The return of the rap star reveals both his vulnerable but defensive sides.
The arrival of Lil Nas X into the music industry in 2019 was nothing shy of cataclysmic. “Old Town Road” topped the Hot 100 for a record nineteen consecutive weeks, he emerged as a social media superstar, and perhaps most importantly, he became the first Barb to win a Grammy. Seeking to reclaim his spot at the pinnacle of the music industry, his return on Friday with “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” reveals a fresh candor to his character but in an unfortunately insipid affair.
The arch of his return to the music scene is still deeply intertwined with the public story of his sexuality. When he began ascending every music chart across the globe, Lil Nas X was still in the closet. Homophobia in Hip-Hop has been and remains a powerful dynamic in the genre, and his success (some could argue) was aided by his public cooperation with those rules of engagement. He clearly rebels against this with the song’s title, and most blatantly with the song’s music video where he teases bottoming for Satan.
Lil Nas X seems to be following the Cardi B playbook, releasing a high-budget music video spectacle alongside a controversial lead single. With clicks and streams having such a massive impact on the charts, it’s a shrewd business tactic that will undoubtedly prove successful, but also one that aligns with his arresting social and artistic persona. While “shock value” draws groans for its perception as a vapid marketing tactic, it’s in line with his previous track record.
While “Old Town Road” defied the conventions of genre with its country, pop, and hip-hop sound, his comeback single represents a play to the center as a straightforward pop tune. But unlike the aforementioned “WAP,” “Montero” is ultimately a drab, cut and dry track. The melody and vocal performance teeter between monotonous and unbearable, with Lil Nas unable to deliver a permissible performance, let alone a campy one like BiIlly Ray Cyrus.
While the single is clearly one that comes from his heart, what slices through all of the CGI and poor songwriting is that Lil Nas X is frustrated and exasperated by his sharpest critics’ treatment. While he embraces his sexuality (and himself) with the single, the video reveals scorn beneath a veneer of light-hearted comedy that he has yet to process fully. That wrestling with his emotions in the public eye gets the better of him here.