The Root of the Controversy Over ‘Montero’

Amelia Duca, Staff Writer

Montero Lamar Hill, better known as Lil Nas X, recently boomed in popularity due to the release of his hit single ‘Montero (call me by your name).’ The song delivers a pro-LGBT message geared toward LGBT youth struggling with condemnation from religious groups due to their sexuality. The positive message and overall catchiness caused the song to take off quickly, gaining 64 million views within the first few days of its release as well as recently ranking top three on the most viral Tik Tok sound and hitting number one globally on Billboard’s “The Hot 100.” However, much controversy has arisen over the religious imagery within the music video as well as other factors applying to the artist. 

Background

The music video is set in Montero, a mythical world resembling the biblical Garden of Eden. In the opening scene Lil Nas narrates the purpose of Montero: “In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. We lock them away… But here, we don’t.” This quote, along with the world being named after the artist shows how Lil Nas X is showing his true self, no longer altering himself to fit society’s standards, likewise driving the message that no one should change themselves to be accepted. As the video continues, Lil Nas is seduced by a male, serpent-like figure, following the pattern of temptation within the biblical story of Adam and Eve. He is then taken to court, condemned for his homosexual actions, and stoned to death. In the next frame, his body is seen rising towards heaven as he is given the opportunity to repent for his sins. However, Lil Nas has other plans and begins to drop from the sky where he grabs a pole, pole dances down to hell, gives the devil a lap dance before snapping his neck, redeeming himself, and becoming king of hell. This cycle of temptation, condemnation, death, and redemption follows the same pattern as the Harrowing of Hell. The Harrowing of Hell is the events that lead up to and followed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was sent to hell, as the gates of heaven were closed, and rescued lost souls from the devil’s grasp. Lil Nas X likewise does this in his video however rather than embodying a holy figure, he embodies the figure religions fear most, satan, and derives power from the very place they condemn the LGBT community to, hell.

Controversy

The video and the recently released ‘Satan Shoes’, greatly upset many individuals who spoke out on Twitter including Kaitlen Bennet, Candace Owens, and South Dakota’s governor Kristi Noem. Lil Nas X acknowledged all of their comments including Noem’s tweet about the shoe’s negative impact on youth to which Lil Nas respondedUr a whole governor and u on here tweeting about some damn shoes. Do ur job!” The release date of the video which aired March 26th, 2021, Nine days before Easter, also spiked controversy. Lil Nas likewise faced backlash from the producer of FKA Twigs music video Cellophane. The producer claimed Lil Nas completely ripped off the music video. While there are similarities between both videos, the message, and concepts of each are completely different. Lil Nas X diffused the situation by claiming inspiration was taken from this video as well as the 2007 novel Call Me By Your Name by Andre Acimen. FKA Twigs further aided in the diffusion by publicly thanking Lil Nas for acknowledging her work. 

Satan Shoes V.S Jesus Shoes

 The controversy continues as Nike sues over the ‘Satan Shoes’ released by Lil Nas through the MSCHF company. These shoes are altered models of Nike Air Max 97s containing a pentagram, upside-down cross, the number 666, the verse Luke 10:18 which contains information about Satan’s banishment from heaven, and red soles which reportedly contain drops of human blood. While these shoes are extreme, the fact that Nike sued over these, but not the Jesus shoe,s is highly overlooked. The ‘Jesus Shoes’ released in 2019 by MSCHF, also featured an altered model of the Nike Air Max 97, decorated with a cross, light blue soles containing holy water, and the verse Matthew 34:25, a verse which discusses God welcoming his followers into heaven. These shoes were labeled the ‘most googled shoe in 2019’, purchased and worn by Drake, and were not sued by Nike. The reasoning behind this is due to the absence of controversy over the Jesus shoes. This is largely due to Christianity being a mainstream religion, therefore, holding more vocal followers who supported these shoes and likewise opposed the Satan shoes. Non-traditional or non-christian religions are less vocal as they’re not as mainstream, causing there to be less outrage over the Jesus shoes and therefore, less of a negative association to the Nike brand. The flack Satan shoes gained impacted Nikes decision to sue as it allowed them to avoid negative brand association. 

The Root of the Controversy

The anger created by religious and satanic imagery in ‘Montero’ encouraged people to miss the point of the video. Lil Nas X Tweeted: “y’all love saying we going to hell but get upset when i actually go there lmao”. Justice educator, activist, and minister Alicia T. Crosby backed Lil Nas on this claiming: “This video is INTENTIONALLY subversive. LNS specifically said yall stay condemning folks like him (and me) to hell but are mad about how we’re thriving there.” While also defining the core of the media’s anger: “Queerness makes y’all uncomfortable on days ending in -y…It’s clear y’all are missing how a project like this is not only a response to religious trauma but also a brilliant depiction of how queerness teaches us how to use what we have to subvert oppressive systems…” In an interview with Think, Lil Nas discussed how his message was not meant to offend religion but offer support to LGBT members struggling with oppression through religion. Lil Nas points out that his 2019 single ‘Old Town Road’ held lyrics with more adulterous content than the lyrics in ‘Montero’ which are based around a man he was romantically involved with. However, ‘Old Town Road’ was largely accepted as Lil Nas was still presenting as straight. This proves that the controversy over the video is more rooted in homophobia than the use of religious imagery. This claim can be further proved by looking at the work of pop singer Billie Eilish, more specifically her song ‘All the Good Girls Go to Hell. Released in 2019, the focus of this music video was to draw attention to climate change. However, it contained dark, satanic imagery such as demons, the apocalypse, and Eilish turning into a demon. It discussed significantly more controversial topics such as praising hell over heaven: “Pearly gates look more like a picket fence”, the fall of heaven: “Cause even God herself has enemies” and the repeated phrase “My Lucifer is lonely.” A few people spoke out about the disturbing nature of the video but it was nothing near the extent of the rage over ‘Montero’. Why? It’s simple, Eilish is a straight, white woman whereas Lil Nas is an openly gay, black man. This controversy highlights America’s fear over the LGBT community and POC having a platform. 

The Main Idea

Despite all the controversy, Lil Nas is still able to share his story and drive his intended message as shown through this Tweet:i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the s**t y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. so i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.” Having a celebrity personally speak out on the crippling self-hatred extreme religion can induce is an important factor to have in a world that normalizes discrimination towards people who don’t fit societal standards enforced by religious beliefs.