From the start, it was clear Lil Nas X wasn’t going to be a one-hit-wonder.
After releasing his record-breaking “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X went from being completely unknown to a worldwide star virtually overnight. However, while many artists would have ridden the dwindling high of sudden success to its inevitable limit, Lil Nas X got to work ensuring his relevance would be long-lasting. After “Old Town Road” stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 unrelenting weeks, Lil Nas X continued to pump out chart-topping singles in a manner perfectly timed to maximize his public relevance. Meanwhile, the 20-year-old masterfully maximized his social media presence to humorously engage with his fans. Between his Tik Tok, Instagram and Twitter, Lil Nas X has earned tens of millions of followers, who he engages with between song releases.
All of these public antics played by Lil Nas X have led to one moment: the release of his highly anticipated first full-length album, Montero.
Although he’s more than capable of releasing terrific singles, Lil Nas X has proved to the world his ability to craft a serious, coherent album. Montero is not a collection of singles — it’s a unitary piece that flows consistently through a singular narrative.
With that flow comes a significant shift in Lil Nas X’s sound. On Montero, Lil Nas X focuses less on upbeat rap bangers and opts for a more melodic approach. Though singles such as “Industry Baby” and “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” contain the infectious energy Lil Nas X is known for, songs like “One of Me” and “Sun Goes Down” place him in a more nuanced role. The result is a surprising pop album that is not afraid to expose its creator’s vulnerabilities.
Much of Montero deals with Lil Nas X’s struggles with mental health and the soul-sucking music industry. Incorporating indie, grunge and emo elements allows Lil Nas X to explore these themes in a more complex manner. Like the kaleidoscopic art on the record’s cover, Montero mixes distinct styles in high saturation to create a beautiful image. In a lesser artist, this genre-mashing would come off as eclectic; however, the strength of every track on this album, alongside the coherent theme of the record, allows Lil Nas X to pull off this feat flawlessly.
Over the past few months, Lil Nas X has gained tremendous attention for his bold, unabashed embrace of his gay identity. Lil Nas X has proven that you can give Satan a lap dance, make out with one of your dancers during the BET awards and raise thousands of dollars for LGBTQ+ charities as the world’s top hip-hop star. On Montero, the tremendous highs of intimacy and self-discovery can be found alongside the miserable lows of intolerance. The full spectrum of Montero’s gay experience is exposed to the audience. It’s a shocking genuineness from a musician who promoted the album by pretending to give birth to it.
Although Montero is solidly Lil Nas X’s project, the features also shine on this record. Jack Harlow, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion elevate the tracks they’re on without stealing the spotlight from Lil Nas X. Elton John and Miley Cyrus also play a supporting role on the record by contributing beautiful piano melodies and backing vocals..
Montero is a great album — anyone who’s surprised by that hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Behind the controversy is an artist with an abundance of heart. Lil Nas X has crafted a phenomenal pop album with broad appeal through a clever blend of raw talent, musical experimentation and pure meme power. Expect to hear Montero blasting from passing cars, dorm rooms and football stadiums for a long time to come.
Daily Arts Writer Kai Bartol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.