Lil Nas X’s sexed-up ‘Montero’ is a watershed moment for queer artists

The singer plays out gay fantasies loud and proud in his latest music video, writes Jess Brodie

04 April 2021 - 00:02 By jess brodie
Lil Nas X is perhaps best known for his chart-topping hit with Billy Ray Cyrus, 'Old Town Road'.
Lil Nas X is perhaps best known for his chart-topping hit with Billy Ray Cyrus, 'Old Town Road'.
Image: Getty Images/Jason Kempin

Last week, Lil Nas X, who was born Montero Lamar Hill, the artist best known for the 2019 smash-hit remix of Old Town Road, released his long-anticipated eponymous single Montero (Call me by your name).

The video instantly went viral, and I'm not surprised. It's the first time we've seen an openly gay music superstar indulging in a sex-and-drugs-and-sin video fantasy. It's an unapologetically queer moment at the crossroads of hip-hop and sexuality.

So what's so spicy about it?

The red-hot CGI music video opens with Lil Nas X finding himself the object of desire of a snake-man hybrid in a Garden of Edenesque set-up. After a tryst under the tree of knowledge, he's found out for succumbing to the homo-erotic tempter and he stands on trial before a coliseum of protesters. He's sentenced to hell — his mode of transportation is a pole dance to the underworld.

WATCH | Lil Nas X 'Montero' music video.

Once there, things get even more horny (literally and figuratively), ending with a barely clad Nas giving a lap dance to the leather-clad devil, before he murders Lucifer and steals his horns.

Who's bent out of shape about this?

Well, the intentionally provocative religious imagery has the conservative crowd up in arms, that's a given. Ditto with the "Lil Nas X is a role model for children" brigade. But really, the target is the heteronormative expectations of the music industry, and the homophobic history of hip-hop. The significance of this cannot be downplayed, and nor can the severity of hatred that comes with it.

What should we be taking from it?

It's monumental to see a 21-year-old gay man express his sexuality, own his desires and be titillating with his body, on the same terms and at the same level of fame that straight contemporaries have been able to do for decades. Nas evokes everyone who braved the stripper pole of self-expression before, from Madonna and Janet Jackson to Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion in his grinding masterpiece.

Adam Vary of Variety illuminated the shift in how gay men are able to portray themselves in pop culture. Previously, gay men's self-expression was much more restrained. They've had to obscure their sexuality and sing about women, like Ricky Martin or NSYNC's Lance Bass.

Once they're established, others have braved coming out, but have kept their sexuality palatable to the masses, like Elton John, George Michael, Mika, and again, Ricky Martin.

Vary says: "I don't blame any of these men for making these choices, if indeed it's even possible to call them choices given the pervasive homophobia of the music business at the time and the world at large. All of these men have made music I've loved, and I've celebrated when they were finally able to come out, while also clocking the marked downturn many of their music careers took after they did so."

It's easier for younger generations of successful artists to intertwine sexuality and success. It's important to recognise that it's "easier" to be able to be openly gay and have a music career, but it's still taboo for them to indulge in romances or fantasies the way straight musicians do. It's as if we're now saying "You're allowed to be gay, but don't let me see it because it makes me uncomfortable, keep it palatable." Lil Nas X took it to the extreme in order to make "simply existing" a possibility for others.

In a letter he penned to his younger self, posted to Instagram when the music video dropped, Nas said: "dear 14 year old montero, i wrote a song with our name in it, it's about a guy i met last summer. i know we promised to never come out publicly, i know we promised to never be 'that' type of gay person, i know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist."

What to say to silence the critics?

Lil Nas X on Twitter: "There is a mass shooting every week that our government does nothing to stop. Me sliding down a CGI pole isn't what's destroying society."