Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably seen Lil Nas X's “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” music video. Released on 26 March, the first visual offering from his forthcoming album has sparked quite some controversy. But the video is about much more than shock-factor, it's about doing everything queer people have been told they can't do.
The video starts off with the Grammy winner as Adam in the Garden of Eden, who once tempted descends to the pits of hell on a pole and proceeds to give the devil a lap dance, before casually breaking Satan's neck and stealing his horned crown. It's a clear and queer middle finger to the conservatives who harp on anti-queer messages of hatred and disapproval.
A music superstar indulging in a sexy and sinful video fantasy? That's entirely unheard of– Oh, wait, it's fine if said superstar isn't openly gay? Truth is, people just aren't used seeing a gay artist express his sexuality on exactly the same terms — and at the same level of fame and success — as his straight counterparts.
Naturally, people are upset and outraged at Mr Nas X. But, according to the rapper, that's sort of the point. "i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. so i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves," he wrote on Twitter.
From Madonna's provocative “Like A Prayer” to FKA twigs' MAGDALENE, pop stars subverting religious oppression into liberating art is nothing new. Especially for queer artists, turning sacred themes into something proudly and overtly gay is the perfect act of defiance. “Religion is the cornerstone of repression and [censorship], so it’s an essential target for queer art,” author Martin Aston told the Independent. “[But] I think most pop – queer or otherwise – has taken many potshots at religion and its iconography."
In the past, this approach might have been more subtle – think, George Michael wearing that ubiquitous cross earring before coming out – however, no music star who’s achieved Nas’ level of mainstream success and also come out has attempted anything on the scale of "MONTERO." When queering religious iconography is done as loudly and proudly as this it becomes much more powerful – and much easier to cause offence.
But Lil Nas X's message isn't for the religious right, it's for the queer kids who haven't been allowed to be unapologetically themselves. The rapper even wrote an emotional message to his 14-year-old self: "Dear 14-year-old Montero, I wrote a song with our name in it. It’s about a guy I met last summer. I know we promised to never come out publicly, I know we promised to never be ‘that’ type of gay person, I know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist. You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be. Sending you love from the future. – LNX."
You can (re)watch Lil Nas X's "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" music video below.