Despite criticism, Lil Nas X assumes his rightful throne

The “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” rapper descends into hell in his new music video but has ascended to stardom in the music industry.

By Anna Kochman

Picture this: Lil Nas X, rapper and social media sensation, slides down a pole into a glamorous, hypersexual version of hell as Fox News pundits watch in horror.

That’s the power of his new single and music video, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” which features the rapper twerking in Satan’s lap.

“MONTERO” itself is a poppy hip hop ode to a former love. It’s sweet, catchy and overtly gay, which is nearly unheard of in the hip hop scene. The music video, by contrast, subverts traditional Christian themes like the Garden of Eden and original sin with sensual, stylized imagery. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on March 26 and has been smashing records and drawing criticism ever since.

But it hasn’t always been this easy. After working ceaselessly to promote his debut single “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X rose to fame like a phoenix from the ashes of homophobia, racism and widespread criticism. It would have been easy to quit making music amid the backlash.

Instead, Lil Nas X weaponized conservative hatred, turning it into a social media machine that garnered followers and streams. Take, for example, social media reactions to “MONTERO.” Far-right online personality Kaitlin Bennett engaged with Lil Nas X on Twitter after the music video’s release, asking him “Do you still see your dad?” Lil Nas X, not to be outdone by her racist comment, responded with “Yep and i might f--- yours.”

Known for his witty, personable online presence, Lil Nas X is not one to lose a Twitter fight. After the release of “MONTERO,” he also responded to online hate from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and conservative political commentator Candace Owens.

He cultivates an obsessive following from both his loyal fandom and from conservatives who can’t seem to stop talking about him. The genius of the rapper’s social media machine is that it gets its fuel from its biggest critics, raking in comments and quote tweets from naysayers who unwittingly boost Lil Nas X’s posts by engaging with them.

Where has this taken him? Well, to the very top of the rap world and the music industry. The rapper celebrated his 22nd birthday Friday as his single sat atop the global Spotify chart, calling on fans to “walk outside at 3pm est and twerk to montero” on Twitter. He continues to capitalize on the success of “MONTERO” with the release of highly controversial “Satan Shoes” and a browser game called “Twerk Hero,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Even "Saturday Night Live" caught on with a skit poking fun at the music video.

Though Lil Nas X has yet to even release a full album, he’s basking in the glory of fame and fandom. And let’s be clear: he deserves it. Though his presence on Twitter indicates that he’s not offended by hate, racism and homophobia, no 22-year-old should have to deal with the sheer amount of hatred he’s received. While promotional materials like “Twerk Hero” might be irreverent, they don’t call for personal attacks on Lil Nas X.

At the heart of Lil Nas X’s Twitter discourse is a real, genuine personality that hasn’t been marred by fame. Alongside the release of “MONTERO,” Lil Nas X posted a letter to his younger self, Montero Hill — his real name.

“[P]eople will be angry, they will say i’m pushing an agenda. but the truth is, i am. the agenda to make people stay the f--- out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be,” reads the post. Lil Nas X foresaw the backlash that would arise from his song, but saw the necessity of releasing it anyway — and he’s checking a lot of boxes off that agenda.

Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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