On March 25, Lil Nas X, the star of “Old Town Road,” released a single titled “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and an accompanying music video that immediately set off a firestorm of conversation on social media, with Lil Nas X repeatedly fanning the flames himself and delighting in the chaos.
The vast majority of the backlash against “MONTERO” is in response to the satanic imagery: Lil Nas X pole dances down into hell and gives Satan a lap dance before killing him and placing the horns on his own head. In this playful and sexual representation of hell and Satan, he reclaims the religious imagery so often used as a tool to oppress LGBTQIA+ people, proclaiming that he will gladly go to hell if it means he can freely express his sexuality.
In an interview with Time magazine, he detailed how his Christian upbringing instilled a fear of mistakes and repercussions in him and how he wants the “MONTERO” video to spark discussions about the repression of LGBTQIA+ youth in Christian spaces.
The CGI in the video is dizzying, the costumes outlandish. It feels like tumbling down the “Alice in Wonderland” rabbit hole, if the rabbit hole was located in the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Eden was located on the set of an early 2010s Lady Gaga music video.
Although I was initially reminded of “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga, a song also about calling out for a man, perhaps a more apt comparison in terms of the cultural response to “MONTERO” would be Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP,” which is still seen by some as an example of cultural decline even months after its release.
The “MONTERO” video garnered negative responses from the exact groups you’d expect — conservatives, religious people and concerned parents. They parroted declarations that the video is dangerous to children who may be familiar with Lil Nas X due to the ubiquity of “Old Town Road.” It was also presented as evidence of widespread moral decay.
LETS FUCKIN GOOOO! WE MADE FOX NEWS! https://t.co/pkEpbcMPqy
— nope 🏹 (@LilNasX) March 30, 2021
The clutching at pearls, “think of the children!” argument levied against “MONTERO” and Lil Nas X is selectively deployed by the masses against queer artists. Many straight musicians have exposed kids to less than pure themes: The Weeknd was nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award in 2016 for a song about doing so much cocaine he couldn’t feel his face. The panicky response to “MONTERO” exemplifies the outdated yet still culturally present fear that queerness is both contagious and corrupting.
In a since-deleted tweet, rapper Joyner Lucas wrote, “I think the biggest problem for me is the fact he doesn’t understand ‘Old Town Road’ is every kid’s anthem. Children love him for that record. They tuned in and subscribed to his channels. So, with no disclaimer, he just dropped some left-field ish & all our kids seen it. Smh.”
The burden to monitor the kind of media children consume is not on the artist but on the parents or whoever is responsible for the child. Adult musicians have no obligation to cater their songs to youth, even if kids do resonate with them. Lil Nas X recognized this in his response to Lucas’ tweet, noting that “Old Town Road” wasn’t meant to be a kid-friendly song. “I literally sing about lean & adultery in old town road. u decided to let your child listen. blame yourself,” he tweeted.
His response highlights the hypocrisy that it’s OK for children to consume media about drug use, sex and cheating, but not gayness. The outrage at “MONTERO” is largely rooted in homophobia rather than genuine concern with appropriate themes for youth.
Lil Nas X arrived at the cultural forefront with “Old Town Road” while still in the closet. He didn’t come out until June 30, 2020 — the final day of Pride Month — after “Old Town Road” was comfortably atop the charts. By coming out once he was more established, Lil Nas X challenged early fans that viewed him as “appropriate” (read: straight) to grow with him as he began to embody his authentic self.
His logic with “MONTERO” was to lean into the homophobia he predicted he would face and to harness the hatred to his advantage in the form of streams, sales and hate-watches.
However, he also understood the lasting implications of his most public display of gay sexuality yet. In a rare moment of vulnerability, he shared a note he wrote to his younger, closeted self on Instagram: “you see this is very scary to me, people will be angry, they will say i’m pushing an agenda. but the truth is, i am. the agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”
View this post on Instagram
Lil Nas X used his social media fluency to orchestrate this scandal and stay two steps ahead of the backlash, a skill he acquired from his years as a Twitter stan of Nicki Minaj, also known as a Barb. “I had 9 months to plan this rollout,” he gloated on Twitter. “Y’all are not gonna win bro.”
The conversation around “MONTERO” allows Lil Nas X to relish in the flawed discourse of queerness’ being equated to deviousness, while also making a powerful statement about his personal journey to a place where he is secure enough in his sexuality to flaunt it. He is greeting the backlash with a confidence based not only in his social media prowess but in confidence in his authentic self.
Mirabella Miller SC ’23 is TSL’s music columnist and an english major from Portland, Oregon. She shows up to most events drinking a Yerba Mate.