In a futuristic, sci-fi, yet oddly biblically archaic garden lies Montero, blissfully playing his guitar. Suddenly, he is approached by a serpent with recognisably masculine features, seducing him under an apple tree. Montero tries to run away from the serpent but eventually gives in to its intoxicating persistence. After indulging in forbidden activity, he is scolded for his gay, promiscuous actions.
Persecuted and rejected, he is sentenced to eternal damnation- where Montero makes his flamboyant entrance into hell sliding down a stripper pole. Once encountering hell, Montero twerks and grinds on the devil. Montero ultimately murders the devil with his sex as he takes over as the prince of darkness.
‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ released in 2021 by Lil Nas X and its video immediately caused controversy. In a Genius interview, Lil Nas X explains the song centres on love and drugs which is intoxicating and almost sinful as he discusses his real-life male romantic interest. Further inspiration derives from the romance film Call Me By Your Name (2017). The film is a coming-of-age story of the romantic journey of a young boy discovering his sexuality. Within this film, the two main characters call each other by their own names in a way of forming ownership and belonging. Lil Nas X uses this concept both as a contextual vice for his romantic lyrics but also as a sense of his own identification. Lil Nas X’s real name is Montero, hence the song’s title.
Through overtly sexual, gay imagery, Lil Nas X’s music video, ‘Montero’ angers Christians, shifts Hip Hop culture and threatens black masculinity all at once. As a black female, an avid fan of Hip Hop, and an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, I found it fascinating to discover thoughts and views on the music video that began trending. What stood out from some of the black community was a lot of negative views due to lack of interpretation and mixed messages. It is important to understand that not all criticism stemmed from black people alone. However, Lil Nas X ultimately, controversially shook black culture.
Being gay is okay until it is right in your face or attempts to threaten your culture, was the overwhelming message. In a conversation with a few black male friends of mine who identify as cis and straight, they all felt a strong, uncomfortable reaction to the video. The song is tolerable due to the lack of pronouns of the spoken lover, yet the video becomes problematic or rather “a fuckery,”. One person decided to not watch the video at all as the exposure on Twitter was enough to avoid ‘Montero’ completely – “Why’s man going down a pole and twerking on the devil?” He asked. I tried to explain the importance of gay exposure, especially in rap, but they found the route which Lil Nas X took as extreme or “doing too much,”.
Hip Hop is specifically known as something owned in black culture and represents the black community. Hip Hop has always been dominated by cis (gender identity is the same as birth), heterosexual, black men, or as of recently, the popularity of cis, heterosexual, black women. From NWA to Nicki Minaj and Drake, Hip Hop manifests as an expression of injustice alongside club anthems. The Hip Hop industry is a genre that includes the over-sexualisation of women, misogyny, hyperfocus on materialism, mentions and (sometimes!) glorifies crime. It is ironic of the Hip Hop industry or rather some members of the black community to isolate visuals and themes of ‘Montero’ as sinful and demonic.
Homophobic isolation within the Hip Hop community happens through two extremes: either blatant homophobia or discrete uncomfortable reactions. DaBaby is prime example of blatant homophobia: at the Rolling Loud Concert 2021, he yelled
“If you didn’t show up today with HIV or AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cell phone light in the air […] Fellas, if you ain’t suck a n**** dick in the parking lot, put your cell phone lights in the air. Keep it fucking real.”
Rappers such as Joyner Lucas took the discrete route by stating Lil Nas X should consider the children when making controversial content – though he doubts he is a devil worshiper. In a series of tweets, he expresses:
“That @LilNasX video is wild, but as an artist, he is doing everything he supposed to do. […] I doubt he worships the devil.”
“I think the biggest problem for me is the fact he doesn’t understand ‘Old Town Road’ is every kid’s anthem. Children love him for that record. They tuned in and subscribed to his channels. So, with no disclaimer, he just dropped some left field ish & all our kids seen it. Smh.”
‘Old Town Road’ (released 2019) was Lil Nas X’s first trending single which introduced country and Hip Hop together. Yes, it has been popularised by children and teenagers due to its playful lyrics and bouncy melody, yet the song is still about sexual activity.
Lil Nas X same titled album Montero features no black, cis, male rappers but has support from rappers who are also othered from the Hip Hop community. His album features Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat and Jack Harlow. Women and white rappers are not as appreciated and celebrated in the Hip Hop community likewise to gay rappers. Lil Nas X commented that maybe other rappers simply did not want to be on the album. It is realistic to believe that there is a degree of homophobia, after all, who does not want to be featured on a popular upcoming artist’s album?
Lil Nas X is one of the first well known gay male rappers. According to the Academy of Music and Sound: Layli Phillps understands Hip Hop as “an oppositional cultural realm rooted in the socio-political and historical experiences and consciousness of economically disadvantaged urban black youth.” My interpretation of this explanation can be simplified as bringing injustices of the black community to the forefront which is exactly what Lil Nas X is doing in this video. Lil Nas X is highly disliked due to him representing and empowering men who aren’t exposed and repressed or rather reject their “gayness” for the identification of their blackness.
Male blackness is identified with heterosexual hypermasculinity – rugged and aggressive. Artist Young M.A is a black, cis female, lesbian rapper, popularised from her single ‘OOOUUU’ (2017). Though she is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, she is largely accepted by the Hip Hop community due to her masculine-presenting appearance and content that involves the over-sexualisation of women. Therefore, she does not threaten the heteronormative that rules Hip Hop lyricism, representation, and visibility – unlike Lil Nas X sliding down a stripper pole in a sensual, seductive way that threatens this ideal. YouTuber, Khadija Mbowe expresses this perfectly in her video ‘Who’s afraid of Lil Nas X’ (2021):
“He is a dark-skinned, deep-voiced, semi muscular young man, that has proximity to masculinity, that is kind of dangerous. He’s not hyper-feminine in look and since he has the appearance of your ‘average male rapper,’ it closes that chasm between straight black male rappers and gay ones. And if that divide isn’t that wide, if someone like Lil Nas X can be this gay, then anyone could.”
Within ‘Montero’ Lil Nas X is saying that his sexuality will always be who he is: mind, body, soul, and the way he loves. For those to say that is wrong or rather so sinful it will cause his damnation, then so be it! He is a black gay man or importantly a black, gay, male rapper. Allowing his identification to be known is important for the shift in culture and allows exposure for more black gay artists. Growing in the ‘hood’ he does not shift away from his rugged exterior and meshes the lines between stereotypical gayness and stereotypical blackness. Lil Nas X trended from being controversial but inevitably pushed and triggered the comfortability of black culture for the sake of his identification. Call him by your names (albeit homophobic and hateful) he is and will always be, Montero.
Genius interview: https://youtu.be/eRAxY-fu4lU
Khadija Mbowe ‘Who’s Afraid of Lil Nas X’: https://youtu.be/pJA5_O0ydY0