Lil Nas X went from nowhere to everywhere in 2019 when he released Old Town Road, the smash hit which instigated a debate about what constitutes a country music track these days.
His latest No.1 hit, Montero (Call Me By Your Name), has sent the US star stratospheric and caused even more of a stir than Old Town Road did two years ago, thanks to its accompanying video.
The clip, which sees the singer and rapper in an alternative queer universe and ends with him grinding on Satan, has been praised as a positive and essential new piece of queer representation – and naturally, some conservative groups are enraged.
In a few short years, the 22-year-old, who’s real name is Montero, has become a role model for young queer people around the world, helping thousands of young and emerging LGBTQ people feel truly seen.
He’s said that the title of ‘role model’ has led him to sometimes feel pressured, but let’s face it, without him even needing to try, Lil Nas is a role model anyway.
His fashion choices, social media memes, banging crossover tunes and incredible visuals, have made massive new gains for representation and helped shape a new queer icon.
Here are seven ways Lil Nas X became an LGBTQ icon...
First up, have you *seen* the Montero (Call Me By Your Name) video?
Only a few years ago, Ricky Martin was viewed as progressive for touching another man’s chest in a music video, and here we are in 2021, with Lil Nas X grinding on Satan in knee-high boots and sharing a same-sex kiss with a male snake in the Garden of Eden.
The Montero (Call Me By Your Name) video is a journey into a vibrant and subversive queer universe where, amongst other things, Lil Nas rides a stripper pole to hell. It’s totally fabulous and boy, has it riled some people up...
Fox News described it as “desperate and really pathetic”, so he must be doing something right.
But never mind all that: Nas, in his typically jovial manner, has brushed off criticism, and even celebrated the Fox News coverage.
“LETS FUCKIN GOOOO! WE MADE FOX NEWS!” he said in a tweet.
Montero (Call Me By Your Name) has proven no-one can stop queer people celebrating their identities
The homophobic backlash to the video by some socially conservative groups and individuals has lead Lil Nas to retweet jokes made by his fans about the video’s sexual content.
Fans have made memes responding to the outrage by embedding images from the video onto old fashioned bits of technology. The joke is that fans will find any way they can to watch the video now some outraged parents have banned it.
Despite his love for humour, there’s a limit to Nas’ ability to make jokes as the abuse piles in. He also recently tweeted saying his anxiety had heightened after the backlash from organisations and individuals.
He’s a queer fashion icon in the face of adversity and we can’t get enough
Recently, a musician called Pastor Troy criticised the way Lil Nas dressed in all pink, with a pink cowboy hat and pink jacket, saying he had an agenda to “take masculinity from men, Black men especially.”
But instead of rising to the abuse, Nas showed he was the bigger person by laughing off the insults. He replied saying, “Damn I look good in that pic” and well, Pastor Troy had nowhere to go.
And across the globe, pre-pandemic Nas was king of the red carpet, redefining men’s fashion by sporting some truly iconic looks…
He uses comedy to make gay sex relatable
“Old town road is literally about horses” tweeted Lil Nas shortly after coming out on the last day of Pride month in June 2020.
He was responding to a social media rumour that the “ride like I can’t no more” lyrics from the song were referring to riding something else entirely.
Rather than ignoring the jokes, Lil Nas sent out a crying face emoji-stuffed tweet in response.
By laughing off the rumours about the song rather than shying away from them, Lil Nas normalised conversations around gay sex.
He also talks about gay sex casually on Twitter all the time, which may not seem revolutionary, but then again, considering his fanbase of country music and rap fans have traditionally not always been the most open-minded, it is incredibly pioneering.
Here’s another tweet where he talks about wanting to date a UK guy...
He also tweeted his joy at getting a song about gay sex to the top of the charts recently, alongside a clip from Spongebob.
He came out at the top of his game
Nas came out as gay while Old Town Road was at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, which meant his message was sent far and wide, including throughout the rap and country music scenes.
He’s spoken in numerous interviews about how he’d previously prayed that he wouldn’t be gay earlier in his teens, but that he came to terms with his sexuality shortly after.
“I hope my actions are enough to inspire other young LGBTQ children coming up to not be afraid to be themselves,” he told Variety.
He’s been vocal about his mental health struggles
Earlier this year in a series of TikToks, the singer revealed how he’d had suicidal thoughts, and how he dealt with depression and hypochondria while at university.
But his musical rise has helped him overcome some of his demons.
“I started going to the doctor a lot in fear that I would die soon… hypochondria. In May 2018 I started making music. I was happy again!” he said on TikTok.
However, Lil Nas is still on his mental health journey. Recently he tweeted that he’s experienced increased anxiety due to the criticism of his Montero (Call Me Be Your Name) music video.
His musical output is progressive, uniting the country music and rap worlds with a queer perspective
Old Town Road was the country track that forced a re-evaluation of what country music stands for in modern times.
After its release, Billboard removed the song from their Hot Country songs chart, telling Rolling Stone magazine that “while Old Town Road incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
Culturally, however, the song was to be widely accepted as country music, even after Billboard had removed it from the Hot Country Songs chart. Billy Ray Cyrus became a featured vocalist on a remix in 2019, adding weight to the value of the song within the community.
In fact, Billboard’s hesitance to embrace the track instigated a wider conversation about racism within the country music community.
“A Black guy who raps come along and is on top of the country charts? It’s ‘What the fuck?’” Lil Nas told Teen Vogue.
In the same interview, he told of how the ban made him feel more accomplished. “The Billboard decision wasn’t bigger than the song,” he said. “Me being involved in something like that doesn’t make me feel bad. It makes me feel even more accomplished, in a way.”