Lil Nas X’s Liberation Agenda Rides Again
I watched the “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” video no less than five consecutive times when it dropped at midnight last Friday, March 26.
When I randomly couldn’t sleep at 6 a.m. later that morning (symptoms of surviving a pandemic), I rolled over and watched it some more. I won’t go over all of the dope little nuances and easter eggs Lil Nas X packed into three minutes and 10 seconds; Mikelle Street did, and you should go read about them. Instead, I want to give appropriate language to the immediate impact this video is sure to have on both viewers and the industry, putting to rest any ideas that Nas X is just a one-trick pony.
Because of the scarcity of public-facing Black queer men in music, the very presence of this song will draw direct comparisons to Frank Ocean’s 2012 Channel Orange release. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. After reading Nas X’s letter to his 14-year-old self noting that the song is about a guy he met last summer, I don’t think he does either. Beyond that, there are enough aural and aesthetic differences for the comparisons to end there; the two artists can exist solidly in their own lanes.
To start, Lil Nas X is provocative and overt with the song’s messaging in a way that’s largely been accessible only to artists with notably less to say. The video tells the story of waking up innocent and unaware, being made to believe a thing about yourself is evil and that you’re hell-bound because of it, followed by the acceptance-turned-embrace of your darkest parts and the conquering power that brings. It isn’t a story specific to Nas X or Black queer men, but goddamn if I didn’t take it personally how clear he is about who he’s speaking for.
To start, Lil Nas X is provocative and overt with the song’s messaging in a way that’s largely been accessible only to artists with notably less to say.
With “Montero,” Nas X took on his big follow-up to “Old Town Road” with some self-awareness and intentionality. Since he first teased the song almost a year ago, I didn’t have high expectations for the whole track. I would’ve never expected this to be the direction he’d go after watching the visual. For context, it took three projects and a handful of loosies for us to go from Frank’s crooning on “Forrest Gump” (which was wild then) to: “All this drillin’ got the dick feelin’ like a power tool / finna move a n***a out his momma house now that’s a power move” on “Comme des Garçons.” Lil Nas X sings: “Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m riding.” Like, come the fuck through, king! The fact that in two songs, released before his debut album, Nas X has already closed the gap that speaks to the power and importance of seeing yourself — or parts of yourself — in places you didn’t know you could be.
At 33, I’m just as excited about Nas X, if not more, as I was at 23 with Frank Ocean. I’m so thankful that 13-year-old me held on. If I’d had then what kids have now, how much more boldly would I have shown up in spaces where I used to pretend to be confident? How much less time would I have spent carrying the weight of caution and consideration for everyone else’s feelings but not my own, in hopes of not offending or calling more attention to something I was already poorly hiding? I’ve had the privilege of working through much of this in therapy, but shoutout to this video maybe helping n***as have one less demon they have to exorcise in the privacy of Upper East Side offices and Zoom sessions across the country.
And maybe most importantly, the song is fucking good. It just slaps. That says a lot for the song’s impact on the industry — that we can have meaningful music from a pop star of Lil Nas X’s caliber and potential, and it still is something you’d sing along to in a boy’s ear, drunk in a tightly packed gay club. I love this so fucking much.
I’m glad the internet is slowly, painstakingly moving away from deifying celebs, and I don’t want to put the weight of the Black queer liberation movement on the shoulders of an audacious 21-year-old. We’ve done that with many rising stars — Lizzo, Cardi B, even Frank — and it’s been a disservice to all of them. Instead, I want him to have all of the space to grow and find himself, further develop his voice, and move in the path he desires.
Lil Nas X has come out swinging like pop stars we haven’t seen since Rihanna or Lady Gaga over a decade ago. He’s alongside contemporaries like Tinashe and Doja Cat, but decidedly Black and gay at the same time.
Here’s to the future, and the possibility that in the shadow of Nas X’s immense star, we get more light on artists like Serpentwithfeet (who just released a new project!), Trapcry, Rum.Gold, Drebae, Cakes da Killa, and so many others. There’s room for all of y’all. We’re ready — and we’re with the shits.
Originally published at https://ryansides.substack.com.