The music video, which aired on the SNL broadcast, is a sequel to the "Motherlover" sketch and finds Samberg and Timberlake reprising their roles from that skit as they sing about having a threesome with Gaga. The song and sketch received positive reviews from critics who called it one of the funniest moments of the episode. "3-Way (The Golden Rule)" received a nomination at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, but it lost to another song from the same SNL episode.
In the midst of the announcement that Justin Timberlake would once again host Saturday Night Live for its May 21, 2011, episode, many media commentators speculated that there would be a recurrence of the two characters that he and Samberg portrayed in past SNL Digital Shorts ("Dick in a Box" and "Motherlover"). Speculation only increased when TMZ released photos of Samberg and Timberlake shooting the music video, donning the same suits worn in "Dick in a Box". "3-Way" was written on May 19, with the song and video recorded on May 20. The beat of "3-Way" is by The Futuristics with Ryan & Smitty and Asa Taccone.
The song's premise follows the early 1990s pop duo (Samberg and Timberlake) finding themselves invited to a threesome with "the girl [they] met at the Payless ShoeSource" (Gaga). Lady Gaga's character acknowledges that "most guys won't freak together," but the two conclude that "it's not gay, when it's in a three-way," and that they should follow "The Golden Rule". The song features a reference to the sitcom Three's Company. Gaga related the nervousness of Samberg and Timberlake asking her to do the song in an interview on May 23:
"I wish that they filmed the backstage scenario as both Justin and Andy Samberg tried simultaneously to pitch this idea to me and they both choked on the way in. Justin was like 'Umm so umm, we have a skit idea and umm, well I'm not really good at this I'll have Andy tell you.' Then Andy came and was like 'Well umm bluh blah we have this skit idea.' Then they both came in finally and they told me the story and I'm like, 'Guys, I get it.' They're like 'We really like each other.'"
The song and sketch received positive reviews from critics. Matt Donnelly of the Los Angeles Times praised the skit, writing, "Timberlake and Samberg work an intentionally cheesy R&B shtick with hilarious results." Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly commented, "The old-school rap details were impeccable as always," though he was unsure about the intentions of the song's lyrics. "I'm going to give [The Lonely Island] the benefit of the doubt and say the lyric was a satire of the fear of being thought gay," he continued. Nick Carbone of Time called the skit "hilarious" and praised Gaga's acting abilities in the skit and throughout the SNL episode.The Hollywood Reporter's Aaron Couch wrote that with the skit, "Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg may have topped their Emmy-winning digital short D--- in a Box [sic]."People's Alla Byrne and the Wall Street Journal staff both listed it as one of the funniest moments of the episode. "3-Way" received a nomination for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards. However, it lost to the song "Justin Timberlake Monologue" from the same episode of SNL.
The music video for "3-Way" was shot on May 20, 2011, the same day the song was recorded, and aired as the SNL Digital Short during the May 21 SNL broadcast.[Note 1] Timberlake and Samberg appear in the video as their characters from the "Dick in a Box" and "Motherlover" sketches. "3-Way" is a sequel to the "Motherlover" sketch. The clip begins with each half of the duo exiting the house of the other's mother (played by Patricia Clarkson and Susan Sarandon) as she grabs him seductively. Timberlake and Samberg then greet each other, simultaneously saying, "Your mom says hi. Jinx!" before they are seen in various locations around town as they sing the song's introduction ("yeah yeah yeah" repeated several times). Timberlake sings about his plans to have a sexual encounter with a girl he met the previous week at a Payless ShoeSource store, while Samberg reveals similar plans about "a cutie [...] who loves the way I knock on her boots." They then leave, agreeing to meet back with each other in a few hours. They are both then seen outside of Gaga's apartment, where it is revealed that both of them agreed to have sex with her, though they did not know the other was also planning to do the same. She explains that she invited them both there so that they could have a threesome, which they quickly agree to do, citing the "golden rule" that "it's not gay when it's in a 3-way." Later, Gaga walks back into the bedroom with a bowl of cereal to find Timberlake and Samberg under the covers together, apparently not realizing she has left.