It’s Lil Nas X Versus the World.

He’s challenging what it means to be a rapper, enraging conservative outrage artists in the process.

Lil Nas X and Satan share an intimate moment in the MONTERO music video. Credit Lil Nas X/Vevo.

Rap has long been an easy outrage foil for the conservative right. Long ago, it was “thugs” like N.W.A. and “shock artists” like Eminem that were poisoning the minds of America’s youth.

Today, it’s Lil Nas X and the lapdance he gave Satan.

Yes, as you’ve probably heard by now, in the music video for MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), the Devil makes an appearance. Around the 2-minute mark of the video, the Atlanta rapper grabs hold of a stripper pole and plunges to depths of Hell, only to back that thang up on Satan himself. The rapper then kills the demon and takes his horns for himself shortly after, winning a battle for bottoms everywhere.

But that’s not all folks! Shortly after the song and music video release, which garnered plenty of conservative outrage on its own, the “Old Town Road” star announced a shoe collaboration with New York-based art collective MSCHF. The shoes feature a bronze pentagram and a drop of human blood in all 666 pairs, which sold out in under a minute on Monday.

Between an incoming lawsuit from Nike over the altered Nike Air Max 97s and becoming Black gay cannon fodder for the religious right, Lil Nas X is certainly looking for a fight. Long a master of social media himself, the rapper has pulled no punches since the video’s release on Thursday.

A swing and a miss from “gun girl.”

Yes, one by one, they’re all coming for Lil Nas X. Some are faces you‘d expect to see in a “controversy” such as this one, like conservative outrage fiend Candace Owens.

But even South Dakota’s governor Kirsti Noem took a break from mismanaging a horrendous COVID response on Sunday to cry about the rapper’s Satanic influence on children and “the soul of our nation” (more like sole, am I right?).

One by one, they came for him. And one by one, they were ratioed.

It’s not entirely surprising to see conservatives line up to “cancel” Lil Nas X for his satanic ways, mere weeks after Republican leadership took a strong stance against “cancel culture” in defense of Dr. Suess. However, what is surprising is how prepared the rapper was for the fight and how well he’s doing, shining a light on religious intolerance, specifically against LGBT youth, in the process.

Lil Nas X, asking you to please explain the contradiction.

So yes, it has been a fascinating week for me, a young gay Georgian, to watch another young gay Georgian put down bigots and “traditionalists” in scathing tweets. The song’s lyrics, however, are getting less attention. That’s a shame, because they uplift and increase the visibility of gay youth and the issues we experience, especially growing up in the South.

Between all of that pole riding and lap dancing, Lil Nas X sings with a mix of intense joy and painful shyness about his sexuality. He touches on the frustration of living (and becoming incredibly famous) while in the closet, the pain of loving someone who’s still in the closet, and the jealousy he feels toward straight people who get to live and love without facing bigotry due to their sexual orientation.

Man, to think all we had was that high-pitched kid getting bullied on Glee when I was coming of age.

“You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend,” Lil Nas X sings. The song’s subtitle, “Call Me By Your Name,” doubles as a refrain, in which he sings, “Call me by your name / tell me you love me in private” — a reference to the critically-lauded 2017 film about a gay affair.

While he’s clearly having fun with the responses, Lil Nas X has also consistently explained the importance of the song and how it fits into his role as one of the few out gay entertainers in the industry and one of two mainstream gay rappers I’m aware of.

Lil Nas X shares and slams on Twitter.

Lil Nas obviously anticipated the backlash to his stunt (i had 9 months to plan this rollout. yall are not gonna win bro.). Instead of downplaying it, he weaponized it to make a point about religious intolerance. The song, the video, the Satan shoes, the entire social media rollout, and the outrage accompanying all of it, it’s all incorporated into his artistic expression.

This controversy shows just how good Lil Nas X is at owning a conversation and asserting his identity in an eye-catching way, all while making music (and memes) that justifies the hype. To any Democratic leadership reading, this is how you win the culture war. Not by ignoring it, or obfuscating when things get hairy, but by punching back, and punching back hard.

Nick Lozier.

Writer and artist based in Seattle. Discusses culture, politics, and the environment. Volunteer for SJEI.

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