Throughout time, artists have made waves in headlines and caused utter uproar throughout society all in the name of creativity, expression and art.
Whether it be Elvis Presley with his hip thrusts in the 50s or Miley Cyrus swinging nude on a wrecking ball in 2013, artists have proven time and time again that truly no publicity is bad publicity.
One of the most recent artists to prove this sentiment is none other than country-rapper Lil Nas X with his new single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).”
That’s right, the guy who became famous for “Old Town Road,” the country-trap hybrid mix that held the No. 1 spot for a record-break-ing 19 weeks in 2019, just hit his second No. 1, despite the conservative response.
The three-minute and 10-second-long video received quite the backlash, but despite the furor, it drummed up even more attention for the star and the video, thus catapulting the music video and song to the top of the charts.
For those interested, a 10-ish minute Genius YouTube video features Lil Nas X explaining his direct meaning behind the lyrics.
Directed by both Lil Nas X and Ukrainian music video director Tanu Munino, the video at the time of writing this article has over 31 million views since its release approximately one week ago.
Most of the backlash seems to be a result of “devil worship” from conservatives, from parents to politicians who disapprove of his message to “the youth.”
However, art has and always will push the boundaries of what is accepted within society, and this video is no exception.
While Lil Nas X can quite literally be seen dancing on the devil, many conservatives fail to read between the lines to see the deeper meaning and symbolism of the video which goes beyond the literal depictions within the video.
In a Time Magazine article, historians decoded the religious symbolism and queer iconography of the video, which they concluded is jam-packed with Greco-Roman and medieval Christian motifs and Greek and Roman messages. In this article, Lil Nas X stated that he wanted to use these religious themes that have been around forever to tell his own story and the stories of so many others in the [queer] community.Scholars have stated that the video’s attention to detail and conceptual sharpness has built a powerful narrative centered in queerness that has repeatedly been erased in historical and religious settings.
The video contains three differ-ent acts and first begins in a colorful CGI Garden of Eden depict-ing Lil Nas X, who’s representing both Adam and Eve, before being tempted by a snake with his face who also in part represents Lilith, Adam’s first wife.
The camera then pans to the Tree of Knowledge with a Greek inscription that translates to, “After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half.”
Taken from Plato and Greek philosophy, this roughly explains why humans feel love and desire for different types of bodies, which also acts as a call out to the naturality of different sexual orientations.
As the second verse begins, Lil Nas X emerges in a Marie Antoinette-style wig in the Colosseum as an angry crowd made of stone heckles him from above. This shows Lil Nas X as a traditional Christian martyr who got stoned to death. The scene shifts again and Lil Nas X begins to ascend to Heaven before being greeted by an angel resembling Ganymede from Greek mythology who has historically been a symbol of homosexuality.
Before reaching the angel, a pole emerges from below and Lil Nas X grabs it as he sails to Hell.
As he walks to the devil on his throne, he passes a Latin phrase, “They condemn what they do not understand” in a glowing pentagram. While those who object to the video claim devil worship, scholars have viewed this as a critique of Christianity and its repressive nature. This is also evidenced in the fact that he is the only character/actor within the video. Is this symbolic of his internal struggle with himself and his sexuality?
In addition to the video, Lil Nas X also released “Satan Shoes” (modified Nike Air Max 97s) in partnership with New York-based artist MSCHF.These black and red shoes featured a bronze pentagram charm, an inverted cross and supposedly a drop of actual human blood in the soles.
Although the sneakers were not made by Nike in partnership with Lil Nas X or MSCHF, the back-lash over the video and shoes drew enough attention that resulted in a lawsuit from Nike for the sale of the unauthorized 666 pairs of altered shoes.
Priced at $1,018, the shoes also reference a Bible passage, Luke 10:18, which states, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.”
Despite what opponents and detractors say about this video and undoubtedly about the next “inappropriate video,” art pushes the envelope of what is acceptable within society. Artists, celebrities and culture alike are not obligated to be role models 24/7 to raise your child and their values for you; that is the job of a parent.
Pushing the limits of performance is one way that artists such as Lil Nas X creatively use their talents to express their innermost thoughts with the world whether it be direct or symbolic in nature.
As long as an artist does not hurt anyone in the name of art, why not enjoy it for what it is or isn’t? It is a free country after all.