by Scott King
Lil Nas X is in your face and queer, and it’s no big deal. Which is, of course, a very big deal.
“I © Jesus and that one part in the ‘Montero’ music video by Lil Nas X when he gets nasty with the devil because it was a cool form of self-expression and art.”
That’s what a T-shirt says.
“I watched the ‘Montero’ video by Lil Nas X and all I got was this lousy T-shirt and now I’m also gay and love Satan.”
That’s what another T-shirt says. Both of these things are true.
Deal with it, America. A gay Satanist exhibitionist is the biggest pop star in the world. He understands metaphor. He understands irony. He understands duplicity. He’s like Madonna if Madonna had emerged 40 years after Madonna. He also understands that Madonna already happened. The Madonna Highway has been built, so now he can just cruise down his own old (yet new) town road at his own pace – while everyone else scrambles to keep up.
As a teenager in 2010s, Montero Hill attended high school in the northwest Atlanta town of Lithia Springs. He dropped out of extracurriculars in order to spend more time “studying the internet.” He made memes. He grappled with and then accepted his sexuality. He built profiles online based on comedy videos and Nicki Minaj fan pages. Then he pursued music.
In 2018, he bought a drum beat online, one that sampled Nine Inch Nails no less, for $30. The rest, as they say, is queer history.
But it wasn’t. Not yet. “Old Town Road” climbed the genre charts in the spring of 2019. Eventually, it got “disqualified” from the country music charts for reasons that were definitely not tied to race. But this catchy earworm of a tune was an uniter, not a divider, because, at the end of the day, who doesn’t just want to ride a pony? “Old Town Road,” and specifically the remix with Miley Cyrus’s dad, Billy Ray, went to number one on the Billboard charts for a record-shattering 19 weeks. 19 weeks! That’s almost five months! My nephews were singing it all summer.
It’s a catchy tune. And Lil Nas wears eye-catching outfits. Fittingly, on the last day of Pride month 2019, in conjunction with his appearance at the Glastonbury Festival with Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus, he came out on Twitter.
After that came the Grammys, VMAs, accolades, and artistry. Lil Nas’s performances and public persona became more and more deliciously, decadently, and delightfully gay queer and camp. Lil Nas X is proof that you can have a sense of humor and take yourself completely seriously at the same time. Billy Porter did the same thing, but the effect was never funny. Lil Nas X is fucking hilarious.
That’s the world we live in. A then-20-year-old with an ear for catchy tunes and a dynamic online personality can take over the pop world in six months. After this initial splash, for the past two years, we have been treated to hit singles ranging from the oh-so-emo “Panini” to the Miltonian histrionics of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).”
But is it really that surprising that two of the biggest pop stars of the last 10 years, Miley and Lil Nas X, are both queer and both respect pop music history? Miley covered “Doll Parts” on Howard Stern. Lil Nas X pals around with and sticks up for Madonna when the kids try to rebrand her with trendy buzzword pejoratives like “appropriationist” or troll.
What Miley and Nas also have in common is skipping the self-flagellation and hand wringing that, since Ellen in 1997, has often accompanied a mainstream celebrity’s coming out. Lil Nas’s celebratory queerness isn’t defiant, it’s just celebratory. It’s joyous. As the OG casual queer Walt Whitman once wrote, “We convince by our presence.”
I’m convinced. Even hipsters like Lil Nas X. His numerous hit singles straddle the fence between the banal and the transcendent. I mean, come on – the first seven seconds of his record-shattering hit samples Nine Inch Nails. They are Nine Inch Nails. He is Nine Inch Nails. With a manicure.
Two years later, flamboyant and pitch-perfect queerness seems to be Lil Nas X’s brand and his soul. If you’re a public figure who is Black and you ever talk about being Black, there is a segment of the population that says, ‘Oh, all he does is talk about being Black. Same for if you’re queer or Latinx or female or whatever. You know the drill.
But Lil Nas X refuses to give a fuck. He just does his thing. He knows that some of you love it, some of you hate it, some of you don’t care, and some of you can’t believe it. Lil Nas holds all this wisdom in his adorable sardonic smirk.
Did I mention how hot he is? He’s the kind of hot where I don’t even hate him for being hot. He’s just hot, and it makes me happy.
Thank you for being so fabulous, Lil Nas X. Maybe we’ll meet one day and fall in love. All the little girls dream about this with their favorite pop stars, so why can’t I? I just hope they appreciate you on Raya.
by Scott King