You already know about the latest controversy around Lil Nas X. No, not the homophobia he faced when coming out in 2019. Not the debate around whether or not his hit song "Old Town Road" counts as country music. Not his shocking Halloween costume that drew the ire of fellow rapper 50 Cent. No, this time the controversy is about his latest hit song and the accompanying music video, where Lil Nas X gives Satan a lapdance.
The 21-year-old rapper has been a household name for only two years, yet he's been the topic of enough discussion to last an entire career. The funny thing is, he knows exactly what he's doing.
The latest debate is about his song "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" and its music video. The lyrics of the song make explicit sexual references to gay sex, and the video shows the rapper riding a stripper pole from heaven straight down to hell to seduce Satan himself. Naturally, plenty of people had things to say about this, from pastors to senators to pundits.
This backlash eventually resulted in the rapper having to cancel his upcoming shoe deal based on the music video, which was another large part of the criticism he faced. The shoes were custom Nikes with a drop of human blood in the sole. Nike was quick to sue MSCHF for designing the shoes, despite previously allowing shoes with holy water in them, in an attempt to protect the Nike brand.
Still, the reactions from popular, white conservatives on social media didn't surprise or even sadden me. I expected that. But what I didn't plan for was how fellow Black folk were going to respond.
Homosexuality in the larger Black community in the U.S. has always been a tough topic to talk about. The Black church, though an important part of our history as a people, is not perfect. In it, we can find plenty of bad habits and beliefs that linger on today, namely, homophobia and a legacy of ignoring the plights of LGBTQ Black folk. So when Lil Nas X makes a video showcasing his pride as a gay Black man through use of Christian imagery, there's going to be fallout.
There were claims that he was an industry plant meant to influence children, that he was doomed to go to hell and he was harming the image of the Black community. Thankfully, these claims were drowned out by the overwhelming support for the rapper, but the amount of people rallying against him over a simple music video and pair of shoes shouldn't be ignored.
The video makes a simple metaphor with its visuals. In Heaven, Lil Nas X kisses another man. This so-called sin leads to a trial wherein he smiles as he is forced to go to hell. He's telling his audience that he's fine with going to hell for being gay, if it means he gets to accept himself. This is a response to the common Christian belief that being gay means you go to hell in the afterlife, which is a common belief especially in Black Christianity. Though some of the responses from fellow Black folk are disappointing, I should've expected it.
And there's still the crowd of people saying this is inappropriate of Lil Nas X because he has a young following. Rapper Joyner Lucas, famed for his song and music video "I'm Not Racist," claimed that "Old Town Road" had a largely adolescent fanbase, and that this latest song would be inappropriate for those fans. In response to this classic "think of the children" line, Lil Nas X recently tweeted that he referenced illicit drugs and adultery in his first hit single. He argued it's ultimately a parent's responsibility to control what their children listen to.
So at the end of the day, Lil Nas X angered members of the Black church, fellow rappers, parents, Christians, conservative pundits and many more. And yet, he still came out on top.
His latest song is already topping charts, he's cementing his status as a celebrity with how many headlines he's making and he hasn't had to change himself a bit.
While this is stellar marketing — no such thing as bad publicity — I hesitate to ascribe it all as an effort to get eyes on him. I see a young, gay Black man who chooses to live without reservation, who freely creates the art he wants to make. That alone will anger people, whether or not he would change his image to satisfy detractors. He's fine going to hell, metaphorically or otherwise, so long as he gets to be himself.