Lil Nas X’s latest single, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” is much more than a hollow pop song from an internet personality — it’s a statement. As the most musically and thematically complex song from the artist, whose given name is Montero Hill, “MONTERO” is a triumph in self-expression. The luscious production and danceable, Latin-inspired groove compliment Lil Nas X’s vocal performance, which ranges from lustful to pleading. Lil Nas X clearly sings from the heart as he meditates on codependency, sexuality and secrecy within relationships.
The song has gained attention since it was released on March 26 in part due to its colorful, campy and controversial music video laden with riffs on biblical and literary allusions normally used to villainize queerness. Lil Nas X plays every single character in the video, and at one point, literally (lap) dances with the devil.
In three tightly packed minutes, Lil Nas X plays a long-haired Adam in the garden of Eden. There, he is confronted by a snake, who seduces him with a third eye. After, a pink-haired Adam is taken to a trial where he’s stoned to death (alluding to Plato’s “Symposium”). Lil Nas X then pole-dances down to the deepest layer of hell, where he enters the devil’s palace, gives him a lap dance, snaps his neck, takes his horns and assumes his place on the dark throne.
In a Twitter statement, Hill opened up about the inspiration for the song and video: mainly, his feelings of religious self-loathing while in the closet. He publicly discussed the bigotry he’s experienced, especially from the religious right, which has told him he’ll burn in hell for his sexuality. In the music video, Lil Nas X bravely decides to silence his inner devil and embrace his sexual orientation; if he must go to hell, so be it.
Alongside the song, Lil Nas X partnered with art collective MSCHF to create a limited number of “Satan Shoes.” These shoes, which were modified Nike Air Max 97’s, featured a bronze pentagram, were inscribed with “Luke 10:18” (which states, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning”), and contained a drop of human blood. Nike, who played no part in manufacturing these shoes, filed a restraining order against MSCHF in response to widespread confusion over their role in the stunt.
The video and the accompanying shoes sent shockwaves through the internet. Many internet conservatives took to Twitter to voice their concerns over the shoes and the video’s homoerotic and satanic content. Kaitlin Bennett — better known as the “Kent State gun girl” who became famous in 2018 for bringing an AR-10 to her graduation photoshoot — was very vocal about her outrage over the music video. A heated Twitter exchange broke out between Bennet and Hill which ended in Bennet’s bigoted tweet: “Do you still see your dad?” Lil Nas X responded: “yep and i might fuck yours.”
Other right-wing commentators like Candace Owens, Gov. Kristi Loem, R-S.D., and Pastor Mark Burns were very outspoken with their condemnation of “MONTERO.” Celebrities like basketball player Nick Young and quarterback Trevor Lawrence publicly criticized the “Satan Shoes,” with Young stating, “My kids will never play Old Town road again.” Singer Joyner Lucas took issue with the influence Lil Nas X has on little kids, to which he responded, “i literally sing about lean & adultery in old town road. u decided to let your child listen. blame yourself.”
The belief that Lil Nas X lost his kid-friendly appeal by embracing his sexuality has parallels to the public backlash over Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.” However, while Cyrus took a full beating of hate in 2013, Lil Nas X has been clapping back with just as much shade as what’s been thrown at him. Even before “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X has been an expert at playing the internet game — his internet persona is just as important as the music he has released. The success of his songs can partly be attributed to their virality on TikTok, where his extremely online presence allows him to engage with millions of fans.
On TikTok, where Lil Nas X began his career, he reposts hilarious fan “MONTERO”-themed TikToks multiple times a day. He contributed to this content by starting a TikTok trend where people pretend to be stuck at the gates of heaven or hell, as Lil Nas X quickly slides past on his pole, causing them to confusedly hear a fraction of a second of “MONTERO.” Additionally, Lil Nas X used TikTok to promote his free browser game called “Twerk Hero,” which challenges the player to twerk along with the avatar on-screen. It’s clear that Lil Nas X understands how to game social media with a fresh sense of humor; his TikToks receive hundreds of thousands of likes and are often reposted to other social media platforms. Many people may not be familiar with “MONTERO” by name, but have tangential knowledge of the song from the explosion of memes, tweets and TikToks strewn about the internet.
This isn’t a happy coincidence — “MONTERO’s” publicity explosion on the internet is by design. It’s how “Old Town Road” went viral, and how so many people are familiar with “MONTERO.” In contrast to the genuine, raw nature of the song, Lil Nas X uses cheeky social media humor to publicize his work. In addition to his many social media exchanges, Lil Nas X posted a video titled “MONTERO but ur in the bathroom of hell while lil nas is giving Satan a lap dance in the other room,” following the popular YouTube meme format.
In the comments, many noted they were surprised to see that Lil Nas X himself posted the video — many stated that much of the content that Lil Nas X posts aren’t reminiscent of an advertising campaign, but instead, that of a viral meme page. With his excellent marketing skills, Lil Nas X might be one of the few artists who understand the psychology behind Gen Z internet usage: make people laugh, and you have their attention.
For Lil Nas X, who has yet to release a full album, the divisive release of “MONTERO” at this point in his career is a testament to his bravery. It’s worth noting that the backlash he has faced is disproportional to that of other artists who’ve used satanic imagery, like Madonna, AC/DC or literally any rock band. As a Black, gay man who tells his story honestly, Lil Nas X is targeted by right-wing media for not staying within the “acceptable” boxes created by the music industry and beyond.
A certified bop like “Old Town Road” appeals to everyone — many of Lil Nas X’s original fans come from across the world and political spectrum, even many who harbor hateful views towards the queer community. Lil Nas X is aware, yet doesn’t shy away from unapologetically celebrating his identity.
He uses his wide platform for good by normalizing content that empowers queer people of color in a world that seems to despise both groups. Lil Nas X knew he would make a polarizing statement, but to him, it was worth others feeling less of the self-loathing he did growing up. Statements like the video of “MONTERO” spur important discussions about the acceptance of queerness. Through “MONTERO,” Lil Nas X displays boundary-breaking, society-shaping artistry in its truest form.
Make no mistake: Lil Nas X isn’t a passive product of internet algorithms — he’s a social media master. With “MONTERO,” Lil Nas X uses his platform, artistic talent and playful nature to celebrate queerness with a video that’s sure to go down in internet history.
Daily Arts Writers Meera Kumar and Kai Bartol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.