If it feels like Lil Nas X releases a new video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” every day, it is because the Twitterverse and Lil Nas himself haven’t had a moment’s pause since the video’s premiere last Friday.
With each public pan or praise, Lil Nas has been able to extend the conversation around his intentions for the video’s visuals. That’s impressive for any artist today considering that the memes generated from intellectual property generate more buzz than the actual source material. But for Lil Nas to achieve this while putting his full Black queerness on a spread-eagled display, he deserves much more than to be called by his name. He deserves some respek on his name from hip-hop, too.
As a song, “MONTERO” is only two minutes and 17 seconds long. But the blatant hidden agenda he’s pushing (Lil Nas’ thoughts, not mine) in the video’s imagery makes the song about 2,000 years overdue. Jesus was in his 20s then, and most of us doubt he was going around telling people that they are going to hell the way his disciples do today. Yet judging from the video’s thinly veiled critique of heaven and hell — who’s in and who’s out — it’s clear Lil Nas has been told he belongs in the latter, an inescapable experience for most Black boys (myself included) who have grown up to be anything other than straight.
From purely a fight-against-the-demonizing-of-gay-people perspective, Lil Nas X has won the support of the LGBTQ+ community. After all, it is his community, too, after publicly coming out as gay in 2019 during the height of his “Old Town Road” success. He shared again his thoughts on coming out immediately after the release of “MONTERO” in a message to his 14-year-old self — when he was just Montero Lamar Hill from Lithia Springs, Georgia.
While most LGBTQ people — I said most, not all — might see religion as a representation of oppression in the video, Black people at the intersection of queerness will see their childhoods. For this reason, Lil Nas will struggle to gain the support — the disapproval has already begun — of the same Black straight fans who love him for “Old Town Road.” But now is when he deserves it more than ever.
Anyone crying foul that they don’t support Lil Nas’s “MONTERO” video — not because he is gay, but because it pushes satanic imagery clearly — is blindly unaware or blithely asleep to how much the mark of the beast is all over rap music. In fact, there are entire courses on YouTube devoted to spotting devil worshippers in music. And if we go down that rabbit hole for Black artists, the results are really surprising, or unsurprising, depending on what you believe. Let’s see, there is: Three 6 Mafia, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Drake’s “The Six,” Kanye’s gothic gospel turn, Beyoncé and Rihanna, and even President Barack Obama. Not to mention the OG antichrist Madonna.
The point being, this is all a distraction from their talent. And if all Black lives really matter, we cannot afford to demonize and dismiss our own people the moment they step out of our comfort zones.
Yes, you’ve probably already heard that Lil Nas descends into hell on a stripper pole and gives a CGI Satan a lap dance in “MONTERO.” But I see nothing different from the lap dance-laced culture that is already prevalent in hip-hop today. He does not exploit women in his video, or exploit men for that matter. He exploit’s himself, taking back ownership of his sexuality and body, from a system that has continuously exploited Black men since our ancestors picked cotton. On paper, these are real steps forward, but internalized homophobia is holding us back from seeing anything but blasphemy.
Black culture and queerness is popular culture. It’s packaged and presented in shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and objectified in reality TV shows like “Love & Hip Hop” and “The Real Housewives,” which would be nothing without its Atlanta version (let’s be honest).
In the end, everyone seems to benefit from Black culture but Black people.
Black people are rarely presented as the object of sexual desire and standard of beauty the way Lil Nas has positioned himself in “MONTERO.” For this presentation alone, we should all worship him for that. But if you are only taking in Lil Nas’ body and skipping over his message, you are no better than the system we were marching against last summer. And a couple of summers before that. And that other time before that. And that big time before that.
Rappers like Cakes da Killa, Frank Ocean, Big Freedia, Young Thug and Pharrell Williams did not walk so Lil Nas could run. They walked so he could fly. And fly he will right to the top of the charts if we can see past the bait and see the Black boy who needs the support of all his communities. Sure, we won’t solve society’s problematic relationship with Black queerness overnight, but Lil Nas made one helluva start with “MONTERO.”