Lil Nas X is back and better than ever. His newest song "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" became an instant hit, quickly climbing to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Much of the song’s popularity is intertwined with the controversy over Lil Nas X’s music video that's sparked sensationalized arguments—from priests to politicians.
The most contentious aspect of his music video is his use of Satanic iconography to contend prejudice traditions embedded within religious institutions. As a Black gay man, Lil Nas X felt vilified by the Christian narrative, and he utilized his platform to make a statement about accepting one's true self, rather than hiding out of fear of eternal damnation. Though many Church–goers applauded the rapper for his progressive efforts, many traditionalists sought to discredit Lil Nas X and prevent him from influencing the children of America. Are conservatives right to feel threatened by the rapper's latest hit? Or is the controversy completely blown out of proportion?
In his music video, Lil Nas X incorporates biblical and classical iconography to criticize homophobic Christian rhetoric and the demonization of the LGBTQ community. Lil Nas X highlights the Catholic Church’s vilification of sexuality in the story of original sin. But in his reinterpretation of the classic myth, the rapper weaves a new narrative.
The "MONTERO" music video begins with a sexual encounter between Lil Nas X (it’s unclear whether he is meant to represent Adam or Eve) and the ambiguously gendered snake–devil in the Garden of Eden. Next, the video makes several references to Greco–Roman antiquity, including an inscription from Plato’s Symposium on the Tree of Life, which describes the myth of the first humans being split apart by Zeus, forever in search of their other half, suggesting humanity’s inherent homosexuality. Then, Lil Nas X is imprisoned and publicly disgraced in the Colosseum, which exemplifies the traditional values of the patriarchy; if you stray from the 'norm' of acceptable sexuality, you're shamed.
After his trials in life, our protagonist is saved in the afterlife. But as Lil Nas X begins his ascent to heaven, he suddenly changes course, instead embarking on a thrilling ride down to the depths of hell via a stripper’s pole, willingly accepting an eternal damnation that Christianity has prescribed to nonconforming sexual orientations.
Many religious institutions, including Christianity, use hell as the ultimate threat for bad behavior in this life. But rather than trying to avoid this outcome, Lil Nas X’s character relishes in it, treating the devil to a lap dance on his throne. While in hell, we are greeted by another Greek inscription, which translates to “They condemn what they do not understand.”
The way Lil Nas X embraces the devil not only puts him in direct opposition with the Church, but with the majority of American society as well. In tandem with Lil Nas X’s release of "MONTERO," his limited edition “Satan Shoes” received much backlash. For example, Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, claimed Lil Nas X's alleged Satanism threatens the very “soul of the nation"—which further calls so–called "American values" into question. Is the South Dakota governor actually afraid of the rapper's Satanic references, or rather his embracement of his sexuality and race? Is she suggesting the soul of the nation is homophobic at heart? Nonetheless, comments like this didn’t stop the exclusive 666 pairs of shoes from selling out in less than a minute.
Many vocal opponents to Lil Nas X’s Satan Shoes and "MONTERO" music video were especially offended that he promoted anti–Christian rhetoric during Holy Week—the week before Easter. But that was precisely the point. His timing made the music video a complete contrast to the religious mood of the moment. The entire controversy over the rapper’s use of Satanic iconography is only giving him more attention. Though the "MONTERO" music video premiered on March 26, it already has north of 150 million views.
Another popular criticism of Lil Nas X’s music video is the way explicit content drives the plot. Many Twitter users, from politicians to parents, have weighed in on the debate over "MONTERO’s" vulgarity. Vehement Twitter wars are still raging in attempt to 'protect' children from seeing Lil Nas X's sexual content.
In response, fans of the artist cheekily tweeted:
But is the video's content the real reason for this heated controversy? Why are conservative governors and parents who had no idea who Lil Nas X was prior to "MONTERO" suddenly picking up the digital pitchforks, leading a witch hunt against this rapper in particular, and not every other sexually explicit artist on the top charts? How come Lady Gaga’s “Judas” wasn’t greeted with as many accusations of blasphemy, or Kanye West’s song “I Am a God”?
Lil Nas X’s music video for "MONTERO" threatens patriarchal values because the idea of the gay man completely undermines our societal investment in gender roles. Christianity, historically, has relied heavily on the dominant male figure to remain in power. Anyone who deviates from accepted norms, whether they're a man or woman, poses a threat to the system in place. But when women are demonized for sexual promiscuity, oftentimes as seductresses or witches, their depictions are still written in the context of the straight male narrative—a fetishized fantasy of female sexual power. That’s why American consumers eat up images of hyper–sexualized female pop stars, even if their music suggests anti–Christian motifs.
On the contrary, the idea of the homosexual man is outright frightening to a misogynistic institution. The patriarchy of the present is terrified of being emasculated. And in the eyes of a heterosexual cisgender male–dominated world, anything that contradicts the domineering male gender roles cripples the patriarchy. So to preserve the face of the Heavenly Father and Son, homosexuality has time and time again been associated with the devil.
What Lil Nas X is trying to demonstrate is that within the Christian narrative, there is little room for liberated LGBTQIA individuals, or women, for that matter. There are only two options: Hide who you are to please a patriarchal God, or embrace your individuality and join sides with His opponent, Satan. Living becomes an ongoing endeavor to find one's place within the limitations of this heterosexual male–written narrative. Many people who fall within the contentious lines of unaccepted sexual orientations still consider themselves devout Christians, or decidedly not Satanists. But for some artists seeking to disrupt harmful religious conformity, the devil, at least aesthetically, is the preferred choice.
"MONTERO" is not simply a slap in the Church's face, nor a pornographic music video. It's one man’s journey toward self–acceptance and self–actualization, a reflection of the human spirit in the face of subordination. It's about looking in the mirror and being unafraid of the person staring back at you, unafraid of who you are. Maybe that’s why the rapper’s song is titled with his real name.