Lil Nas X released the music video to his song Montero (Call Me By Your Name), and it has set social media aflame. The lyrics themselves are not what is causing the uproar but rather the visuals that accompany them. If you have yet to watch, then prepare to be surprised one way or another. The religious symbology coupled with themes of homosexuality is what is causing much of the uproar. However, the message that is delivered is more than just for shock value. As stated before, it is a long-overdue moment for this community. As stated by Adam B. Vary of the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t think it’s possible for me, a 41-year-old gay man, to overstate just how monumental it was to see a 21-year-old gay man express his sexuality on exactly the same terms — and at the same level of fame, success and media attention — his straight counterparts have enjoyed for decades.” Social media and much of modern pop culture are aware and mostly accepting of the gay community. Speaking out against bigotry so openly as a gay black man on a platform as big as his is what many have a hard time coming to terms with.
The video opens up with a short monologue about concealing the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. The camera soars through clouds to what appears to be an ancient Greek oasis. The monologue ends with “but here we don’t…welcome to Montero”. It is the rapper’s birth name, Montero Lamar Hill, and is an introduction in a sense to his true self. We see the rapper beneath a tree strumming a guitar as a serpent slithers towards him. The scene is reminiscent of Eve and the original sin. While snakes can already be regarded as a phallic symbol, this one takes it further. Lil Nas X runs away, but everywhere he turns, the snake can be seen: the trees, the flowers, and clouds. Eventually, it catches up to him, and he gives in. This can be interpreted as representing the grapple with his sexuality since the rapper came out on Twitter during the last day of pride in 2019.
The next scene shows Lil Nas X as a prisoner scantily clad with pink fur and a matching wig, escorted by his counterparts clad in denim suits and blue wigs. Everyone present has an elaborate scheme to them donning makeup and long nails. He sits in the middle of this council, all sporting the same outfit and similar expressions of disgust, shock, and judgment. It is apparent that whatever case he is pleading is not being heard, and it turns out they are not alone. In fact, they’re in a coliseum surrounded by beings made of stone which are outraged, so much so that they begin to throw things at him, among them a purple princess plug. Most interesting is that so far, all the characters we have been presented with are all Lil Nas X himself, from the snake to the statues. Though it can be thought of as society condemning him over his orientation, perhaps it could be the inner struggle he faces. Those in blue represent his masculinity, and pink represents femininity.
After being hit with the plug, we see his ascent through the clouds as an angel floats above him, and he appears to be ready to enter Heaven. Suddenly, a pole shoots out from beneath him, and he grasps it in one hand to begin his descent to Hell. The threat of an eternity in damnation is a rampant theme in the religious community, specifically when it comes to those who are gay. Another outfit change, and this one is a personal favorite: red braids, Calvin Klein boxers, and thigh-high vinyl black boots. The rapper is seen spinning down the pole in stripper-esque fashion, landing in the domain of the Devil. He approaches the kingdom and meets Satan, who is sitting on his throne. The floors beneath them are ablaze with lava and a Latin inscription “Damnant quod non intelligunt” meaning “they condemn what they do not understand.” It calls out the community’s criticism not only from those in religion but even so-called family and friends. Lil Nas X proceeds to give Satan quite the lap dance and ends it with snapping his neck and stealing the horns for himself, which then transforms him. This final scene suggests he is embracing that “damnation” and will play the Devil’s role if that’s the case.
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