By Sarah Nicell || Layout Assistant
One year ago, the image of a queer, formerly-bedazzled cowboy twirling down a stripper pole into Hell was a foreign concept, but Montero Lamar Hill (better known as Lil Nas X) has brought this dreamscape into reality. The music video for his new song “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” has stirred up backlash from conservatives and Christians due to its sexualization of the underworld and the devil. But let’s be honest — who wouldn’t be intrigued by a video featuring the singer behind the record-breaking track “Old Town Road” giving Satan a lap dance?
The video’s controversy stems from its supposed glorification of Hell, a destination Christian theology posits is characterized by unimaginable suffering. Many assumptions have been made regarding Lil Nas X’s intentions with the song, however, such as wanting to promote satanism and other sacrilegious behaviors. These theories about the artist have caused a moral panic among the older generation, who have reacted with exaggerated and ignorant claims that young people have strayed from God.
However, I contend that these criticisms of “MONTERO” are unfounded because Lil Nas X has the absolute right to 1) reject the norms and unequal treatment of “respectable” versus “disobedient” gay Black men and 2) combat the condemnation of the LGBTQ+ community by Christian institutions.
To address my first point, our society has a huge problem with making strict distinctions about what is appropriate for historically marginalized groups, specifically Black populations. There are expectations for what makes a “respectful” gay Black man, and perhaps this standard is what Christian parents held Lil Nas X to after his hit “Old Town Road.” He performed a fun song in a cowboy getup that left kids and adults alike singing and dancing in their cars all summer. The very excitement surrounding the song yielded the assumption that it was family-friendly (I suppose conservatives didn’t catch the “bull riding and boobies” line). People assumed Lil Nas X to be straight and idolized his collaboration with Billy Ray Cyrus, the archetype for the straight white Southern man. Lil Nas X met the acceptable standard for a Black man in America: he was funny, new, and catchy, and white people thought that he was making music for their entertainment. Hence, he was deemed acceptable and celebrated for his success.
Things changed when the artist began to defy these stereotypes. His coming out received mixed reactions, as those unaccustomed to having LGBTQ+ role models did not anticipate a rising Black rapper to be attracted to men. In the rap community, being queer is considered especially taboo, and Lil Nas X’s experience was no different.
The backlash was especially prominent from religious communities, an experience not unique to the Georgian singer. Almost every gay person knows the feeling of being told that they will go to Hell along with murderers, rapists, thieves. It is a truly awful thing to condemn a person to the worst place they can possibly imagine, and that pain stays with them forever.
After being told to go to Hell for years, Lil Nas X finally did — and he performed a hell of a pole dance on the way down.
This leads to my second point: Lil Nas X simply takes the disgusting advice of religious figures throughout our history: Go to Hell. He uses those words that have been thrown at queer people for hundreds of years and takes them quite literally, a reclamation that leaves Christians, the very group that has persecuted the LGBTQ+ community for centuries, aghast. Why? Don’t they want the gays to burn in Hell? And if they do, why can’t they look fabulous while doing it?
If the very people who have a problem with the glamourization of the underworld also have failed to stand up for the LGBTQ+ community, their view is not only homophobic but incredibly hypocritical. Hateful individuals want beautiful people to go to Hell, but they don’t want them to look beautiful while there. They believe overtly sexual behavior is sinful, but when it is featured at the throne of Satan, the most sinful place in existence, they think it is inappropriate.
People love a gay Black man when he caters to heterosexual white society, but they riot when he defends himself.
If that’s not good enough for you, please remember that Lil Nas X murders Satan at the end of the music video and takes his place. I have never been to Hell, Christians, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t want a hot gay man on the throne. If the homophobes are right, perhaps I will see him there.
First-year Sarah Nicell is a Layout Assistant. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.