Montero Lamar Hill, famously known as Lil Nas X and as the singer of the record-breaking hit “Old Town Road”, has recently released his first single off of his debut album, Montero. The full album will be released this summer, but the eponymous track “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” is here now and it’s generating massive amounts of controversial conversation amongst the general public.
With its unapologetically queer lyrics and visuals, Lil Nas X reclaims the demonization of queer people and gives audiences no other choice but to see him for who he is–to call him by his name.
Music Video Analysis: Religious and Psychological Symbolism
The video opens up with the CGI image of a sky, which then the camera flies through a picturesque utopia until it reaches Lil Nas X leaning against a tree while strumming a hot-pink guitar. There’s a snake that slithers around the tree, which then solidifies the directorial intent of recreating the biblical story of Adam and Eve.
The camera then cuts to his extraterrestrial doppelgänger, who mimics the snake’s movements as he also creeps down the tree and approaches the singing Montero. Once Montero sees him, he attempts to runs away, however, the mise-en-scene reveals that he can’t escape this second self, as he is reflected within panning shots of blooming flowers, tree trunks, and pink clouds. According to Lil Nas X, these figures are “two versions of me and one version is running from another version of me, until they’re confronted.”
And they confront each other through a sensual interpretation of self-pleasure.
These visuals typify the concept of “The Shadow Self,” coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in his book, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Jung views the shadow to be formed by aspects of our personalities that we determine to be worth rejecting or suppressing into our unconscious psyches, in hopes we smoothly amalgamate into society. According to Jung, “to become conscious of the shadow involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real” and is “the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”
Lil Nas X’s narration encompasses this notion, as he states that “in life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see, We lock them away. We tell them, ‘no.’ We banish them. But here, we don’t. Welcome to Montero.”
The next scene involves a colosseum stoning, where Montero is banished by multiple versions of himself. The crowd consists of angry, stone-like replicas of himself, who cheer on his upcoming death. This image represents the suppression of the self, however, it also emblematizes the aggression and marginalization towards queer bodies in a heteronormative society.
Once he’s stoned to death, Montero’s body ascends into the heavens, which symbolizes the idea of entering a virtuous space where everyone accepts him–but only if he conforms to societal conventions. However, for him to achieve a “respectable” position as a queer individual and as a queer artist in a heterosexist culture, he must subdue those queer-visible aspects of himself.
So if embracing his queerness and his shadow self means he’s “going to hell,” he’s going to pole-dance his way down there and make the place his kingdom.
The Cultural Effects of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”
One of the major reasons why “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” is so poignant is because Lil Nas X doesn’t attempt to sterilize queerness. Instead of subjecting himself to respectability politics, the entertainer positions himself as a provocateur gay, one who reclaims the religious demonization of LGBTQ+ people and deviates from what is ‘acceptable’ in heteronormative paradigms.
Lil Nas X would rather go to hell because he is conscious of the fact that there is no authentic and real acceptance of queer figures in a heteronormative society. He would be vilified either way for freely expressing himself, so he chose to beat them to the punch.
However, this form of queer representation in mainstream media, with unabashed, homoerotic lyrics and visuals, will open doors for more LGBTQ+ artists to make their pulse on the music industry. There are so many talented queer performers and entertainers of color, such as DraeBay, Quay Dash, or Mykki Blanco, who don’t typically receive the type of welcoming that white or straight male artists acquire.
Producing this kind of representation is crucial for LGBTQ+ individuals around the world who are taught at a young age with fear-pressurizing strategies that preach homosexuality as a “sin.”
“I grew up in a pretty religious kind of home — and for me, it was fear-based,” Lil Nas X revealed to Time Magazine. “I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ community, to feel like they’re o.k. and they don’t have to hate themselves.”
Lil Nas X transmutes that fear of eternal damnation and renders himself immune to those religious machinations, encouraging other LGBTQ+ individuals to not let fear ruin a potential life of authentic expression.
Furthermore, the visuals for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” are an embodiment of his artistry and absolute power, mirroring the extensive effort that female artists exert in the male-dominated music industry. Lil Nas X personifies a generation of queer boys, who idolize women in pop music during their adolescence, and is now working just as hard as those women.
The scriptural images in “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” feel reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s 2011 hit “Judas,” in which she received backlash and censures from religious critics that disputed her content. Now, the same criticism has transferred over to the career of Lil Nas X.
Facing Heavy Criticism for its Controversial Nature
Many Christians did not positively interpret this music video. “Devil-worshipping, wicked nonsense,” one pastor called it.
“Lil Nas X is a whole new level of demonic. Some of y’all better check on your kid’s playlists, stay in the KNOW!” exclaimed user BMackWrites in a Facebook post.
Religious groups have vocally expressed their opposition to this type of content, however, they neglect to realize that they are the reason it exists.
Lil Nas X did not poke holes in the Bible to just piss its followers off without precedent. He made this video in direct response to the Church’s persecution of the LGBTQ community and he did it in such an obvious way where he knew what would generate responses of outrage. Now, he’s profiting off of the outrage.
However, since Lil Nas X is destabilizing the Church’s pressurized notions of hell, there is a threat at stake for some religious communities — ones who rely on fear-mongering tactics to persuade others to avoid eternal damnation by adopting their values and joining their church.
According to a Gallup study, “Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend” and “the decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference.”
Some religious individuals attempt to sell their beliefs through a savior-complex that generates a false sense of superiority over those who don’t practice those aforementioned beliefs. However, this increasing rejection is indicative that the more extremists who push queer people, who express themselves freely, the more they will push back. And like Lil Nas X, they can do it all while in heels.
Regardless of the controversy and assumptions that Lil Nas X memorializes Satanism, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” has achieved massive success, going number one on the Billboard 100 and receiving over 70 million streams on Spotify since its release.
With all of this conversation surrounding this song, it goes to show that “MONTERO” will go down as a historical moment in pop culture.