The forces of authority tower above the advertising product for rapper and vocalist Lil Nas X’s debut album, Montero In one clip, the viral star appears before an imaginary Supreme Court, an offender in a suit by Nike, which earlier this year, in a genuine court, sued a business for which Lil Nas had codesigned a shoe. The trial is quick and exorbitant; the court sentences him to jail for homosexuality. In a subsequent advertisement, a reproving newscaster reporting Lil Nas’s escape from stated jail identifies him as a “power bottom ‘rapper,'” encasing that last word in questioning air quotes. And after that, obviously, there’s the video for the lead single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” in which Lil Nas faces off versus magnificent authority and is damned to hell– where he rescues himself by taming Satan with a glorious lap dance.
These winking face-offs with institutions– the law, the media, the church– both send up the feverish homophobia that has actually plagued Lil Nas X’s brief career and highlight his preoccupation with optics. Since his runaway hit “Old Town Road”– a hokey, campy, captivating mash-up of nation twang and rap swagger– shattered sales records and flooded the world with memes 2 years back, he’s gone far as a Web-savvy trickster, pushed by prying and bigoted gazes.
” Old Town Road” was his showing ground: After it soared the nation charts, Billboard removed the song for not “accepting sufficient components these days’s c and w,” a racist choice that highlighted who is permitted to work in the genre. Lil Nas responded by recruiting country maven Billy Ray Cyrus for a remix that went on to leading numerous charts, his very first of numerous decisive triumphes versus gatekeepers. It isn’t embellishment to explain his understanding of the attention economy as virtuosic. His tweets, TikTok videos, and television appearances are arch thrills that skewer the worry of queer individuals and play with the strangeness of modern star.
Montero, which takes its title from Lil Nas’s genuine name, pitches the artist as a limitless free spirit who can do anything, however its sprawl only highlights his absence of a perspective and his rudderless design. Straddling rap, pop, and rock, he struggles to offer a merged theory of Lil Nas X as a performer or even an experience– his rapping is pedestrian, his singing unmemorable, and his story colorless. Montero understands that pop needs to be eventful and huge, however it never crystallizes these ideas into engaging music.
A t the height of the “Old Town Road” trend in 2019, Lil Nas launched 7, an amateur EP that both capitalized on the moment and sought to course-correct. Knowledgeable about the tight flash-and-burn life process of all memes, Lil Nas absolutely firmly insisted that he had remaining power. The tunes weren’t persuasive, however they succeeded: The track “Panini” was a chart-topper, going platinum six times since this previous July. Reinforced by that warm reception but still determined to show himself, Lil Nas started working on Montero, which he has billed as a more positive and complete record.
There are some major improvements here, but many of the songs are nondescript, exposing little about Lil Nas or his interests. The best moments come early. “Montero” is earnest and self-possessed, Lil Nas pursuing a bad boy admirer over flamenco guitar and handclaps. He’s enjoyable when he’s horny: “I wan na feel on your ass in Hawaii/ I desire that jet lag from fuckin’ and flyin’/ Shoot a kid in your mouth when I’m ridin’,” he sings. The lines are as genuine as they intriguing, the hypersexuality trolling a heteronormative look while also revealing humdrum desire. The song is in many methods the plan for the type of pop artist Lil Nas aims to be: brazen however relatable, iconic but down-to-earth.
The down-tempo “Dead Today” hits the latter note, detailing how family riffs have sustained his determination. The third verse is pure venom, as Lil Nas personifies his distressed mom: “You ain’t helpin’ out with me, God won’t forgive you,” he snarls in her voice. The tune returns his debut (and just) mixtape, Naserati, created at a time when his writing and style were mainly notified by rap, particularly the theatrical persona and flows of Nicki Minaj, his main impact.
Lil Nas is not a knowledgeable rap artist– a truth highlighted by every included rap artist on the album stealing the program– but as the triumphant “Market Baby” shows, he has a sense of flair and history. The tune, which mocks the concept that he’s some sort of lab-created pop monstrosity (” an industry plant,” in the parlance of purists who oddly reject artifice in popular song), is constructed on the brass and percussion plans of Black marching bands, which motivated early manufacturers of trap music. Lil Nas flows effortlessly over this backdrop, boasting, lobbing insults, and inserting fellow Atlanta rap artist Waka Flocka Flame.
Lil Nas’ singing isn’t as fluid. “I like this, I do not like that/ Do this here, do not you do that,” Lil Nas sings flatly. The pop rock number “Lost in the Castle” is just as canned, the chorus deflated by Lil Nas’s anodyne crooning.
Even the production on Montero lacks a foundation, the producers delivering pop rap bangers (” Scoop”), rockabilly theatrics (” Life After Salem”), and Elton John piano solos (” One of Me”), despite none of these modes’ bringing out, at minimum, any of the personality that Lil Nas radiates online. There actually is no one else like Lil Nas in music or pop culture now. He’s not yet shown himself to be interested in being an artist; instead, Lil Nas X has actually settled on being merely an icon.