44. “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child (1999)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

Am I a good person? It’s a question I wrestle with constantly. And truthfully, I’m suspect of anyone who doesn’t wrestle with it constantly because a) the nature of ethics and morals can shift based on evolving cultural norms; b) the way they’re deployed are often situational which requires a nuanced understanding of what can be complicated context; and c) anyone (or, to extend this out logically, any entity) who claims to have an absolute lock on morality is almost certainly trying to separate you from your money.

I fancy myself a good person, and I live my life accordingly. The guiding maxim in this house is “Work hard and be nice to people.” Teachers, fellow parents, and even wait staff at restaurants compliment us on how polite and engaging our children are (a measuring stick I’m intensely proud of). I pay my taxes. I pay my vendors a fair rate and on-time. I always vote. I donate money to charity. I tip well. I speak honestly and passionately. I speak up for those with less privilege (or do my best anyway). I am unafraid of confrontation on matters of injustice. I use this very platform to advocate for more empathy and understanding in the world. I try to help each person I meet become the very best version of themselves. I’m trying very, very hard to be a good person.

On the other hand, some of my very worst personality traits and skills are often rewarded. I’ve represented any number of morally questionable industries professionally and done so successfully. I’m mouthy. I’m defiant. I’m snarky, and I’m really good at it. Friends and others have laughed heartily while I’ve made fun of them to their faces (more on this in later entries). I almost always automatically distrust leaders. I can be cynical. I can be petty. I can be mean. I certainly have a trail of bruised people in my wake, a collection of people who I’m sure could tell you any number of villainous tales from my exploits. Working in public facing roles for nearly the entirety of my career means to be successful, you’ve got to lean into your most self-serving, self-aggrandizing, thick-skinned, kill-or-be-killed, Terminator persona at least a little bit or you’ll be eaten alive and flushed from desirable roles quickly. Being a prick isn’t just a means to survival, often it’s a ticket to greater riches.

I had a leadership coach once tell me that a weakness is just “a strength overused.” That’s always stuck with me. You smart? Lean on it too much and you become either a condescending know-it-all or a bookworm creep. You compassionate? Too much of that, you’re a doormat. A technical savant? Enjoy working in solitude with little chance of professional or economic advancement. By the way, I was sent to this leadership camp after yelling and swearing at my boss over the phone, a move I support in its spirit, though not in its tact.

Yeah, I can be a fucking prick, but as long as I’m savvy about deploying that for good and not evil, that’s a real asset because not everyone has that gear. Do I always get it right? Of course not. And as a highly sensitive person, getting it wrong pretty much always dooms me to remember and regret whatever I’ve done wrong forever.

Here’s what I love about a song like “Bills, Bills, Bills…” No matter how much I fret over my own morality and getting the balance right in my own life, I always know I’m better than the cheap, fraud-ass, cowardly, posturing dipshit assclown in this song. And this song is so funny because every straight woman I have ever known has a story about dating one of these losers. In one sad case, a friend of mine nearly married one of them but figured it out just in time. In an even sadder case, someone in my orbit actually did marry one of these fools and learned in brutal fashion just what a phony, derelict piece of garbage he was after real damage had already been done.

But this song came out in 1999, the year I turned 18, when everyone is trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and the type of person they want to be with. It (hopefully) doesn’t take long to sniff out the chump buying you gifts you don’t need with your own damn money or the dorky mama’s boy who mooches your cell phone minutes (back when they were expensive) and then lies about it to you. This song puts those shitheels on blast, something that achieves the rare trick of both scratching my itch for justice, and savagely snarking it up on losers.

Destiny’s Child occupies a tragicomic place in the history of my musical fandom. It’s one where I recognized their ferocious talent, their superior vibe, and their intense catchiness… but because I was a shitty, weirdly snobbish, annoyingly precious 18 year-old, I had to publicly posture like they sucked and I hated them. Why did I do this? More than 20 years later, I don’t have a good answer. Like many 18 year-olds, I was convinced of my superior, albeit very narrow, taste and Destiny’s Child didn’t fit into that tiny little sliver of aesthetic. Also like many 18 year-olds, I had no fucking idea what I was talking about and was being needlessly contrarian and annoying.

I can put on Destiny’s Child virtually any time now and enjoyably rock out. They’ve got bangers on top of bangers, and this one – the spiritual cousin to TLC’s “No Scrubs” which will appear later in this list – stands above the rest for me. And in terms answering the question of whether or not I’m a good person, one personal trait I’m deeply proud of is admitting when I’m wrong and trying to do better going forward. That’s really all you can ask for from anyone.

Well, that and not being a trifling, good-for-nothing type of brother, but that should go without saying. Yet so many songs like “Bills, Bills, Bills” continue to exist, maybe that lesson is harder for some than others. Fuckin’ scrubs, man.

Up next: It’s not vicious or malicious, just lovely and delicious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.