BY CHRIS DEVILLE, Stereogum
Lil Nas X was going to be a one-hit wonder. This much seemed obvious to me. “Old Town Road” had all the makings of a fleeting career. A half-rap, half-country novelty hit about a lean-drinking cowboy who’ll ride ’til he drops, made viral through savvy promotion on TikTok and Twitter, buoyed by controversy over whether it should qualify for Billboard‘s country charts, then sent into overdrive by a remix featuring the “Achy Breaky Heart” guy — it was more a meme than a song, a joyous joke adults and children alike could be in on.
After the track spent a record-breaking 19 weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, its momentum extended by an assortment of star-studded alternate remixes and videos, it also started to seem like an albatross. Despite everything the “Old Town Road” saga said about this guy’s musical and promotional skills, it was hard to imagine where he could possibly go next. But Montero Hill is nothing if not imaginative.
At this point, about two years after “Old Town Road” ended its run at #1, not only is Lil Nas X not a one-hit wonder, he’s one of the surest things in mainstream music. He nabbed a Album Of The Year nomination for an EP. He landed three more songs in the top five, including one that debuted at #1 and another that was only blocked from the top of the chart by an aggressive BTS stan campaign. He has expertly stirred controversy with some of the most vividly rendered music videos in recent memory and strategically outrageous merch, weaponizing his sexuality, inciting a lawsuit from one of the world’s largest corporations, and throwing in some satanic panic for good measure. His debut album Montero will surely spin off more hits, partially because it shows him wielding the ruling rap, pop, and rock sounds of the moment with expertise. “Funny how you said it was the end,” he raps on “Industry Baby” in a rebuke of skeptics like me. “Then I went did it again.”
Even LNX’s most fervent supporters would agree his promo acumen has been inextricable from his success. During the Montero cycle, that has included descending into hell for sex with Satan, leading a jailhouse full of naked men through a dick-swinging dance routine, donning a prosthetic pregnancy bump ahead of “birthing” the new album, and selling modified Nikes that feature pentagrams and drops of human blood. As he puts it on one song featuring his fellow attention magnet Doja Cat, “I’m just tryna be the daily scoop.” But Montero, released last Friday, affirms that he’s musically adept as well. The album is hooky and energetic, with versatile songwriting and production that maintains a recognizable imprint despite all the genre morphing. Although parts of it edge up to the cheesier corners of the modern pop landscape, it’s an undeniably fun, engaging debut with some depth to it — the kind of album that bodes well for a young star’s future.
Lyrically, Montero largely presents a mix of “hell yeah I’m famous now” and “oh shit I’m famous now” common among budding superstars, delivered with a personal touch and some raw vulnerability that adds some freshness to the usual proceedings. That he’s achieved this success as a gay Black man makes elements of the album’s story feel culturally significant and new, starting right up front with a lustfully flirtatious #1 single named for the queer coming of age movie Call Me By Your Name. As others have pointed out, queerness colors the darker, heavier side of the album as well. Throughout, Lil Nas X revels in the pursuit of both fleeting pleasure and more enduring partnership. But there’s real pain on display too, as on the moody standout “Dead Right Now,” which finds him spitefully telling his old acquaintances, “You know you never used to call/ Keep it that way now.”
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