Lil Nas X’s masterful use of the internet shows how to fight discrimination with astuteness, queerness and art historical references.
Within Sufism, the more spiritual branch of Islam, some sufis believe that at earlier stages people struggle with the world because they experience multiplicity. It is this same multiplicity that has been historically denied to us by society and is perfectly countered by Roxane Gay’s maxim - “I contain multitudes.”
No wonder then that it’s in embracing this multiplicity that young artists like Lil Nas X are finding themselves personally and artistically while inspiring others. His exploration of multiplicity started with the single “Old Town Road”, a country rap fusion song released in 2018 which a few months later in March 2019 featured a remix and video with country music veteran Billy Ray Cyrus.
This turned out to be a risky move given that country music culture is still largely anti-Black yet it proved a winning formula as it spent 19 weeks atop the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the longest-running number-one song since the chart debuted in 1958. All this at the tender age of 20 and as if that didn’t rip up enough rule books, on the last day of Pride that year, he came out to his 2.2 million Twitter followers. After having dealt with the racism of one music genre, he was ready to deal with the homophobia of another genre.
I contain multitudes.
His aptitude and astuteness at dealing with discrimination can also be attributed to how masterfully Lil Nas X uses the internet. And this was tested to new heights with his second history-making global hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. Released in March 2021 with an accompanying video, the single took the world by storm for its unabashed honesty in relation to his private life, sexuality and queerness. The lyrics of the song tell a personal story about falling for a boy and features explicit lyrics about gay sexuality as well as drug consumption. But it was the video that set the internet on fire. The highly produced video clip depicts a Lil Nas X in the Garden of Eden who then decides to swirl down the pole into hell to give the devil a lap dance eventually killing them and stealing their crown of horns.
No one had explored their own queerness so spectacularly before
There were other mainstream hip hop artists who came out before him such as iLoveMakonnen and Frank Ocean, but no one had explored their queerness so unashamedly and frankly, so spectacularly. Lil Nas X didn’t wait for a role model to inspire him – he became his own controversially hyphenated role model. The video was fearless to the core, getting up and close with his demons of shame through multiple religious, philosophical and art historical references which gave him the strength to face other demons in the form of accusations of sacrilege and devil worship by prominent conservative and Christian figures.
As the epitome of Gen Z, Lil Nas X used the internet not only to promote his music and video but to also shut down his critics such as Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota who Tweeted that his Satan Shoes were not okay. This type of multiplicity can also be seen with the artist he collaborated with on the single Rodeo - Cardi B, who one day has her WAP Grammy’s performance derided as pornographic, while on another day she is talking to the POTUS about the most pressing issues of our age. Lil Nas X grew up with the internet, he understands its nuanced visual and written languages and potential. It was while running Nicky Minaj stan accounts that he perfected his quick wit and virtuosity that led him to create one hundred memes on TikTok to make sure his single went viral.
Lil Nas X uses the internet to face criticism
Lil Nas X recognized that when we conquer our (collective) fears we open the door for many more to conquer theirs. And this can be seen in how across the globe people of all sexual orientations sang along to his track, and made countless memes. For the first time a mainstream gay pop star was receiving the love that before was only usually reserved to a Britney or a Beyonce.
“Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” topped the charts in several countries and made it to top 3 on the (youth-led) Spotify charts in Morocco, a muslim majority country, despite bearing the lyrics “cocaine and drinkin’ with your friends”. Although when thinking about how multiplicity is inherent to the internet age, it wasn’t despite these lyrics but because of them. Lil Nas X is teaching the world to embrace itself with all its contradictions or should I say - multiplicity. As well as signaling that this world is indeed much more ready to embrace progress than we perhaps thought.
June is #PRIDEMONTH: The month exemplifies the society we want to live in and demand all year round. That means LGBTQIA+ rights, queer visibility and acceptance. We take this as an opportunity to focus on current debates and positions of the queer community on SCHIRN MAG.