Typically, I am a hermit who covets show tunes and 2000s pop, and I guard my outdated music taste against new influences. For this reason, I may have missed Lil Nas X’s new single “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” had it not been for its association with the 2007 book “Call Me by Your Name” written by André Aciman and the 2017 movie directed by Luca Guadagnino.
The book and the song both explore love and desire in the context of a relationship between two men, but after that, the similarities lay few and far between. The “Call Me by Your Name” novel is set over a lazy Italian summer in the villa of a privileged academic. The pace is slow and the tone is luxurious with casual bike rides, the nourishing sun and delicious food lit up against loss and heartbreak.
The song, on the other hand, is not about a leisurely romance. Also recently covered by The Daily, it’s about feelings that blur the line between lust and love. “Romantic talkin? You don’t even have to try / You’re cute enough to fuck with me tonight.” Lil Nas X is at this nameless person’s beck and call, not-so-patiently waiting for any sign that their desire might be mutual.
At first listen, I couldn’t see what the iconic title added to the song, but the music video for “MONTERO” has obvious parallels with the movie. The movie uses shots of Greek statues and other antiquities to reference a historical era when homosexual relationships were widely accepted, versus the movie’s disapproving setting of the 1980s.
The music video does something similar with classical iconography. The opening sequence, set in the Garden of Eden, features Roman and Greek architecture. Later on, statues jeer at Lil Nas X from the stands of a Roman amphitheater. Although the song has received bad faith criticism for its use of sexualized biblical and Satanic imagery, the integration of angels and demons builds upon the symbols established by the 2017 movie. By combining biblical figures, Roman and Greek iconography and a homoerotic narrative, the directors of the music video — Tanu Muino and Lil Nas X himself — harmonize symbols of the LGBTQ+ experience.
The song’s lyric: “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” supports this theme. The titular line is an expression of the sameness of two human beings in love. Exchanging names is not a loss of individuality but a relinquishment of property and a sign of trust. In this sense, Lil Nas X shows the beauty of this messy, short-term relationship and applies “Call Me By Your Name” in a way few others have.
Most of the reception for the movie emphasized its devastating and candid love story, with considerable criticism involving the age gap between the two male lovers. I’ve always found the narrative a bit too fantastical in that regard — I find it problematic to idealize the central relationship as “true love.” After all, as the book makes clear through its first-person narration, this story is a memory that could have easily been romanticized over time.
In my own life, I’ve experienced the emotions in both iterations of “Call Me by Your Name” not in real relationships but rather in crushes. The first half of the novel encapsulates the symptoms of crushing — watching and waiting from a distance; yearning so intensely your stomach aches; hoping your crush will read between the lines of your benign conversations. The novel gives insight into desire and fantasy while the protagonist, Elio, crushes hard: “If he knew, if he only knew that I was giving him every chance to put two and two together and come up with a number bigger than infinity.”
I don’t believe that Elio and Oliver were soulmates who missed each other like two ships at sea, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t in love. They had a quick and intense connection, built on desire, that was important, not in spite of its brevity, but partially because of it.
Lil Nas X avoids idealizing this summer fling as a tragedy. His song is wild and messy like a bawdy Hollywood party, and as soothing as the movie soundtrack is, that is the true nature of Elio and Oliver’s relationship. He brings “Call Me by Your Name” down to earth, waking up this dreamy story and removing its rose-colored filter.
Given this, I was not surprised to learn that Lil Nas X wrote this song based on an actual experience he had last year, and, after seeing the movie, he felt its ideas resonated in his own life and wrote the song not long after.
I appreciate how Elio and Oliver’s love story is not an untouchable fairytale, but present in everyday life — like in the rushed, lustful encounter that is sung with such passion in “MONTERO.”
Daily Arts Writer Micah Golan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.