As is often the case when a queer person steps boldly into visibility, rapper Lil Nas X’s world has fluctuated up and down in recent days after the release of his “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” music video.
Since beginning to deliberate how to write about the phenomenon that is “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” the song has both ascended to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and simultaneously accumulated such condemnation from religious groups and right of center media that Lil Nas X’s own cheeky-chic Satan (blood infused) Nike sneakers have lost all chances of being put on the market anytime soon. This porous line between adoration and condemnation commonly afflicts queer artists in pop culture, as was seen previously with icons like Sylvester, Boy George, George Michael, and Whitney Houston.
There is a difference, however, in the way Lil Nas X ecstatically straddles this line. I think I am still parsing through– and feeling through— the artful properties present in the playfulness of the song’s music video as well as the song itself; the simultaneously ancient and futuristic light that Lil Nas X refracts into eroticism and awe. And not just the music video, but also the heart with which he gives voice to the conversation surrounding “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”– a conversation incredibly interwoven with Lil Nas X’s own given name as well as his celebrity name. These namings and renamings flash in the shadows of the fame and anti-queerness that Lil Nas X traverses the world with.
In an open letter that he posted to his social media accounts entitled “a letter to 14 year old montero,” Montero is literally calling himself by his own name, but through the refracted “your” of Lil Nas X writing to his younger self from the future. He writes, “i know we promised to die with the secret but this will open up doors for many other queer people to simply exist…. sending you love from the future.” In this letter, not only is Lil Nas X sticking it to the haters, but he is also scaffolding an ethic of queer love and entering into conversation with his own queer lineage; the kinds of memories that requires us to think about time as simultaneously past and future, unfolding before us, behind us, (the way Satan is quite literally behind Montero’s ass in the music video) and welcoming us to come alive and move boldly into the promise of ourselves.
Of course, Lil Nas X has also created a really fun and sexy video. He has talked about his desire to center queer lust (in this particular case, the erotics of same gender loving men; all the more accentuated by the interchangability behind the Guadagnino movie quote Montero himself sites: “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine”) in his new music and visuals. This said, there is also a gender-queerness and fluidity to the way Montero moves across time and memory in “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” dawning fiercely long nails to seduce himself in the Garden of Eden, or stilettos and scarlet red braids, as he cracks open the skies of Heaven and descends down a stripper pole.
While many think-pieces zero in on the lap dance given to Satan toward the video’s end, a kind of “fuck you” to the demonization LGBTQ+ people experience in the church and elsewhere, I think the erotics and ecstaticness of Montero’s performance are even more willful than that. Reverend Jacqui Lewis gets it right when she says that “Lil Nas X Reclaims His Queerness to Proclaim His Own Blessedness.” He really is championing a “love that will call him by his name.” And when we witness Montero calling himself his own name, we see him soaring through the heavens– blessedly alive Black and queer– ascending in reverse, across text, time, and space. That is, we receive his offering; Montero making space and lighting the way, calling out for us and calling us by our true names.