It’s been six days since the release of Lil Nas X’s highly anticipated single. Six days since the young artist went from kid-friendly to provocative pop star. Six days since the announcement that the 666 pairs of “Satan Shoes” that he’s releasing would contain a drop of human blood in the ink. Six days of broader discussions that don’t seem to be dying down anytime soon.
“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”
Inspired by the 2017 film “Call Me By Your Name,” which recounts the romantic relationship between two men, Lil Nas X says that the “Montero” — stylized as “MONTERO” — music video was the most vulnerable he’d ever been in a song: “What it represents, the song itself within the industry — it has so many key points, which is why it’s gonna be important for me and a lot of other people.”
As we all know, Lil Nas X, legal name Montero Lamar Hill, publicly announced he was gay in June of 2019. The “Montero” video was dedicated to his 14-year-old self — someone who “promised to never come out publicly, to never be ‘that’ type of gay person, to die with the secret.” And just as he used his EP single “C7osure” as a platform to express his pride, Lil Nas X does something similar not only in the lyrics of “Montero,” but also in the song’s visual representation.
Aja Romano, writer for Vox, summarized the video with the following description: “[Lil Nas X] cavorts erotically with various iterations of Satan, is stoned by a crowd throwing buttplugs, transforms a spear that’s been homoerotically aimed at him into a stripper pole, and then slides all the way down the pole into hell before giving Satan a lap dance as an excuse to seduce him, murder him, and steal the crown of hell for himself in a win for bottoms everywhere.”
Key references in the music video include the Garden of Eden, the Colosseum of Christian martyrs, Jesus’ descent into hell as well as an old form of hysteria that has a seasoned history in the industry, defined as “music-inspired fear-mongering”: satanic panic.
Satanic Panic & Black Rock
“While some scholars are looking at ‘Montero’ through the lens of centuries, others see it continuing a more recent tradition: rock and roll,” wrote Andrew Chow of Time magazine.
Back in the early 1980s, there was a significant moral panic surrounding the pervasiveness of “satanic rituals,” which led to a “satanic panic,” or “the societal fear of the occult that troubled the US and other parts of the world.” Many religious figures and televangelists claimed that the “dangers” of rock music were deeply connected to the occult. They pointed fingers at Black rock artists such as Prince and Little Richard, who were criticized for “subverting the idea of masculinity.” It became clear that these patriarchal allegations only served to diminish “certain types” of artistic expression.
Lil Nas X has found a way to embrace this legacy of “opposing the imposition of conservative ‘norms'” by explicitly blending together the fear of Satan in music with another religious fear — gay sexuality — to tell his own story.
What a Governor, a Basketball Star and Parents Have to Say
But many in the public seems to feel otherwise. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota responded to not only “Montero,” but also to the young talent’s “Satan Shoe” release that followed the video: “Our kids are being told that this kind of product is, not only okay, it’s ‘exclusive.’”
Basketball star Nick Young also shared his disdain via Twitter: “My kids will never play Old Town road again.. I’m still debating about wearing @Nike after this come Nike a drop of blood for real.” Nike has recently blocked the sales of the “Satan Shoes” by requesting a restraining order against the art collective that collaborated with the rapper to create the product. Nike has also publicly announced that they have no affiliation with the making and marketing of the shoe.
My kids will never play Old Town road again.. I’m still debating about wearing @Nike after this come nike a drop of blood for real
— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) March 28, 2021
And parents of the children who fell in love with the idea of taking their horse down to the old town road and riding ‘til they can’t no more collectively felt a sense of betrayal. It was only January when Lil Nas X said that he was consciously aware of children being his current core audience. But now, Lil Nas X has responded to parents everywhere by saying, “i am not gonna spend my entire career trying to cater to your children. that is your job.” He then added that “Old Town Road” was never even appropriate to begin with: “i literally sing about lean & adultery in old town road. u decided to let your child listen. blame yourself.”
The idea behind the “Montero” video was simple: to spawn a level of outrage. Lil Nas X purposely pushed society’s buttons in order to publicize the larger issue of acceptance in the religious community. “i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the s–t y’all preached would happen to me because I was gay,” he tweeted on March 27, a day after the video was dropped. “so i hope you are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”
It’s possible there will be more controversies circling around the “Montero” video, but until then, Lil Nas X has revealed how skilled he is at owning a conversation and asserting his identity through music that validates worldly hype.