The Annotated “Bills, Bills, Bills”

At first we started out real cool1
Taking me places I ain’t never been2
But now, you’re getting comfortable
Ain’t doing those things you did no more
You’re slowly making me pay for things
Your money should be handling3

1 According to online apocrypha, Beyoncé acquired her first boyfriend, Lyndell Locke, at age 12. “It was puppy love,” said Locke, now a chef in Houston, in a rare interview in 2009. “I would take her to the movies, or we would eat out. Normal things teenagers do.”
2 As Beyoncé was 16 when she co-wrote “Bills, Bills, Bills,” this line might mean “R-rated movies,” etc.
3 Today, 80% of women and 70% of men state that they desire a financially (and otherwise) egalitarian relationship, although only around 23% of women state that they feel prepared to make major financial decisions.


And now you ask to use my car4

4 Beyoncé did not learn how to drive until 2010, when Jay-Z taught her.

Drive it all day and don’t fill up the tank5

5 Four years before she learned how to drive, Jay-Z bought Beyoncé a 1959 Rolls Royce (est. value $1 million) for her 26th birthday. Filling up a 1959 Rolls Royce in Manhattan would cost around $81.

And you have the audacity
To even come and step to me
Ask to hold some money from me
Until you get your check next week6

6 Perhaps he wished to avoid the exorbitant interest rates charged by payday lenders, who often advertise a simple interest rate (15%) instead of APR (300% or more) on the loans, which are rarely paid off in full within the prescribed two-week period. At a 300% APR, the interest on a payday loan will exceed the principal in 4 months.


You triflin’ good for nothing type of brother7

7 The unemployment rate among black Americans aged 16-19 is 39.3%, nearly double the unemployment rate for white Americans of the same age.

Silly me, why haven’t I found another
A baller, when times get hard
I need someone to help me out
Instead of a scrub like you
Who don’t know what a man’s about8

8 In 1939, a psychologist named George Crane created a merit/demerit chart for husbands and wives to score each other on their marital performance. The first merit to be checked off on the husband’s list is “Gives wife ample allowance or turns over pay-check to her.”


Can you pay my bills?9

9 In mid-2012, tens of thousands of Americans were scammed by criminals who spread a rumor that President Obama would pay their utility bills.

Can you pay my telephone bills?10

10 The average monthly cell phone bill in America is $71.

Can you pay my automo-bills?11

11 The average annual cost of car ownership is $8,946.

If you did then maybe we could chill
I don’t think you do
So, you and me are through12

12 Beyoncé and Lyndell Locke broke up in 2000, the same year that “Bills, Bills, Bills” became a chart-topper and The Writing’s On The Wall sold over 15 million copies worldwide.


Now you’ve been maxing out my cards
Givin’ me bad credit13

13 The average American credit score is 661, which is not super good.

buyin’ gifts with my own name14

14 Beyoncé’s full name is Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. Jay-Z’s full name is Shawn Corey Knowles-Carter.

Haven’t paid the first bill
But you’re steady heading to the mall
Goin’ on shopping sprees 15

15 Beyoncé is known to enjoy a good shopping spree, having dropped $32,000 one afternoon at Harvey Nichols in London, etc, although this behavior is eclipsed by Jay-Z’s $350,000 day at Hermes in 2010.

Perpetrating to your friends that you be ballin’


And then you use my cell phone
Calling whoever you think’s at home
And then when the bill comes
All the sudden you be acting dumb
Don’t know where none of these calls come from
When your mama’s number’s here more than once


You triflin’, good for nothing type of brother16

16 In 2011, Beyoncé ended her business partnership with her father Mathew Knowles, who had managed her career since childhood.

Silly me, why haven’t I found another17

17 Shortly after firing her father, Beyoncé hired a Live Nation representative in his place. Later that year, Mathew filed papers disputing Live Nation’s claims that he embezzled funds from his daughter. Live Nation is the partner company for Jay-Z’s massive entertainment company Roc Nation.

A baller 18

18 “I’m not a businessman/ I’m a business, man” –Jay-Z, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)”

when times get hard
I need someone to help me out
Instead of a scrub like you
Who don’t know what a man’s about19

19 Jay-Z’s net worth is $475 million. Beyoncé’s is $300 million. They are the richest celebrity couple in America.








Jia Tolentino lives in Ann Arbor. She’s got a tumblr.




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