Published on April 13th, 2021 | by Christopher McKay0
Queer Music and Lil Nas X
Chris takes a look at Lil Nas X and ‘gay music,’ how it applies to his own life, and some of the controversy over Montero.
“Every time I watched a straight scene I had to do this massive translation for myself. Then I did Torch Song Trilogy. I get these straight people saying to me ‘you know, it’s not really gay, it’s universal’. I say ‘up yours, it’s gay’. That you can take it and apply it to yourself is wonderful, but at last I don’t have to do the translating, you do.”
Every now and then, I go on a binge where I only want to listen to music by queer artists. As Harvey Fierstein so eloquently put it in The Celluloid Closet, I just don’t always want to do the translating. Even when I relate to my favourite songs about being in love with a man by Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen, I know those songs were not meant for me in mind. And due to the lack of many mainstream queer artists, I often find myself listening to the same Troye Sivan or Years & Years albums on repeat. That’s why I am so happy whenever new queer music comes out, especially something as bold and explicit as Lil Nas X’s new song ‘Montero (Call Me by Your Name).’
I had already seen some of the backlash and hot takes on ‘Montero’ before I got around to actually watching the video. The song is catchy, Lil Nas X is hot, and it gets its message across quite effectively. It’s also not the first song by a gay male artist to objectify men (himself or others), but unlike videos with similar visuals by other gay hip-hop artists like Todrick Hall or Cazwell, ‘Montero’ has reached a wider audience, and has stuck with me much longer. Since the video was released just over a week ago, I’ve watched it almost every day, and not just to see Lil Nas X perform his stripper routine. Something about the video spoke to me. Something about the backlash did too.
Growing up in a religious but accepting family in a fairly liberal city, I was fortunate enough to not need to worry too much before I came out at sixteen. Ironically, even though I lost some friends, I made many more and my Catholic school was a pretty safe space for me. Sure, my parents had to get used to the idea of me bringing boys home instead of girls, but nearly ten years later they would not expect anything else. My cozy upbringing has therefore made it so every time I do encounter homophobia, it’s like a slap in the face. When I was twenty-three and my boyfriend and I moved into a townhouse with mildly homophobic neighbours, I stewed for weeks before I learned to just ignore them.
Maybe that’s why both ‘Montero’ and its backlash have hit me so hard. Here’s this thing I enjoy, that’s fun and trending and extremely gay, and right behind it seems like the hate of all of alt-right Twitter. Politicians in the United States have entered the chat, a brutal reminder that our politics is less secular than we care to believe. All because a twenty-one-year-old pop star took the imagery used to scare and control him and made it into something scarier for the Christian right: the idea that the people they say are going to hell don’t care what they think.
If there was no backlash to ‘Montero,’ it would probably be another song I played on repeat for a week until I was sick of it, and then find again in my next queer music binge. But the buzz and backlash made me analyze the video further. Michael Blackmon deconstructs the video in his Buzzfeed article, noting that Lil Nas X subverts the rhetoric he was led to believe his entire life; he was told he was going to hell for being gay, so in ‘Montero,’ he purposely goes there and takes power. He kills the devil in the video, signifying that he will not let the threat of hell scare him, either in the video or real life, from being his authentic queer self.
I am so happy that ‘Montero (Call Me by Your Name)’ exists. It’s so much fun, and so, so gay. I hope in my lifetime there are millions of more songs like it. I also think, however purposely provocative it might be, the video’s use of religious imagery mixed with gay eroticism is important for this work of art. I could dissect every frame and lyric of the video to explain their importance, but we’d be here all day. In the end, the backlash to ‘Montero’ is similar to that of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’- conservative white America does not like it when Black artists own their sexuality, and Lil Nas X is receiving this current tidal wave because he is a gay man that dared to defy the religion that told him he should not exist in the way that he does. He even wrote on Twitter, in a letter to his fourteen-year-old self, that his agenda for this song was to let queer people exist. ‘Montero (Call Me by Your Name)’ will be remembered not for the backlash that unfortunately reminds us that homophobia is all too rampant in 2021, but rather because it is just so gay in the faces of those both disgusted by it, but more importantly, for those who need to see it. No translation needed.