The build up to the premiere of Lil Nas X’s video for his latest single Montero (Call Me by Your Name) reminded me of the kind of hype and excitement that hasn’t happened for decades, the kind of buzz that surrounded big budget Michael Jackson videos like the John Landis directed Black or White in 1991, the first airing of which was a major global event (I can still remember watching it on Top of the Pops in the UK at my grandmother’s house). Or the year before that when I stayed up late with my older sisters to see the first television broadcast of Madonna’s Justify My Love. As the YouTube clock counted down to midnight last Thursday night, I felt some of that same anticipation, fuelled by Lil Nas X’s flair for social media, teasing us with glimpses of what was to come.
Directors Tanu Muino and Lil Nas X himself have delivered on that hype with what reads as an exhilarating metaphorical origin story of Lil Nas X’s acceptance and embracing of his sexuality. Montero (Call Me by Your Name) is an instantly iconic, playfully provocative three-minute queer masterpiece, which has racked up nearly 30 million views on YouTube in its first three days alone, with 1.4 million likes so far.
Thrillingly imaginative with eye-popping styling by Hodo Musa and stunning visual effects by Mathematic, we’re immersed in a CGI queertopia named Montero (Lil Nas X’s real name), a reimagining of the garden of Eden via Rivendell. Maybe it was Adam and Steve after all, as a serpentine figure seduces Nas under the apple tree, with carved ancient Greek lettering on it taken from Plato’s The Symposium, reminding us (and our haters) that we queer folks have always been here.
Like Shakespeare’s eager Bottom, Lil Nas X takes on all the roles, and just when you think one indelible moment – like the breathtaking sequence of a thigh high stiletto-heel-booted, bulge-hugging CK underwear sporting Lil Nas avatar pole dancing his way down to hell can’t be beaten, it’s topped by another gleefully defiant one, with a horny satanic lapdance.
One of the most powerful sequences though, set in a grand Colosseum-like structure, sees Lil Nas X being judged and condemned by multiple versions of himself, which in the context of the heartfelt open letter to his younger self which he published online alongside the video, feels touchingly personal.
It’s exciting, and unprecedented, to have an already groundbreaking major international artist enjoying mainstream success, a young Black man who publicly identifies as gay, to produce something so outrageously, confrontingly, celebratory queer and sexual. A watershed moment.
Hilarious and a little dangerous, an exhilarating piece of work.
By James Kleinmann