Lil Nas X is back. Over the past year, the pop provocateur and gay icon has shocked the world with his outrageous singles. In “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” Lil Nas X descends into hell to slay (and twerk on) the devil, sending mainstream media into a whirl. Similarly, “INDUSTRY BABY” caused a storm with the rapper dancing in prison alongside hip-hop heartthrob Jack Harlow, even sparking DaBaby’s ignorant comments on HIV.
Now, more than two years since his radio hit “Old Town Road” and its subsequent EP “7,” Lil Nas X’s debut album, “Montero,” has finally been released.
With an outrageous male pregnancy and a completely over the top cover of Lil Nas X’s nude figure floating in a “mystical landscape,” the highlights of “Montero” bleed the rapper’s braggadocious persona. Look no further than lead single “INDUSTRY BABY,” where Lil Nas X raps about his Grammy accolades as he works on making albums. “DOLLA SIGN SLIME," featuring the ever-iconic Megan Thee Stallion, has both artists take a stab at their haters by highlighting their financial success as rappers and pop artists.
For the most part, “Montero” leans into this hedonic pop persona, with many of the tracks consisting of Lil Nas X — and every now and then the feature artist — bragging about their success, their riches or their reach.
But there’s more to “Montero'' than just bragging and lead singles. In fact, Lil Nas X often reflects on his status as a gay Black man in a society that, despite the many strides it has made in LGBTQ+ equality, still feels discriminating and oppressing. “TALES OF DOMINICA,” for example, has the artist reflect on living in a dysfunctional, often unaccepting family. “LIFE AFTER SALEM” discusses queer heartbreak after a toxic, rather unsuccessful relationship. And of course, who can forget “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” where the rapper sings about gay desire and overcoming the shame of internalized homophobia.
“Montero” often references Biblical themes, either directly through its lyrics or indirectly through its infamous music videos and promotional material. Lil Nas X is using these references to reclaim Christian narratives, narratives that are often used to defend homophobia and discrimination.
And indeed, the artist confirmed it as intentional in an interview with TIME magazine.
“I grew up in a pretty religious kind of home — and for me, it was fear-based very much,” Lil Nas X told TIME magazine. “Even as a little child, I was really scared of every single mistake I may or may not have made. I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ community, to feel like they’re OK and they don’t have to hate themselves.”
Where “Montero” disappoints, similar to Lil Nas X’s previous work, is its sonic diversity. Cohesively, “Montero” often repeats the same pop structure across multiple tracks, making a front-to-back listen of the album exhausting, to say the least. Its production, while clean and never grating, never seeks to experiment or transcend, which is disappointing considering both the album itself and its promotional material fought so hard to subvert society’s deeply ingrained homophobia. Lil Nas X’s lyric work, while fun and memorable, never truly delivers a punch, never truly impacting nor challenging the listener.
And while a feature should never outshine the main artist, all the famous pop stars in “Montero” never pack a punch either. Miley Cyrus, Megan Thee Stallion, Elton John and Doja Cat, all industry giants, deliver forgettable features, with nothing. It’s a shame, considering all these artists have shown the ability to make truly outstanding feature verses too.
Regardless, “Montero” serves as an improvement for Lil Nas X’s craft, with the album’s highlights shining brighter than “Old Town Road” breaking the Billboard charts in 2019. Listeners should look forward to Lil Nas X’s artistic output in the near future, because while “Montero” is just alright, Lil Nas X has the potential to shake up the pop sphere beyond his braggadocious persona.