If one mentions "Satan shoes" in conversation, there’s a good chance that you’d think of Lil Nas X’s inflammatory marketing tactic to promote “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” 666 pairs of these scandalous shoes were produced, leading to criticism from pastors, praise from the Church of Satan, and a Nike lawsuit, but it got the job done: “MONTERO” became the fledgling pop star's second number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. He used the media attention it garnered to promote his third single “INDUSTRY BABY” with Jack Harlow, which peaked at number two.
It’s easy to dismiss Lil Nas X, born Montero Lamar Hill, as an attention–seeking artist who relies on novelty to succeed. After all, “Old Town Road” rode off of the “Yeehaw Agenda” meme and TikTok virality to spend 19 weeks at the top of the Hot 100. Doing so, however, discredits the marketing genius behind the rollout of his debut album, the self–titled MONTERO. The way the 22–year–old artist is able to command pop culture to listen to him is unprecedented and uncommon even in our media–dominated world of today.
It’s important to note that aside from “Old Town Road” and his recent string of hits, Hill is still a relative newcomer in the music industry. His debut EP, 7, failed to captivate critics despite being nominated for Album of the Year at the 2020 Grammys. Pitted against big artists such as Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, etc., Hill needed to stand out, so he turned to what he knew best: the internet. Being a former Internet personality and owner of a popular Twitter account taught him well because he knows how to keep people talking about him.
Case in point arrives at ”MONTERO,” the album’s lead single. After coming out in 2019, Hill has not been afraid to embrace his queerness—in the music video of the song, he did just that. The clip was a visual journey filled with both Biblical and provocative imagery, but most notably, a pole dance to hell and a lap dance on a CGI Satan. As one can imagine, this scene sparked controversy, just as it was designed to do, in the weeks following the premiere of the video.
Some praised the video’s “unabashed queerness,” as Rolling Stone put it, but others criticized the blatant Satanic imagery. Whichever side people were on, it drew attention to the song, and combined with the Satanic shoes controversy, all the talk helped catapult the song to the top of the charts. As of now, “MONTERO” is still a top 10 hit on the Hot 100, indicating its long shelf–life because of the controversies. It’s clear that Hill knows how to draw attention to himself, and it certainly helps that “MONTERO” is simply a great song in the musical sense.
Hill is also a master at spinning whatever is thrown at him in his favor. After Nike sued him over the aforementioned Satan shoes, Hill was preparing to release his third single, “INDUSTRY BABY.” In mid–July, he posted a cryptic TikTok claiming he had a court hearing date for the Nike shoes lawsuit, despite the lawsuit being settled three months earlier. Later, we found out that the “court hearing” was simply a part of the concept for the music video, which involved Hill “going to prison” for the Satan shoes.
What generated the most buzz, however, was the nude shower dance sequence, reigniting sexuality discourse on Twitter. In the very queer–positive music video, he used both the shower scene and the tongue–in–cheek joke of being in prison for being gay to demonstrate his defiance against the norms and the haters. In addition to “INDUSTRY BABY,” Hill has also done a parody of the iconic Marvel Studios movie introduction for his album trailer, collaborated with brands such as Taco Bell and Adobe, and heavily used TikTok to promote his songs and better connect with audiences. His ability to adapt and play with the cards in his hand can make even the savviest businessman jealous.
In the final leg of promotion, the pop star posted faux pictures of himself pregnant with the album, even throwing himself a “baby shower.” The novelty of the album being his “baby” is a fun concept, and Hill did create a “baby registry” raising money for LGBTQ+ charities, but some criticized the insensitivity of a cisgender man pretending to be pregnant. He even went so far as doing a skit where he had contractions and gave birth with the album. Yet, Hill’s pregnancy is the crown jewel of MONTERO’s promotion, another example of the young provocateur’s ability to spin controversy in his favor.
This type of marketing does not come without drawbacks, however. MONTERO as an album explores themes of vulnerability and embracing queerness. We hear Hill at his most earnest, which you would not have gotten if you simply looked at the singles and their controversies. Singles and pre–album promotions are meant to be a representation of what the album is supposed to be—a sampler of what Hill envisioned for his project. With the exception of “SUN GOES DOWN,” where Hill talks about his struggles of being a gay teen, “MONTERO” and “INDUSTRY BABY” showcase his sincerity in causing controversy.
A casual listener might see the negative press surrounding the two singles and hesitate to listen to the album beyond face value. Some may feel uncomfortable listening to an artist who made a joke out of pregnancy as a cheap tactic to promote his album. And of course, let’s not forget that the entire album promotion will turn off any potential homophobic listeners that liked “Old Town Road,” simply because of Hill’s unapologetic attitude towards his queerness. While his singles proved to be more successful, MONTERO debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 albums chart, placing behind Drake, a more established artist. One could argue that all the shock value Hill advertised culminated into a lackluster debut.
Even so, MONTERO has been met with glowing reviews with an 85 aggregate score on Metacritic. Hill showcases depth and sincerity, portraying the struggles, hopes, and fears of being queer and providing a voice for LGBTQ+ audiences not only in hip–hop but in music in general. With MONTERO, Hill proved to the world that he’s no longer just the “Old Town Road” guy or a one–hit—wonder, but a thriving artist with a clear vision, sharp musicality, and savvy marketing.