Welcome to the roaring 20s, In which we’ve already faced an unprecedented pandemic, biblical plagues, ever-increasing climate destruction and now – right on cue – the 21st century’s first Satanic Panic. The latter, all thanks to our new “Queer Music Prophet of Pop”, Lil Nas X.
This isn’t the first time we’ve published an article about Lil Nas X, and it’s starting to seem like it certainly won’t be the last. The artist is quickly coming into his own and becoming a controversial name which conservative, pearl-clutching critics are hellbent on, well, demonising – and that seems to be just what he wants.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, here’s why conservatives are bristling and dousing themselves in holy water after the release of his latest music video for ‘Montero (Call me By Your Name)’.
You’d better strap in for this one.
Lil Nas X’s self-presentation in ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”‘is strikingly different from the persona he showed the world when ‘Old Town Road’ became a chart-topping hit two years ago.
No stranger to using special effects in his video, in Montero‘s Lil Nas X romps about erotically with various leather-clad iterations of Satan, before sliding down a stripper pole into hell to seduce Lucifer with a lap dance, and then kill him to steal his crown. On the way he’s chained and stones with butt plugs, all the while singing about the difficulties of living outside of societies heterosexual norms. The song’s subtitle, ‘Call Me by Your Name’ – also one of the songs lyrics – is a further reference to the popular 2017 film about an illicit gay affair.
It’s no surprise that, for those with more conservative leanings, this horny (in more ways than one) music video was a bit of a shock to the system. More so the fact that Lil Nas X depicts all this so shamelessly (and quite fabulously, in fact) – or rather, he depicts it all in the way heterosexual musicians have been doing for decades without receiving the same backlash.
But shocking the old guard with his extravagant visuals wasn’t quite enough for the new Queer Pop Demon King.
Together with a creative agency named MSCHF, Lil Nas X released a limited edition range of 666 pairs of Nike Airs, “in which the air bubble in the sole has been filled with a mixture of red ink and “one drop of human blood” (drawn from MSCHF employees). The shoes sold out in less than a minute – despite the steep price tag of $1,018 per pair.
According to Aja Romano for Vox, “in the three days since they were announced, all hell has broken loose”.
The video alone was criticised for being a bad influence on children, but the subsequent the release of the “Satan Shoes” has been seen by the far right as an attempt to drag the youth straight into the nine circles, and Nike has been quick to deny any involvement with Lil Nas X, MSCHF or the creation of the shoes (which are modified from their brand). In fact, no matter how evil the footwear may seem even the Church of Satan has distanced itself from the stunt.
Regardless, it seems like we’ve been thrown right into a (probably long overdue) Satanic Panic – and it’s not the first time that one has been spurred by the music industry and those involved in it.
In fact, music-related fears of the devil go back much earlier than you’d expect. Way back in the middle ages, the Roman Catholic Church banned the use of tritones or “the devil’s interval” in church music, and in 1903, bizarrely, officially banned saxophones.
Musicians who have been accused of endangering the souls of the youth have spanned the genres, and include names like Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Billy Eilish, and a whole host of metal bands. Josh Terry writes for Vice that “there’s a recent precedent dating back to the Beatles for these parents, squares, and conservative pundits finding outrage in some of mainstream pop music’s antics and excesses”.
According to Romano, “Lil Nas X seems to be exulting in the controversy. He was quick to double down by posting a faux apology on YouTube that essentially functioned as a Rickroll for the music video’s aforementioned bump-and-grind moment with Satan.”
While governors are having a meltdown on their Twitter feeds and parents are sending their kids off to confession for listening to evil music, Lil Nas X consistently continued to express the importance of Montero and its message.
The outrage that resulted from the release of the video and the footwear has also sparked some much needed conversations about queerness, sexuality. Being as much a performance artist as he is a musician, his goal is to illicit responses and dialogue from his audience, and in that it’s undeniable that he’s succeeded.
It’s essentially a critique of modern day Christianity, and commentary on contemporary queer identity. According to Romano, “the classical religious imagery in the video functions precisely the way religious imagery always has for many queer people — as a way of inserting queer subtext and overlaying figurative storytelling onto more socially acceptable biblical narratives”.
“Lil Nas X showcases, calls out, and celebrates all of this long-established subtext, making it overtly sexual. In doing this, he not only creates an explicitly queer religious commentary but also challenges Christianity to reckon with the hidden queer identities in its midst. And he does it all while he’s singing about loving a man who’s still trapped in the closet — a societal closet that Christianity helped create and still reinforces”.
Lil Nas X’s art – for that’s clearly what it is – has done exactly what art has always done: shocked us into looking at the world we’ve created in a different way, so that we can see it more clearly.
The biggest shame is not, therefore, the youth being corrupted by Satanic pop music, but the fact that sensitive christians are making Montero about themselves, instead of seeing its true message – that of the struggles of the queer community that they’ve repressed and demonised for centuries. In an open letter he wrote to his closeted 14-year-old self, Lil Nas X says the song is about his struggle with his own sexuality. he adds that he hopes that it “will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist”.
If anything, Lil Nas X’s claim to the throne of Satan is him merely stepping into a role that’s been written out for him by decades of anti-queer conservative rhetoric – he’s just doing it with more sass than they know how to handle.