By their nature, settlements (especially empire-to-rebel type settlements) can be anywhere on the “fairness” scale from “hush money” to “even-steven” to “ransomware payments.” We don’t know. We can speculate. We bring our biases to it. We should recognize it.

CNN? I’ll watch it. We’ll see. Here’s their preview on YouTube.

Written by Brian McBrearty