The 21-year-old ‘queer’ rapper who challenged the American far right to reach the top of the charts

Montero (Call Me By Your Name) is the new single from Lil Nas X (born in 1999 under the name of Montero Lamar Hill) and this is, by boat soon, the chronology of the song. In July 2020 he posted a video on Twitter in which he was seen driving while listening to an excerpt of the song. The clip, which is only 38 seconds long and is still posted on his channel, has more than 21 million views. At the intermission of the last Super Bowl, the rapper starred an advertisement for the technology firm Logitech in which his simple future sounded in the background. The NFL final is one of the biggest global showcases for any artist and although this year the event had the worst audience data since 2007, it also touched 100 million viewers.

The song was published on March 26, on an album with a cover by Spanish Filip Custic, and has already reached number one in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The video, a delirium kitsch (in its three minutes of duration, the artist falls from heaven to hell and ends up seducing, with his high-heeled boots, the devil himself), it has been a success that has exceeded 100 million reproductions. About 10 million views every day on average. On Spotify it has reached 95 million views. All this has caused the launch of Montero (Call Me By Your Name) has been described by some internet experts as exemplary. The American edition of Forbes he has referred to the entire operation as “a culture war that is yielding results”.

The cover of ‘Montero (Call me by Your Name)’ by Lil Nas X, the work of the Spanish Filip Custic.

“The key to the success of the Lil Nas X campaign lies in the combination of two concepts: the use of ironic humor so characteristic of Generation Z, to which he belongs, and the interaction with the community”, considers the expert in social networks Janira Planes, author of the newsletter Truffle Season about technology, memes and internet culture. “His Twitter abounds with viral posts ironically quoting conservative commentators and constructs tweets with logic memetics of the platform. On YouTube he falsely apologizes, now that apology videos for scandals are a genre in themselves, for having taken out some satanic slippers. It also publishes unofficial videos that feed the discourse and provide new sounds with which to play and create content. On TikTok, he takes advantage of user-generated content with his song and republishes it on his profile.”

But who is Lil Nas X?

Lil Nas X was born in 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia. With British origins on his father’s side and Dominicans on his mother’s, he was baptized Montero Lamar Hill in tribute to the Mitsubishi Pajero, the dream car that his mother never had. The family did not have the financial resources to think about Japanese SUVs. When Montero was six years old, his parents separated and he spent his childhood living between two homes. At nine he moved permanently with his father to a town on the outskirts of Atlanta called Austell, which he admitted years later to a reporter from rolling stonemaybe it saved his life. “There was so much going on in Atlanta that if I had grown up there, I probably would have hung out with the wrong people,” she stated.

Due to this boring and lonely suburban environment, he took refuge in the internet. And he did it at a key moment, just when memes were beginning to be considered a form of entertainment in itself and, probably, the minimum unit of communication between Generation Z. Montero dove into that trend that, a few years later, would be your ticket to fame.

At the age of 16, Montero’s dream was to gain a foothold on the internet as a content creator. But he didn’t know where to start. At first he uploaded funny videos to Facebook or the now defunct Vine, but soon he realized that what he was best at was Twitter. Under the alias of “Nas” he began to accumulate followers by hanging jokes about his height (he measures almost 190 centimeters) or ironic reflections on the poor gun control in the United States.

Rapper Lil Nas X, at the Grammy Awards ceremony in January 2020.
Rapper Lil Nas X, at the Grammy Awards ceremony in January 2020.Getty

In 2018 he left school with a new dream: to dedicate himself to music. His parents did not accept the decision and he moved to live with his sister. He was convinced that the fame he had garnered the previous two years with his videos could help him gain attention in the music world. He was right. Old Town Road is the song of country rap which marked his rise to stardom and which he created entirely at home, without record labels or advertisers and with a 100% independent campaign, based on his knowledge of the medium. How the success of this topic was produced is key to understanding what has happened with Montero (Call Me By Your Name).

Make a smash hit out of boredom

Lil Nas X counted a rolling stone who started making music “out of boredom” at the end of 2018. He spent only 50 euros on the creation of Old Time Road: 30 in a base that he bought online from a Dutch producer and another 20 to record the voices in less than an hour taking advantage of the offer 20 dollar tuesdays (Tuesdays $20) from an Atlanta recording studio called CinCoYo.

The goal was for the song to go viral both on Twitter and on the new social network that was beginning to be talked about in the Western world at the time: TikTok. She knew that his main weapon was the memes he created for Twitter. Lil Nas X is an extremely funny and acid character, something that always works. On the other hand, when he was preparing the song, his followers were obsessed with the newly released video game Red Dead Redemption 2, which takes place in the West. “The plan was to use Old Town Road in the maximum amount of memes possible until it sinks in people”, he told rolling stone. As he narrated, he came to create about a hundred memes with the theme until he finally made the leap to TikTok and the thing got out of hand.

Users of this network converted Old Town Road in the song of the summer of 2019 and used it massively in the #Yeehaw challengewhich consisted of uploading a video in which they were transformed into cowboy -either cowgirl– after one of the classics jump cut from TikTok (the cuts in which, after a jump, a user appears with another outfit, all this magic of the home edition).

The result was massive success: its remix, with the participation of Billy Ray Cyrus, myth of the country Y Miley Cyrus’ father, It reached number one on the US Billboard chart and was crowned the most successful song of the year in that country. The current topic Huntsman, born from a different moment (Lil Nas X is already a celebrity), but deep down it has been based on the same promotional system: putting the internet to work for your benefit. Especially, to his enemies.

A plan of attack with two main fronts

The lyrics of the new Lil Nas X song are a catalog of perversions; and the video, directed by the director Tanu Muino (author of the clip for I swear that by Rosalia), and the artist himself are a waste of color and digital image that ends up placing us at the epicenter of sin. At first we see how the one from Atlanta is tempted by a snake with a human face in the Garden of Eden, later he is judged in a court in front of which he ends up dying and descending to hell on a bar of stripperwhere he does a sexy dance to the devil himself, whom he then ends up liquidating to declare himself the new King of Darkness.

In parallel to the launch of the video —in collaboration with the advertising agency/artistic collective MSCHF—, Lil Nas X released the Satan Shoes, an edition of 666 custom pairs of Nike Air Max 97s with a gold pentagram dangling from the laces and apparently bearing a drop of human blood mixed with the red liquid that fills their soles . The starting price of the sneakers is 1,018 dollars (856.33 euros), due to a quote from the Bible, Luke 10:18. Verse 18 of chapter 10 of the Gospel of Saint Luke which literally says: “He said to them: ‘I was seeing Satan fall from heaven like lightning.’ Nike it has just paralyzed the commercialization of the shoes arguing that there is a violation of the copyright of its original design. Of course, the firm has sued the MSCHF collective, not Lil Nas X himself, a star too popular among the youth to mess with her.

But this is nothing compared to what seemed to be the real objective of Lil Nas X: to have the American conservatives campaign for him for free. The polarized political landscape of his country, the openly sexual attitude and queer [una identidad de género y sexual diferente a la heterosexual y cisgénero] of the singer in the video and the shameless flirtation with Satanism that distills the entire promotion have had the same effect on the American religious right as pouring a liter of blood into a pool full of piranhas. And where have all these people gone to complain? Indeed, to Twitter, the place where the author of Huntsman it moves better.

You criticize me, I cover myself

In the birdie network, Lil Nas X has put on the uniform of a tweeter and has spent several days responding sarcastically to all his critics while the popularity of his video increased. He finished them off with one swift and humiliating response after another. Kristy Noem, Republican Governor of South Dakota: ”Are you a governor and you come here to tweet about shoes? Get to doing your damn job!”; Protestant pastor Greg Locke: “I will sample you!”; either the influencer right-wing Candace Owens: “You know you’ve done something right when this woman starts talking about you”, have been some of the multiple critics to which the rapper has responded quickly.

The song, the video and the shoes. Everything has been a great bait for the prophets of the American extreme right, who have bitten giving him a golden opportunity to use the controversy, respond with the immediacy typical of a native of the networks and, incidentally, make gold. With more than 12 million followers on TikTok, this time Montero has not needed anyone to get hundreds of users to upload videos with his song. On Wednesday, he himself launched on the Chinese network the challenge #PoleDanceToHell which already accumulates more than 18 million reproductions.

It is still early to know if the success of Montero (Call Me By Your Name) will equal that of Old Town Road. For now, it seems that its presence on the charts could last for months and become, once again, one of the songs of the summer in Anglo-Saxon countries. Whatever happens to her, her launch has been a lesson in how to lead the conversation on the internet with something even more powerful than teen networks: the political battle between adults.

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The 21-year-old ‘queer’ rapper who challenged the American far right to reach the top of the charts


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