When Lil Nas X released his music video “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” on March 25, social media exploded with reactions ranging from euphoric to horrified. The video depicts Lil Nas X in various fantastical settings in a place he calls Montero, which is actually his real name. Eventually, he slides down a pole into hell and gives the devil a lap dance before killing him and stealing his horns. He also released a pair of satanic-themed sneakers to promote the video. Lil Nas X garnered several reactions from high-profile people including governors, celebrities and athletes. Some people praised the video for its openly queer themes and masterful artistic concepts. Others called the video openly satanic and immoral. The video has racked up 87 million views as the song continues to climb the charts.
Lil Nas X has pushed boundaries with his music and social media since the beginning of his career. He created a country song with hip hop elements and stood up to iTunes when they said he wasn’t country enough. He came out to millions and used his platform as a celebrity to speak loud and proud about his queerness. However, the music video, song and shoes elicited the kind of controversy that shapes one’s career and turns an artist into a legend.
The lyrics of the song tell a story of two gay men in a relationship that they have to keep secret out of fear of what others might think. In the pre-chorus he sings, “Cocaine and drinking wit' your friends / You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend / I'm not fazed, only here to sin.” In true camp fashion, he creates a fantastical world derivative from the bible which makes a critical statement on how religion silences and instills fear in queer folks.
Lil Nas X told Time Magazine that he grew up in a religious home where being gay wasn’t acceptable. “Even as a little child, I was really scared of every single mistake I may or may not have made,” he told Time. “I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ community, to feel like they’re OK and they don’t have to hate themselves.”
The visual of Lil Nas X masterfully pole dancing into hell perfectly encapsulates how he’s dealing with the backlash he’s received after releasing the music video. He knew releasing this video would evoke negative reactions from powerful people, but he remains unapologetically himself: witty, talented and willing to defend his art.
The day Lil Nas X released the music video he posted a letter to himself on Instagram that captures what this video means to him and what effect he hopes it has on the queer community. “You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda,” he wrote. “But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”
The negative reactions from people claiming Lil Nas X is poisoning the world with satanic ideals are fascinating, because using the devil to create artistic commentary is not new. Pop culture is littered with biblical references and musical artists have frequently referred to the devil. The Rolling Stones have a song called “Sympathy for the Devil” in which Mick Jagger goes as far as to pretend to be the devil. The explosion of criticism coming from right-wing pundits seems to be more rooted in homophobia and fear of a more accepting culture.
Lil Nas X’s video that shocked the world won’t be groundbreaking forever, but it will have opened up the door for queer artists to continue pushing boundaries. In twenty years, a new artist will take the devil’s horns from Lil Nas X, and the cycle of amusement and horror will live on.