Picture it: You’re a stripper and you’re all dolled up, shakin’ your butt for Usher Raymond of “You Got It Bad,” My Way,” “Yeah!” and dated-Chilli-from-TLC-once fame. Then you get ready to count your night’s earnings you realize that some of the cash was fake. Instead of the portraits of Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, or Alexander Hamilton, you see stoic portraits of Usher.
A Vegas-based dancer, who goes by @beel0ve on Instagram, claims to have received the fake currency—Ushbucks, if you will—after dancing for the singer. Her location is relevant: Usher is embarking on a Vegas residency starting this summer, and recently posted a photo of himself to social media in which he appears to be hitchhiking through the desert... with a suitcase full of Ushbucks. They appear to be the same Ushbucks the dancer received.
The cash, helpfully, reads, “Usher: The Vegas Residency.” But Vegas strippers don’t need advertisements for residency tours, they need money, especially since the covid-19 pandemic has left Vegas hospitality and entertainment in a serious slump over the last year. In April 2020, immediately following the initial covid shutdowns, Las Vegas’s unemployment rate hit 34 percent. By November, Nevada’s overall unemployment rate fell, but it was still the second-highest in the nation, right behind similarly tourist-centric Hawaii. In December, a government panel estimated that Nevada’s economy may not fully rebound until 2023.
In her Instagram stories, Bee wrote that “the money does not have a trade-in value whatsoever.” And in a series of replies to Instagram commenters, Bee clarified that the Ushbucks were interspersed with real money and said, “I ain’t mad... but I thought it should be shared.” (Neither Bee nor Usher’s team responded to Jezebel’s for comment by press time, but we will update this story when they do.)
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The rest of the stripping community is responding with considerably less amusement. Gizelle Marie, a stripper’s advocate and organizer of the #NYCSTRIPPERSSTRIKE, posted about the incident on Instagram, writing, “What a shame that celebs are being that disrespectful to come into the club and paying with counterfeit money @usher you should be ashamed as an entertainer to come in a club where the job of the women working is to entertain you.... stay your ass home....”
Popular Instagram account @thedancersresource, wrote, “danced all night for usher and this is what he tipped her with?!!!”
Jezebel reached out to a woman named Monica—stage name AMAYA—a Vegas-area dancer who is friends with Bee and helped make the Ushbucks screenshots go viral. She tells Jezebel that Usher’s alleged actions speak to the larger reason she and many other experienced dancers have learned to be wary of some celebrities.
“Most of the times these clubs comp [celebrities’] tables, bottles, food, even VIP rooms that require payment,” AMAYA told Jezebel via Instagram DM. “They get a lot of things for free and still do not tip the wait staff or dancers... Not every celebrity is the same, some do spend a good amount of money... [but they] feel that they can get away with a lot more than the regular person just because of their status.”
But the new dancers, AMAYA said, are too starstruck to notice that they’re getting played. “The industry is constantly being exploited and the girls get nothing in return, she said. “Yet, when people with status like Bella Thorne and Jennifer Lopez tap into it, they get millions off of it.”
Thorne angered sex workers last fall when she joined the adult content subscription service OnlyFans. And despite her role as the gutsy veteran stripper in Hustlers, Lopez is an allegedly piss-poor tipper herself at the club.
In an Instagram story, AMAYA wrote, “The strip club is a luxury. If you can’t afford it, leave.” For her, this situation is a slap in the face for all the workers, not only because Usher is a multi-millionaire, and because she’s a fan, but because of the pandemic.
“We just opened up a couple of months ago, a lot of people including the staff have been without a job!” AMAYA told Jezebel. “So everyone is missing out on money... people everywhere have been struggling, but people in Vegas live off of the tourists.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote from @Beel0ved’s Instagram story to AMAYA.