Since the song's initial release earlier this year, Lil Nas X's accompanying music video to 'Montero (Call Me By Your Name)' has caused a significant buzz online amongst conservative groups who have condemned the song's messaging and the video's visual content. While many fans backed the artist's creative vision, others call for a ban of the music and video.
Many LGBT+ members have praised the video's storytelling and message, calling Lil Nas X a hero for using his platform to create music that advocates for a vulnerable group.
What's so controversial about the video?
The video opens up with a futuristic portrayal of the Garden of Eden. Lil Nas X appears as an alien figure, sitting in the garden and singing with a sense of melancholy, as a snake coils around a tree behind him. As the video progresses, his character encounters other figures in this fantasy world that he engages with suggestively.
The end of the video concludes with Lil Nas X's character dancing provocatively with what's assumed as Satan before cracking his neck and taking the throne of evil for himself.
The video combines stunning aesthetics with the spiritual narrative that remains central to many religious beliefs: The Story of Creation. This unique rendition of the biblical story highlights a range of themes, including sexuality, temptation, judgement, and self-realisation.
The unconventional take on the religious creation story has led many conservative religious groups to denounce the video and Lil Nas X as an artist. These groups have called for a ban on the song and its messaging, as they believe it is potentially damaging and offensive to their beliefs and image.
What elements of the video stand out most?
In the video, Lil Nas X's character resembles a Hollywood-style, intergalactic alien, who starts his singing next to a giant snake. His character likely mirrors feelings of alienation that some members of the LGBT+ community experience when coming to terms with their sexuality.
The snake that slivers behind his character most likely represents the original snake of temptation that taunts Adam and Eve with tasting the forbidden fruits in the garden. The video could be interpreted as demonstrating potential feelings of loneliness mixed with the guilt that comes with behaviours that are labelled as 'sinful'.
Later on in the video, Lil Nas X's character is confined in chains, potentially representing how LGBT+ members feel when trying to understand themselves, seeking comfort from others, and trying to remain true to themselves during a confusing time.
Near the end, Lil Nas X's character is shown dancing with the devil. It appears the message of the video has come full-circle, having gone through the rounds of debating how to act or feel about one's self and finally realising that those feelings can't be changed or denied.
The last scene then shows Lil Nas X taking the departed devil's horns and placing them on his own head, possibly a symbol of self-acceptance and personal victory. Not only is Lil Nas X displaying how the battle has come to an end, but he's signalling that he is finally accepting himself, even if that means being labelled as satanic or sinful.
What message is Lil Nas X trying to convey?
The video emphasises the tumultuous relationship between the LGBT+ community and conservative groups. The battle of spiritual beliefs and fundamental freedoms has persisted for decades, creating a social rift that has seen numerous LGBT+ members leave church communities or be excommunicated by family due to their sexual orientation.
However, the video goes beyond a traditional disagreement and instead aims to exemplify how the LGBT+ community feels they are being labelled and stereotyped by their conservative counterparts. Having been targeted with names such as 'sinful,' 'evil,' and 'devilish,' the LGBT+ community has felt the brunt of extreme discrimination, and as Lil Nas X showed, social alienation.
"Lil Nas X's video carried an important message, and that message was to normalise queerness."
Lil Nas X wasn't shy to back away from claims that he's trying to push a heavy-handed agenda and was quick to verify that his video did indeed carry an important message, and that message was to normalise queerness. Lil Nas X has been open about his struggles with coming out to his peers and loved ones and wanted to create a video that told the story of sexual and gender realisation. He said, "I feel like we've come to a time in music where everything is nice and nothing is really cutting edge or starting conversations anymore," and starting that conversation is what he has accomplished with the Montero video.
Lil Nas X's video mimics the harmful stigmas surrounding the LGBT+ community and places them into a compelling, visual art form. The video focuses on more than just the differences in beliefs and lifestyle. Instead, it brings to life the perceptions and feelings of disgrace that has regularly been projected on the LGBT+ community for their preferences and identity.
Further, audiences can interpret the video to be showing the irony of the labels that many conservative religious groups have been framing LGBT+ lives with throughout modern history. These groups have condemned LGBT+ identities as 'sin', and now the same groups have reacted with shock to a depiction of their beliefs.
Who has said what?
In conjunction with releasing the video, the musician also released Satan-inspired shoes to collaborate with his video's theme. Conservatives were quick to call out the move as 'demonic' on social media. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem criticised the campaign, noting religious beliefs as a counterclaim.
Conservative author Candace Owens also condemned Lil Nas X's Satan-themed products and video, ignoring the video's significance in advocating for LGBT+ issues.
Others have praised the video's portrayal of Lil Nas X's character video for overcoming the challenges presented throughout the storyline. David Harris, the magister for the Church of Satan, surprisingly enjoyed the video's interpretation of Satan and applauded Lil Nas X's take on modern, demonic themes. He notes that, despite the name, the Church of Satan does not actually worship the traditional form of Satan but instead encourages self-realisation.
How the Montero video promotes the rights of the LGBT+ community
Some will argue that the video isn't in good taste or the messaging is too political. However, the video itself has, so far, already fulfilled the initial goal that Lil Nas X set out for it to achieve, and that was to get people talking about the issue of out-casting the LGBT+ community. Although the video is open for debate, and Lil Nas X added elements of dramatisation to his video, the message appears clear in terms of how conservative groups can move forward, reduce judgments, and practice tolerance, amongst others.
Furthermore, the 'Montero' video also explores the relationship between being both black and LGBT+. With racial tensions in the US and the low number of openly gay members in the hip hop community, Lil Nas X was determined to incorporate these two elements as the core of the video's message. Lil Nas X was hoping to challenge the status quo and acknowledge a problem that many find themselves facing when attempting to understand how their race intersects with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
"The rapper acknowledged the repressive, religious doctrines relevant to many Black church communities and within greater society as a whole."
Lil Naz X has responded to the criticism of his video by stating, "I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of [what you all] preached would happen to me because I was gay. So I hope [you] are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves."
Ultimately, the video is an art form that portrays a personal message Lil Nas X chose to share publicly. Having first-hand experience with discrimination before coming out, Lil Nas X created the video with exceptional detail, hoping to relate to others struggling similarly.
Not watched the video yet? Watch it below and let us know your thoughts.
For more articles and resources on these topics, head to our dedicated LGBTQ+ Rights & Issues section.