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What the Hell Happened: Lil Nas X Starts A Culture War

Still from "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" music video
Still from "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" music video By Courtesy of Lil Nas X via YouTube
By Mira-Rose J. Kingsbury Lee, Crimson Staff Writer

It’s pretty standard nowadays for musicians to promote their new music on social media, but no one does it quite like Lil Nas X. Connoisseurs of his work knew when he announced the release of his latest single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” that the real entertainment wasn’t to be found in the song itself, nor in the music video, but in the already erupting controversy surrounding its release.

Filled with Biblical allusions and references to Lil Nas X’s own sexual experiences with a man, the song and accompanying music video seem designed to elicit religious conservative outrage. One of the best lines of the song, “If Eve ain’t in your garden, you know that you can / Call me when you want” occurs as Lil Nas X, playing Adam (or perhaps Eve) in the Garden of Eden, succumbs to the temptations of a snake-like male figure. In another now-infamous scene, he gives Satan a lap dance, before snapping Satan’s neck and ascending to the throne. It’s jarring, interesting, and high camp in a way most mainstream artists could never pull off — but it’s not the main story here.

“Montero” itself is catchy and lyrically clever, though not particularly bold even considering its subject matter. The accompanying music video, though captivatingly provocative, is similarly on the flashier side of average. (A jaw-dropping pole-dancing scene, in which Lil Nas X descends to hell clad in boxers and knee-high boots, also bears a concerning degree of resemblance to the pole-dancing in FKA twigs’ “Cellophane” music video, a fact Lil Nas X has acknowledged.) All of it had been done before; the difference now was in who was doing it.

For Lil Nas X, it didn’t matter whether the song or the video merited any artistic praise so long as the right people took umbrage at it. And they did. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota cited American children’s “God-given eternal soul” in defence of a firm stance against Lil Nas X’s “Satan sneakers,” which dropped along with the song. Conservative pundits like Candace Owens took to Twitter to howl their disapproval. They had no idea what laid in store for them.

Lil Nas X is a particularly adept spider in the complex and reverberating web that is social media. Nobody can play the Twitter game quite like him. One by one he took aim at the army of high-horsed disapprovers and picked them off with brutal precision. To Governor Noem he shot back, “ur a whole governor and u on here tweeting about some damn shoes. do ur job!” To pro-gun activist Kaitlin Bennett’s racist jab “Do you still see your dad?” it was the concise and time-honoured “yep and i might fuck yours.” Bennett responded with the singularly bewildering Tweet, “At least I can procreate,” followed by a frog emoji, a symbol recently co-opted by white nationalist movements, and a cup of tea emoji. Against such opponents, Lil Nas X couldn’t have looked better if he tried.

With “Montero” and all its half-manufactured controversy, Lil Nas X has hit his golden age. Come a year or so, the Internet’s great spotlight may not shine so forgivingly. But for now, he has harnessed all the power of his Twitter talent, and “Montero” is a star in the Billboard sky.

— Staff writer Mira-Rose J. Kingsbury Lee can be reached at mirarose.kingsburylee@thecrimson.com.

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