Empowering or Satanic?
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Montero Lamar Hill, commonly known as Lil Nas X, is known for hits like “Old Town Road” and “Panini.” As a queer Black musician in mainstream music, Lil Nas X has broken cultural barriers and notions of musical genres, a testament to his skills as an influencer and artist. He is also paving the way for the future, where people can unapologetically be themselves. His new single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” and his Satan-centric music video prove just how true to his art Lil Nas is.
“Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” released on March 26, is a reference to “Call Me By Your Name,” (2017) a queer film that chronicles the blossoming of a relationship between a curious young boy and an older man. Lil Nas was inspired by the concept of calling your lover by your own name, hence why the song is named after the artist himself rather than the man who inspired it all. With this single, Lil Nas wanted to bring queer narratives more into mainstream music. In a video as part of Genius’s YouTube series, Lil Nas X explains that the lyrics, “Cocaine and drinking and drinking with your friends / You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend” was a double entendre, referencing how the man was “in the closet” and therefore miserable. Lil Nas himself struggled to come out as a teen, so he hoped to empower other queer people to express their true identity. Furthermore, Nas added racy lyrics such as “Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin’,” in an effort to destigmatize queer relationships in popular music.
The electronic hip-hop song also features a controversial music video which plays on religious symbols. In the video’s climax, Lil Nas is seen sliding down a pole to hell before giving the Devil a lap dance. The music video is undoubtedly provocative, but it also boldly embraces gay sexual liberation with its powerful symbolism and iconography. As he descends to Hell, which is depicted as an ominous red and black landscape, he passes a Latin phrase which translates to, “They condemn what they do not understand.” Conservatives criticized this scene as evidence of Devil worship, but it is actually a critique of the repressive nature of society and how Lil Nas X finally accepts himself and his sexuality.
As detractors, including staunch conservatives and right-wing politicians, started to express their discontent with the music video, Lil Nas X announced his limited edition Satan Shoes, a collaboration with the New York-based art collective MSCHF that featured pentagrams and inverted crosses, with each supposedly containing one drop of human blood in the sole. Like the lyrics and scenes of “Montero,” these Nike Air Max 97s were incredibly symbolic: only 666 pairs were made, and the cost was also a reference to the Bible passage Luke 10:18, which read, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
Anger increased and critics started voicing their discontent to Nike, though the brand did not design, release, or endorse the shoes. To prevent any controversies, Nike soon filed a lawsuit against MSCHF for trademark infringement and dilution, despite MSCHF explicitly stating that the shoes were for art and not for wear. In addition, Christians and conservatives continued to raise hell over the Satan Shoes and the music video. Kristi Noem, a Governor of South Dakota, claimed that Lil Nas was endangering the “God-given eternal soul[s]” of children. Others promised that their kids would never play “Old Town Road” again. However, Lil Nas X did not back down, instead embracing his identity with a video titled “Lil Nas X apologizes for Satan Shoe,” on YouTube which cuts to the Devil lap dance instead of an apology.
On Twitter, the artist stated, “This will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist. You see this is very scary for 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 [EXPLETIVE] out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.” The criticism wasn’t of the music, after all, but of Lil Nas himself. People do not actually believe that a music video or pair of shoes will turn the youth of America into Satan worshippers. Instead, they just hate the idea of something that counters the omnipresent heterosexual male sensibility. Beneath the public’s anxieties about the Devil lies an older fear of being gay and proud. Though the artist stated that the backlash he received was taking a toll on his mental state, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” is the stepping stone for queer representation and empowerment in the entertainment industry.