When Lil Nas X first arrived on the scene in 2019, it was immediately clear that he was determined to do things differently.
After all, before the release of the now diamond-certified Old Town Road, how many times had you heard anything even slightly reminiscent of this not-entirely-ironic hip-hop/country hybrid? Even more surprisingly, how many times had you seen them spend 19 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, making them the longest-running Number 1 of all time?
Two years on and the evolution of Lil Nas X – real name, Montero Lamar Hill – shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he seems to be well on track to break the very records that he set with his viral debut.
“In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. We lock them away. We tell them ‘No’. We banish them.”
Unless you’ve been living out in uncharted territory for the last month, you’ll more than likely recognise this as the spoken word introduction that opens the video for Lil Nas X’s latest single, MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).
“But here, we don’t,” Nas continues, almost defiantly. “Welcome to MONTERO.”
At the time of writing, over 165,000,000 YouTube viewers have paid a visit to Nas’ self-titled Garden Of Eden in a dreamlike (and controversial) accompanying music video that allows us to meet the 22-year-old at his most honest and expressive – in scenes which the more conservative side of the internet weren’t particularly happy with.
Since its release, MONTERO has undoubtedly become the year’s most talked-about single – for better or for worse. There are few aspects of the project which have not since been at the centre of some form of backlash, from its sexual lyrical content to the limited edition ‘Satan Shoes’ unveiled as part of MONTERO’s promotional campaign.
The majority of the criticism surrounding the project, however, appears to be directed towards the religious iconography featured in the video. During the video’s runtime, Lil Nas X can be seen re-enacting the story of The Forbidden Fruit (the ‘forbidden fruit’ in question being a half-man-half-serpent), riding a pole into hell and giving Satan a lapdance. It’s easy to see how MONTERO might not appeal to a less open-minded audience.
However, in the eyes of Lil Nas X, the backlash against the song forms part of a worrying larger picture – and one that Nas himself is keen to repaint.
“I feel like we’ve come to a time in music where everything is nice and nothing is really cutting edge or starting conversations anymore,” he told TIME, “I want to be a part of a conversation that actually applies to my situation and so many people that I know.”
The conversation in question is an incredibly important one, regarding the visibility and oppression of LGBTQ+ people within religious spaces.
It’s a discussion that few could have seen Lil Nas X being the one to open up – after all, he did make his name singing about cheating on his girlfriend amidst a life of ‘bullriding and boobies’ on Old Town Road.
However, if there’s one person that certainly didn’t envision Lil Nas X being the one to start this conversation, it’s the man himself.
Lil Nas X had broken into the mainstream quite a while before he decided to publicly open up about his sexuality for the first time, tweeting on the last day of 2019’s Pride Month that he wanted fans to listen a little more intently to the lyrics of his song ‘C7osure (You Like)’. The track, which featured on his 2019 EP ‘7’, discusses a need to break free and allow for personal growth.
Allowing fans further insight into his struggle to come to terms with his sexuality, Nas marked the release of MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) by posting an emotionally-charged letter addressing his 14-year-old self to his 6.3 million Twitter followers.
Lil Nas X has since opened up about the discourse that he hopes to encourage with the video – which deals heavily with the religious ideas of sin, banishment and redemption – citing his own experiences growing up gay within a Christian community.
“I grew up in a pretty religious kind of home and for me, it was fear-based very much,”he recently explained to TIME magazine.
“Even as a little child, I was really scared of every mistake that I may or may not have made. I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community, to feel like they’re okay and they don’t have to hate themselves.”
Lil Nas X has also explained his reasoning behind some of the more overtly sexual lyrics within the song.
Asked to elaborate on the line ‘Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin’, Nas explained that the reaction of those in the studio with him as he recorded the song was almost unanimously one of shock – and that’s something that he wants to change.
“It was kind of a funny moment, but I was like ‘Okay, it’s about time I said something out of pocket in a song’”he told Genius.
“Let’s normalise having these lines in songs in the same way that someone might talk about fucking a girl or fucking a guy with opposite genders, you know? I feel like that’s really important for representation.”
He went on to explain some of the more introspective lines within the track, including reflecting on his position as ‘A sign of the times every time that I speak’ since revealing his sexual identity.
“Everything I do or say, a lot of people say that it’s me opening my mouth for so many people – not because I’m Lil Nas X but because of my identity, too. It’s a sign that things are changing and of how fast things are changing.”
“This song is a sign of the times. This album I’m creating is going to be a sign of the times.”
While Lil Nas X’s central aim for MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) is that the track will have a positive and lasting impact on young LGBTQ+ fans, there’s little doubt that completing the project has also allowed the artist to exercise a side of himself that he has previously felt compelled to hide.
“Throughout Quarantine, I’ve kind of grown into myself a lot more,” he told TIME, “I’ve become a much more confident version of myself and very much more determined and intentional on every single thing that I do.”
“It took a lot for me to come out of my comfort zone and do these things in front of an audience of people.”
Lil Nas X’s debut album, MONTERO, is expected to drop during the summer of 2021.