On March 26, Lil Nas X, known for “Old Town Road,” released a music video for his summer hit “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” The song featured the titular star giving Satan a lap dance, and soon thereafter, the single spawned a designer shoe, each one said to contain a single drop of human blood. The lapdance and the shoes were neither the first or last instances of Lil Nas X’s larger media strategy; relying on the internet culture war to generate controversy and propel him to full pop-culture saturation.
This strategy has typically been read in two ways. Some see these stunts as a cynical attempt at media manipulation, of abusing American political divides to service his career. Others find that Lil Nas X – as a Black, gay man whose sexuality inspires much of his music – would have his identity politicized regardless of how he navigated pop culture, and read his willingness and success in taking control over his narrative liberating. “MONTERO,” Lil Nas X’s debut album, released on Sept. 17, successfully invites us to take the second reading.
The first half of the album has all of the emotional highs one might hope from pop-rap superstardom. In “INDUSTRY BABY,” he lets us know, “And this one is for the champions/I ain’t lost since I began, yeah.” He tells us about his hunger for fame and relevance on “SCOOP,” explaining, “Shit, I been workin’ on my body, yeah/Workin’ overtime to make sure I’ll be the scoop.”
As the back half of the album arrives, a darker tone takes over. On “LIFE AFTER SALEM,” Lil Nas X explores the pain his full-vulnerability media-saturation has given him, lamenting what might happen after he’s expressed everything the internet can relate to: “All of my feelings are gone/I left them all on the floor/Man, who’s to blame if you don’t love me no more?/No, I don’t mind, just take whatever you want.”
In the album’s conclusion, “AM I DREAMING,” Lil Nas X wonders aloud, beautifully and wistfully, whether or not he will lose the relevance he has fought so hard for, and be forgotten. Lil Nas X recognizes the transient nature of fame and love in the internet era – he knows what he signed up for.
We won’t be forgetting Lil Nas X any time soon. Every song on “MONTERO” is laden with unnaturally catchy hooks – anything could be a radio hit single. His performance also shows incredible depth, deftly flying between emotional tones and modes of delivery. In general, the features fall a bit flat, and some songs rely too heavily on the aforementioned hooks and fail to really transcend them. That light criticism being said, Lil Nas X has emerged with “MONTERO” as someone almost impossible not to root for – a rarity among superstars.
4/5 Big Oles