You may not have noticed, but very few artists know how to use social media and Lil Nas X is one of the very few that get it right. With the ping of a tweet, the 21-year-old is able to have Twitter up in arms over a meme, an iconic music video, or blood-filled “Satan shoes”. In the last week, the record-breaking artist has captured the attention of millions online with his instantly recognisable hit single Montero (Call Me By Your Name). Supporting the track, Lil Nas X released the highly-anticipated music video which instantly went viral for its religious-inspired visuals, gender-fluid aesthetic, and powerful message of self-acceptance.
At first glance, onlookers may be eager to dismiss the overblown video packed with CGI and swarming with religious references, but beneath the shock factor, Lil Nas X has pulled off an iconic queer moment that will long be recognised. For me, growing up, the lack of accessible LGBTQ+ artists was glaringly obvious. Iconography and idolisation around fan-favourites learned towards white, cis, hetero women. At the time, I was grateful for any POC representation that came my way. Now, in a new raging era of radical pop, we’re seeing artists like Frank Ocean, CHIKA, Jaden Smith, and Tyler, The Creator define their identity on their own terms, and to see Lil Nas X join them was revolutionary.
As an artist that has openly battled with identity and admitted it was a secret he was willing to seal away, it’s worth recognising the strength and solidarity it took to do the opposite. Now, the chart-topping creative has ushered in a new era of visibility and representation, but, more importantly, one that is accessible. If you ask anyone to mention an off-the-cuff landmark LGBTQ+ moment, many of us will mention Ellen Degeneres’ historic TIME cover, George Michael’s Outside music video, or anything from Lady Gaga’s repertoire, but now younger generations have a moment to instinctively latch onto. While Lil Nas X’s social media persona can seem nothing more than an overdose of left-field Gen Z humour, but it’s a digital space that curates small instances of LGBTQ+ victories. Refusing to submit to industry homophobia or crass tweets, the artist’s musical catalogue, vibrant image, and growing self-confidence have become unmistakably ingrained in his brand.
To acknowledge Lil Nas X’s pioneering spirit in the queer pop realm would be amiss without giving a nod to those that paved the way before him. Unforgettable acts from Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael have weathered the storms of speculation around sexuality and preserved their legacies as musical greats. Even modern creatives Troye Sivan, Olly Alexander, Adam Lambert, and Sam Smith, to some extent, have helped chip away at traditional industry standards that restricted the movement and grace of queer male and non-binary artists. But, still, nobody could have foreseen the glorious reign of a young Black artist effortlessly hijacking the charts singing about queer romance in a music video decked out in enough religious imagery to give Republicans an aneurysm. More than anything, the ascension of Lil Nas X is one of determination and a willingness to cement his unfolding legacy.
For me, Lil Nas X is an artist that is refusing to sanitise his queer vision at the expense of critics. While online audiences have argued his artistry is not suitable for children, or that it amplifies satanic themes, I cannot help but wonder where the same torchbearers stood when Billie Eilish performed All The Good Girls Go To Hell at the American Music Awards in 2019, or when rock legends AC/DC named a whole body of work Highway To Hell (and received endless acclaim for the very same record). It’s a double standard that has been rinsed for its hypocrisy online and in fan circles, but it’s a reminder of the needless daily barriers QPOC artists will have to work through to execute their artistic vision – and it’s getting tiring. While we’ll never know if Lil Nas X is truly unbothered by it all, but it’s beyond admirable to see an artist meet his criticism face on and persevere to deliver a game-changing moment.
While the internet has had a few days to simmer down from Lil Nas X mania, I’m sure the Montero (Call Me By Your Name) impact will stick around. Whether it’s meme culture, a new TikTok trend, or shutting down the governor of South Dakota — the star knows how to stay effortlessly relevant and is ready to pave out the next step in his career. Proving he’s more than a one-hit-wonder, the 21-year-old has continued to stay ahead of the curve. His straight-laced record Old Town Road has smashed expectations becoming the most streamed song in the US of all time, and now Montero (Call Me By Your Name) has been forecast to dominate the Billboard Hot 100. So grab your thigh-high boots (or Satan shoes) and get stuck in, because Lil Nas X isn’t going anywhere.