Lil Nas X’s ‘Montero’ Is A Masterpiece
October 23, 2021
I’ll be honest. When I first listened to Lil Nas X’s new album “Montero” all the way through, it gave me sad boy “don’t hit me up” vibes. My friend said it best when he described it as “middle schooler going through his first break up.”
Now, I will defend Lil Nas X until the day I die, but I was disappointed because the album just seemed simple and superficially sad. But when I started to do research on the making of the album, I realized that I could not have been more wrong.
First, I looked into the meaning behind all of his biblical references.
In his 48-minute “Behind the Album” interview with Zane Lowe, Lil Nas X shares how going through his parents divorce at age 9 disillusioned him with religion and spirituality in general. Up until college, he was drifting through life with nothing to believe in.
He addresses this phase of his life in his song “Tales of Dominica,” by talking about his ‘broken home’ and all the hurt, anxiety and sadness of a kid who thinks he’s ‘all alone.’
Eventually, he found his greater purpose in music. Creating songs was a spiritual experience for him. Music became his religion. He talks about his music being an “island made from faith.”
Lil Nas cleverly included the word “Dominica” in the title to show us that he believes that his music is ‘of God.’
The creation of his first album is the apex of his career so far. Therefore, it makes sense that on his album cover, he imposes himself on an image of Genesis II– the seventh day of creation in which God rested and enjoyed all that he had created.
So it’s fair to say that Lil Nas X understands all the good religion and spirituality can bring to a person’s life.
Still, he’s gay.
The initial backlash he got after he came out was from religious people screaming at him that he was going to hell for his sexuality. Lil Nas X aptly compares this time of his life to the Salem Witch Trials in his song “Life After Salem.”
Obviously, in this metaphor, he’s the one being burned at the stake.
In a thematically dark song with a listless melody, Lil Nas X expresses his desire for everyone to just go away. “Take what you want and leave,” he begs his religious persecutors.
However, as we have seen, Lil Nas X’s intense pain led to his spectacular rebirth. He harnessed all the hate he was receiving into his Reputation era with “Call Me By Your Name.”
As a special nod to the Christians that persecuted him, this incredibly explicit song addressing the experience of being closeted contains many lyrics that allude to biblical stories: “If Eve ain’t in the garden, you know that you can” (replacing Eve with Steve, if you will, in the Garden of Eden) and “I’m not phased I’m only here to sin.”
The cherry on top was his “Call Me By Your Name” music video, when he chooses to go down to hell to give the devil a lap dance instead of entering heaven.
So now we have this weird paradox where Lil Nas X clearly worships God through his music. However, the fact that he’s gay causes a huge rift between him and the religious community.
One thing all this analyzing has taught me is that Lil Nas X is an actual genius. He includes specific tidbits you don’t necessarily catch the first or second listen, like these religious references, that completely change the meaning of songs.
With that in mind, the thing I most anticipated were his songs discussing being gay in the music industry.
And boy, did he deliver. From his collaboration with Elton John to the “That’s What I Want” music video, to songs like “Void” and “Sun Goes Down”, there’s a lot to talk about here.
Lil Nas’s songs are clearly arranged on a timeline of before and after his coming out.
I would argue that “Sun Goes Down” is the first song in this chronology. It’s almost as if his teenage self is writing the lyrics. He talks about the depression and anxiety he felt while trying to come to terms with his sexualitiy. “These gay thoughts would always haunt me/I prayed God would take it from me.” He touches on these feelings again in “Void,” singing “I’ve been getting tired of the way I’ve been living/I’d rather die than live with these feelings”
These were the lyrics that made me cringe when I first heard them, but oh how important and meaningful they turned out to be. This leads Lil Nas X into talking about his feelings entering the music scene and hiding the fact that he is gay.
Metaphorically, he addresses this in the “That’s What I Want” music video (which he dropped September 16th 2021 right before the premier of his album).
Basically, he inserts himself into the most stereotypical closeting story you can think of. He’s on the football team and having a secret relationship with one of the players.
Lil Nas X continues his theme of hypersexuality that he introduces in “Call Me By Your Name” in the locker room with his secret lover.
In the Zane Lowe interview, Nas says that the first thing that happens when you come out is people instantly think “Lets sanitize the hell out of this. So they don’t do things too far even though we see other straight artists doing it.” In some ways, Nas’s pornographic performance is to show the hypocrisy that straight artists can express their sexuality but gay artists can’t. He wants to shock his audiences into paying attention.
I also think it is worth noting that Lil Nas was initially really uncomfortable performing in such a sexual way, but he pushed through because he believed in the point he was trying to make. He tells Zane Lowe that “Things that you’re most afraid to do are the things you really need to do.”
Throughout the video, he’s constantly left by himself. All the men he’s seeing turn out to be ashamed of their relationship or married. Through these constant let downs, Lil Nas X is trying to express the frustration of being gay.
He stares at his trophies alone and hopeless, as if to say that all the success and fame isn’t worth anything if he’s unloved. He finally gives up and resigns himself to marrying his guitar in a church (again- continuing the theme of religion).
Literally, I think he addresses his experience being closeted in his song “Lost In the Citadel.” While this song does seem to be about a relationship with a person, I believe he’s talking about his relationship with music while he was still closeted.
First of all, a citadel is a fortress surrounding and protecting a city on a hill. If he’s lost in a citadel, I interpret that as meaning he’s lost at the top of his career under all the “protection” of his closeting.
In these lyrics: “Tell me, are you feeling down?/Are you happy, do your dreams still seem inbound?” Lil Nas X is at the top of the charts as a rapping country artist. He doesn’t see any end to his closeting, and he’s starting to question if his dreams of making music are even worth it if he can’t be open about his sexuality.
So he decides to come out.
From then on, everything Lil Nas X does is held under a microscope. He essentially becomes a meme as ‘the gay rapper.’ All of his successes are amplified as a win for the LGBTQ community and all of his failures are celebrated by the homophobic community. Half of the songs on this album are about the immense amount of pressure Lil Nas feels from all this scrutiny.
In my opinion, “One Of Me” stands out the most. This song is written from the perspective of all the people who criticize him. They are telling him that he should have stopped after his success with “Old Town Road.” Even while he created “Montero,” people were saying “even if your album is OK/it’s flopping, that’s a promise.” They were offended by his expression of his sexuality and “all the things that you do, just to get your face to show.”
The reason I love this song so much is because of Elton John’s piano solo during the second half of the song. When all of these opinions shouting over each other start becoming too much, there’s a comforting piano in the background.
Elton John is obviously a gay icon, and he paved the way for gay artists in the industry to come out. He basically went to hell and back in the music industry and made it out alive.
His piano solo in the background of all of these negative opinions is there for Lil Nas X to remember what he’s fighting for and pushes him to ignore the criticism and move ahead with his album.
“Call Me By Your Name” is obviously the response to all the hate Nas received and it showed his sexuality in a brazen way.
The last song in this chronology (and my favorite in the album) is “Industry Baby.” Despite all of the pain and hate Lil Nas X suffered on the road to his first album, his single “Call Me By Your Name” was a huge success. It spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 and peaked at #1.
“Industry Baby” is a celebration of all of his successes and basically says, “I still made it even though everyone told me I couldn’t.”
My favorite line in the whole album has to be in “Sun Goes Down” when he sings “stanning Nicki mornin’ into dawn/only place I felt like I belonged/strangers make you feel so loved you know.” That is such a relatable line for Generation Z. The bright side of our generation having social media so early is we are able to find and create communities online that make us feel loved even if we feel alone in our physical life. For us, it’s finding our side of Tiktok. For Lil Nas X, it’s finding Stan twitter.
Growing up on Twitter set him up to have the best social media marketing I have ever seen.
Every single promotional video and subsequent music video is so carefully planned, so everything fits nice and neatly into a comprehensive story line.
Not only that, but he knows how to get attention. He knows how to shock people without going too far.
Nas takes all the controversy about him and creates clever jokes that dominate headlines for weeks. For example: when he got sued by Nike for the 666 blood shoes, he created a short courtroom drama surrounding the lawsuit that set up his “Industry Baby” music video. I see this whole “Lil Nas X is pregnant” promotion everytime I open snapchat. And then I watched him follow that up by giving a slightly graphic birth on a YouTube livestream to officially release his album. I’m always in awe of just the sheer amount of planning that goes into everything he does.
That brings us to the last song on the album: “Am I Dreaming.” Conceptually, this is the best song on the album and is yet another piece of evidence of Lil Nas X’s incredibly thought out storytelling. In his Zane Lowe interview, Lil Nas X described the story of this song as he feels like he is on a ship and it’s slowly sinking. He knows he is going to hit the water, so he is reflecting on how people perceive all the things he has done and how we will remember him. He begs us over and over again “never forget me and everything I’ve done.” The song ends with a splash as the ship finally sinks into the water, and with that, Lil Nas X’s first album is done.
Lil Nas X only came onto the music scene in 2019 and already he has had a lifetime of achievements. In terms of music, it seems he can do no wrong. Every single song he releases is an immediate success. There is no escaping him in the news. His marketing strategies have become the blueprint for musicians to come. He is shocking people past their prejudices and opening the door for a new wave of gay artists.
I think it’s safe to say none of us will forget Lil Nas X anytime soon.