Lil Nas X reveals himself in "Montero"

Lil Nas X, the 22-year-old happily queer pop star and savvy digital con artist, often cuts an incredibly confident figure in public. Red...


Lil Nas X, the 22-year-old happily queer pop star and savvy digital con artist, often cuts an incredibly confident figure in public. Red carpets and the awards stages have recently become international showcases for his mischievous and androgynous imagination. On social networks – his personal amusement park – his clever replies to pearl gatherers purer than you and homophobic enemies seem so easy, they raise a modern philosophical question: what is the sound of a clapping hand?

But on his melodious and introspective debut album, “Montero”, this lavish public armor reveals vulnerability and doubt. “You’re a meme, you’re a joke, a gimmick from the start,” mocks Lil Nas X of tortured “One of Me”, playing the voices of his most vicious critics with such enthusiasm that they sound indistinguishable from the demons in his own head.

That meme he refers to is, of course, “Old Town Road,” the world-conquering smash of Lil Nas X in 2019. At the end of his record-breaking 19-week run to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in August, “Old Town Road “had become much more than a pop song: it also functioned as an indictment of racism in country music, an opportunity for intergenerational unity between pop stars and a referendum on whether people who spend too much time on the internet can still experience something that looks like simple pleasure. But even as “Old Town Road” put its creator squarely in the limelight, it was still unclear whether Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill) was a prominent musician or just a flickering wizard of virality.

It was also not clear “7”, the short EP released in emergency in June in the shadow of the “Old Town Road”. The EP’s five new songs were catchy but faceless, as if Nas was trying to play a character he couldn’t quite commit to inhabiting. The week after its release, He went out, zooming in on a small rainbow adorning the cover of “7” and inviting fans to “listen carefully” to his latest song, “C7osure”. On Twitter, he posted: “Some jerk thought I made it obvious,” a shrug in his signature internet language. But he hadn’t really done it: the lyrics to “C7osure” hinted at a personal transformation (“More action, man, that prediction says I should just let myself grow up”), but the song was. generic enough that it could have meant anything.

Compare that to the striking uniqueness of Nas 2021’s single “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”, a song of itself so peculiar and unabashedly gay that it makes you want to dig up Walt Whitman and tell him about it. “I’m not fazed, only here to sin,” Nas hums, as lascivious flamenco-inspired guitar licks crackle like flames at his feet. “If Eve isn’t in your backyard, you know you can call me whenever you want.”

Unbelievably, the song was almost as much a sensation as “old town road”. But something that was drowned out in the howl of his artfully contrived controversies – the uproar around that satanic lap dance in his music video; this lip-lock at the BET Awards; the Most controversial Nikes from Heaven’s Gate – was some nuance in the song’s point of view.

Contrary to what the offended parties would have you believe, Nas himself did not embody a one-dimensional Lucifer. Rather, he was locked in an ambivalent duo of darkness and light, denial and enlightenment – a dizzying tango in which the roles of seducer and seducer were constantly blurred. The questioning, the slight hesitation and the possible rush to explore animated “Montero (call me by your name)” with the thrill of freshly unearthed desire. It felt like a real-time experiment, which made sense: Nas had already had to discover new fame step by step before the eyes of the whole world. Here he seemed to do the same with his own sexuality, while invoking the same supernatural and tightrope walker balance.

As with Frank Ocean’s groundbreaking 2012 album “Channel Orange”, on “Montero” there is a rare, simple yet radical joy to hear male pronouns fall so carelessly into songs of love, lust. and grief of another man. (“Need a boy who can cuddle me all night,” Nas sings over “This is what I want,” which sounds like a “Hey Ya.” By deconstructing the conventional structures of a pop song or l ‘Traditional story arc of an album: He clearly wants these queer desire songs to be readable by the general public. Working mainly with the production duo Take A Daytrip – which favors melodic hooks and bright, flashy sounds – “Montero “channels the more fluid and outrageous aesthetic of SoundCloud rap into familiar pop musical forms.

On one of the best songs on the album, “Scoop”, Nas finds a soul mate in Doja Cat, a meme-hound turned pop star: their expressive vocals adapt so well to the effervescent beat that it sounds like the song. theme of their own cartoon. “Dead Right Now” is equally contagious, but takes it a step further, addressing suicidal thoughts, unsupportive family members, and sudden burdens of fame: hit me, man, with fever.

The second half of “Montero” is surprisingly shot, and not all of its offerings are as striking or memorable as “Dead Right Now”. But even when they blend together, these songs successfully assert that Nas is more than just a meme maker, evoking a more vivid image of his inner world and musical sensibility than anything he has released before.

As on any deeply felt record made by a young man in his twenties, “Montero” ricochets from urges of momentary desire to serious calls for a more lasting love. The underlying universality of her feelings and sounds ultimately works in the album’s favor, smuggling a queer black perspective into places where it was once absent or even actively resisted. After all, the more catchy the song, the harder it will be for enemies to avoid Lil Nas X in all of her glorious, kaleidoscopic humanity. This may be his biggest turn to date. Who would have guessed that from the start this trusty cowboy steed was in fact a Trojan horse?

Lil Nas X
“Montero”
(Colombia)

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