Lil Nas X, MSCHF spark public outcry with new music videos

Lil+Was+X%27s+new+song%2C+%22MONTERO+%28Call+Me+By+Your+Name%29%2C+and+accompanying+video%2C+has+set+a+blaze+of+controversy+online.+Photo+via+Flickr

Photo by DEREK GREEN

Lil Was X’s new song, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), and accompanying video, has set a blaze of controversy online. Photo via Flickr

Being sexually evocative is nothing new in music. Some of the biggest stars in the world like Madonna and The Weeknd have defined the most acclaimed moments in their career using sex to help fuel their artistic vision. But when it comes to the gay music scene, these moments are few and far between. When Madonna was popular, the LGBTQ icons were limited to Freddie Mercury and Elton John. And while these two were some of the most revered and consummate performers of the 20th century, only in very select situations were they able to show the world who they truly were due to the intense backlash they received, such as in Queen’s “I Want To Break Free” music video.

In 2021 however, several notable LGBT artists used their sexual identity as a new lens through which to make music, such as Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean and Lady Gaga. All of these artists have taken their unique experiences and tooled them to their advantage by detailing them in music. But recently, one gay artist has taken his self-expression to a whole new level. This self-expression has taken the form of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), Lil Was X’s new song and accompanying video that’s set off a blaze of controversy online.

The video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” named after Lil Nas X’s legal name, Montero Lamar Hill, and referencing Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s critically praised LGBT drama “Call Me by Your Name,” the internet exploded over the video’s provocative visuals and Satanic imagery. This release came paired with that of a collaborative Nike Air Max 97 between Lil Nas X and Brooklyn art collective MSCHF March 29. The shoe caused an uproar due to its pentagram chains on both shoes, upside down cross adorned on the tongue, and the fact that the shoe was being limited to 666 pairs. Many were also up in arms due to reports that the shoe’s sole bubbles were filled with 2.03 fluid ounces of red ink and reportedly “one drop” of human blood. 

This was not an altogether shocking move for MSCHF, who previously released the Air Max 97 “Jesus Shoes,”  which followed a similar concept to the “Satan Shoes” by filling its air bubble in the sole with water from the River Jordan blessed by a Brooklyn priest. The shoe also featured metal crucifixes on each tongue and “MT. 14:25” embroidered on the toe, a reference to Matthew 14:25, which reads: Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake,” a nod to the wearers of the shoe “walking on water.” Embroided letters were also added on the “Satan Shoes,” with the words”Luke 10:18″ stitched onto the heel, which says “he replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” 

One group that was particularly not a fan of the “Satan Shoes” was Nike. Many have mistakenly criticized Nike since the announcement of the shoes, forcing Nike to announce they had no involvement in the making of the shoe. “We do not have a relationship with Little Nas X or MSCHF, Nike did not design or release these shoes and we do not endorse them,” 

Nike took it a step further this week by saying it was filing a lawsuit against MSCHF for trademark infringement for using it’s Air Ma, and on Thursday, a judge ruled MSCHF must, at least temporarily, stop fulfilling orders for the “Satan Shoes.”

But besides the bizarre saga between Nike, Lil Nas X and MSCHF, Lil Nas X’s video for “MONTERO” is it’s own separate experience. Taking futuristic sci-fi themes and meshing them with Biblical imagery, “MONTERO” is visually stunning. The technicals of the video’s production, and the extensive use of makeup and CGI being immensely impressive, with the latter being creatively used to create the environment of the video. And true to being like his provocateur predecessor Madonna, the video is also incredibly sexually explicit, with so much physical debauchery going on it’s amazing it was cleared for public viewing.

With that being said, let’s get to the standout moment of the video: the Satanic lap dance. Many people have criticized the visuals of Lil Nas X dancing suggestively on Satan’s lap while scantily clad as not only over the top, but as blasphemous and (surprise, surprise) satanic. And to be fair, those people aren’t wrong, but they are also being trolled. Lil Nas X is employing the same tactics Eminem employed back in the early 2000s: get as much shock, awe and attention as possible by saying and doing things that the public doesn’t like, which will in turn rile them up and increase publicity. When Eminem performed with Elton John at the Grammy’s to prove he wasn’t a homophobe and then flipped the crowd off, he was intentionally playing the villain for an audience around that world that did not like him.

Lil Nas X is doing the same thing with the anti-LGBT conservative crowd with the “MONTERO” video and the “Satan Shoes”. In fact, Lil Nas X had an altercation with South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, with Noem responding to the “Satan Shoes” by tweeting “Our kids are being told that this kind of product is, not only okay, it’s “exclusive.” But do you know what’s more exclusive? Their God-given eternal soul. We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win.”

Lil Nas X responded by tweeting “ur a whole governor and u on here tweeting about some damn shoes. do ur job!”

And this sort of dismissal of authority (again, much like Eminem did when he went after the Bush administration), is exactly the kind of tone “MONTERO” and Lil Nas X are trying to display. Lil Nas X has said that “MONTERO” was meant to be an expression of his liberty of sexuality and heavily drew from the song’s namesake, the film “Call Me By Your Name.”

“That was one of the first gay films that I had watched, and I thought the theme was so dope, of calling somebody by your own name,” Lil Nas X said.

With that context and the lyrics, the video is suddenly turned into a harsh rebuke at the world. Following the Vatican’s recent statements that the Catholic Church could not bless gay marriage, all the perverted Biblical imagery seems like the response of a man tired of the world around him hating him for who he is. While some critiques from the religious community are not necessarily unfounded nor incorrect, there is something commendable and even brave about what Lil Nas X is doing. Is it hard to watch? Absolutely. It’s in your face, gaudy, flamboyant and abrasive: exactly the way Lil Nas X wanted it to be.

This story was written by Ryan Lynch. He can be reached at ryan.p.lynch@marquette.edu.