Lil Nas X is handling the conservative backlash to his latest music video by leaning into it.
The artist and professional troll enraged the right with his new music video “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” a queer retelling of humanity’s banishment from the Garden of Eden.
In this version, abundant with references to Greek mythology and biblical symbolism, Lil Nas X has an illicit affair with a demonic serpentine creature, is judged before a denim-clad angelic council, and then accepts his fate by descending into Hell via pole dance. There, he gives the king of the dead a steamy lap dance before snapping the devil’s neck and claiming the throne for himself.
It’s a story of sin, banishment, and redemption, but the redemption is granted by Lil Nas X himself rather than an omnipotent deity who dictates right and wrong. Why adhere to the rules of morality if you can’t exist freely?
“In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see,” Lil Nas X narrates. “We lock them away, we tell them, ‘No,’ we banish them. But here, we don’t. Welcome to Montero.”
Christianity has demonized homosexuality for centuries, and the shock from the religious right over the music video echoes its own message. Lil Nas X told Time that he grew up in a “pretty religious kind of home” that was “fear-based,” and hoped the video would reach LGBTQ youth who are still in the church.
“Even as a little child, I was really scared of every single mistake I may or may not have made,” he told Time. “I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ community, to feel like they’re OK and they don’t have to hate themselves.”
Though the video was widely praised as a radical acceptance of queerness, the religious right was outraged by the “demonic” imagery and homoeroticism much like the satanic panic in past decades. To promote the song, Lil Nas X also launched a limited collection (only 666 pairs were released) of “Satan Shoes” in collaboration with art collective MSCHF, which featured an inverted cross, a bronze pentagram, and a drop of human blood. They sold out within minutes. Nike, which manufactured the shoe’s base, responded by suing MSCHF.
Outspoken conservative figures voiced their disapproval, and particularly religious ones — who seemed to miss the entire plot of the video — claimed Lil Nas X would face punishment upon Judgment Day. But Lil Nas X isn’t backing down, and rather than handle the controversy with grace, is instead feeding into it with memes and snarky responses. He even co-opted the infamous apology video format to further promote the song.
Instead of an apology tour, though, Lil Nas X is embracing the controversy. In the last few days, the artist has been exceedingly online to respond to moralistic critics. He reminded followers that despite his popularity among children for the viral hit “Old Town Road,” he isn’t responsible for the media children consume. He responded to a fire and brimstone sermon denouncing “Montero” as “wicked” by claiming he’d sample it. He told South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to do her job instead of tweet about shoes when she expressed her anger at the song, and quoted the lyrics back at her when she cited a Bible verse. When gun enthusiast Kaitlin Bennett tweeted about him, Lil Nas X brought up the ongoing rumor that she allegedly defecated on herself at a college party. His responses to attacks were personal and anything but gracious, but they did go viral, further promoting the video.
ok i’m gonna admit it. i’m sorry i fucked up. i should have never taken my titties off.
— nope 🏹 (@LilNasX) March 27, 2021
Lil Nas X has mastered the art of going viral, and knows that fanning the flames only garners more attention. By feuding with the critics, he’s drawing more views to the video and entertaining his followers in the process. He even joked about dropping a collection of Chick-fil-A themed shoes to “even the score” — the franchise is notoriously homophobic.
While seemingly unbothered, the artist did admit in a tweet on Monday that the backlash took “an emotional toll” on his well-being. Still, his responses throughout the weekend following the music video’s drop is a lesson in relevance: Taking the high road may make you morally superior, but dancing with the devil will make you viral.