In the digital information age, sensationalist headlines are all around us, all around the clock.
To stand out from the general noise even for a split second, a genuinely momentous sensation has to shake the collective foundation on- and offline. Enter Montero Lamar Hill, aka Lil Nas X. The 22-year-old Georgian rapper knows how to jump-start the pop cultural wave pool like few others as demonstrated by the virtually inescapable splashes he made with his new single, released this March.
The lyrics alone would have ensured the ensuing emotionally and ideologically charged reactions, but it’s the music video that saw “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” go way beyond your everyday viral content. Just a couple of days after being released, the official YouTube video alone had amassed over 10 million views. About a month later, that same video had more than 170 million hits. If you are still wondering what the hype is about (in which case I’m honestly impressed by your lack of social media consumption), the video shows, with some heavy CGI, Lil Nas X being seduced by (or indeed seducing) The Devil in the Garden of Eden, before pole-dancing, sparingly clad, down into hell where the rapper proceeds to give Satan an honest-to-god (pun intended) lap dance before finally snapping the Devil’s neck to become King of Hell himself.
It’s probably obvious why and in which circles the video was considered controversial, mildly put: overt, almost explicit homoeroticism in rap music amid fundamentally Christian imagery. That’s a lot of buttons Lil Nas X pushes particularly among, but by no means limited to, conservative elements. In terms of rap music, he defies regressive ideas about religion, society, or notions of how gay people should act (as held by both cis-hetero and other gay people). Not to mention, the artist is Black, which warrants much closer scrutiny aimed at his depiction of Lucifer than, say, a pretty successful TV series with that very title.
And here we are at the crux of the matter: The song’s deep cultural impact isn’t primarily based on whether you or I find the music novel, the lyrics resonant, or the video artistically pleasing. By the very reactions Lil Nas X elicits with “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” he has already proven he created a courageous and daring piece of art. Of course, it met with myriad reactions: some hateful or skeptical, while others were enthusiastic or everything in between. They show that Lil Nas X rattled at the bars of societal taboos. But that’s exactly how you create influential art.
Perhaps it is too soon to use the term ‘historic,’ but it doesn’t feel too far off. And personally, I believe that three minutes and nine seconds of his colorful vision deserves recognition in a world the present pandemic has shown to be shockingly bleak.
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