Review: Lil Nas X Has Found His Voice In “Montero”
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Musician, internet troll and marketing genius Lil Nas X has just released his long-anticipated debut album. The name of the album is his birth name - “Montero” - indicating that Lil Nas X is telling his personal story to the world. While he is not the first person to have a goofy meme song break him into the mainstream, he is one of the few to successfully transition into a serious and respected musical artist. Lil Nas X spends much of this album reflecting on his sudden rise to fame, and being pigeonholed. “One of Me” featuring Elton John on the piano, directly addresses the gimmicky manner in which Lil Nas X became famous, and his frustration about being neither heard nor taken seriously by fans and the music industry. It ties in excellently with the album’s overarching theme of overcoming both internal and external rejection.
The only resemblance that Lil Nas X’s new music has to “Old Town Road” is that uptight boomers can’t handle or understand it. The title track, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” deeply offended the religious right by using satanic and biblical imagery in its music video. While Lil Nas X had already publicly said he is gay, his unapologetic flamboyance was fully on display in this music video when it was only hinted at before in the song “HOLIDAY” with the line “I might bottom on the low but I top shit.” After being told his entire life that he is going to hell for being gay, Lil Nas X reappropriated the christian threat of dammnation and turned it into empowerment. This music video represents the casting off of shame, and his decision to exist and make art authentically. Lil Nas X confirmed this when he made a social media post addressed to his younger self who was afraid to come out and ashamed of who he was. The other true pop song on this album is “That’s What I Want,” which I have had stuck in my head for the last several days. That’s What I Want” is a song about wanting to find a partner, it is accompanied by a music video that references “Brokeback Mountain” amongst other famous LGBT+ media. Yes, it has the cliche 4 pop song chords, plucky guitars, and handclaps, but these things are so common because they are clinically proven to be pleasing to the ear. I am not pretentious enough to hate the pop song formula when it is applied correctly. “Thats All I want” and “Montero (Call Me By Your Name) are equally excellent in their catchy, bubblegum pop, expressions of longing.
The third and final single released for this album is for the braggadocious “Industry Baby” featuring Jack Harlow. This song has my favorite instrumental on the entire progect, with everything built around a triumphant horn section. Both Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow proudly celebrate their success in a way only a rap song can. “Dolla Sign Slime” featuring Megan Thee Stallion struggles to live up to the standards set by “Industry Baby”, which is a shame because it’s a worthwhile song on its own. It has a trap instrumental which prominently features horns, it features a rapper, and it is about success. “Dolla Sign Slime” follows the exact same formula as “Industry Baby”, which makes that fact that it isn’t as good extremely hard to ignore. The highs of “Montero” are so high that everything else pales in comparison. “Lost In The Citadel” and “Void” struggle in this way, as these mid-tempo songs do not match the energy or heart of the rest of the album. One of my favorite “deep cuts” on this album is “Tales Of Dominica” where Lil Nas X laments the loss of his childhood and struggles to gain his bearings amidst the success and attention that “Old Town Road” has thrust him into. “There’s much more to life than dying over your past mistakes,” he sings in “Sun Goes Down,” a song that directly discusses his history of suicidal ideation and feelings of alienation throughout his young adulthood. Hearing this song as a single let me know that this album was more personal than anything Lil Nas X has ever released. Ironically, finding solace in the internet and being bullied at school because your different is extremely relatable to many people in Lil Nas X’s generation, including me.
“Life After Salem” addresses directly the desperation in “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Scoop” featuring Doja Cat. While these songs hide their insecurity under a catchy surface, “Life After Salem” chillingly embraces it. This song describes abuse and Stockholm syndrome, begging for the abusive partner’s attention over quietly menacing indie guitars. In contrast, “Dead Right Now” is a song in which Lil Nas X stands up to abusive and two-faced people in his life. “You know you never used to call, keep it that way now,” he sings through his teeth. This song both touches on his difficult relationship with his mom, and the way people who never cared if he lived or died before he was famous were suddenly enthusiastic supporters once old town road went viral. The song’s title is a dark double-entendre; not only does Lil Nas X feel betrayed and abandoned, he frankly states that if he didn’t find success in music he would have killed himself at this point. The pride and happiness he has found in success are juxtaposed against his past trauma and his current doubts. By talking so openly about these demons “Montero” effortlessly switches between the present and past, often combining them into the same songs. This is the first direct acknowledgement that the demons of the past have been carried into the very public and often humor laden future that I have seen Lil Nas X make in his entire career. As a human being, I am delighted to see this personal growth and with Lil Nas X a happy and smooth journey to healing. “Montero” closes with the spacy “Am I Dreaming” featuring Miley Cyrus, a perfect expression of quiet determination. It’s not exactly a happy tune. Instead, it is a deeply somber decision to press on, and a decision to seek joy even when doing so seems impossible.
Despite this album’s satirical and light-hearted marketing, it shows all the facets of Lil Nas X’s experience, especially the dark ones. Lil Nas X became famous from a meme song and has been fairly private ever since. With this debut album, Lil Nas X, or should I say, Montero Lamar Hill, has honored us with a glimpse inside his head. The turmoil he hinted at in the relatively forgettable ep 7 takes a very colorful center stage in Montero. (each song is paired with a psychedelic visual or boundary pushing music video) While many of the songs are shorter than three minutes none of them feel incomplete or rushed as they did on Ep 7. While I was initially disappointed in the lack of genre-switching that Lil Nas X became famous for, I soon realized that Lil Nas X has found his sound. His unique blend of genres ranging from indie, to bubblegum pop, to rock, to trap is as bright and colorful as the album cover. Lil Nas X has found his voice and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say next.