The table has just opened an extra seat and its covered in glitter.
From memes on Twitter to the biggest smash hit record ever recorded in Billboard’s charting history, Lil Nas X’s claims to fame have had one thing in common: they’re wholly unique.
Proudly queer, Lil Nas X has shattered a city full of glass ceilings. Beginning with “Old Town Road”, the singer, born Montero Hill, broke barriers by coming out while he still had a charting Hot 100 #1 Single. More, the single showed no signs of flopping or fallout from the news. In fact, the track continued to reign and become the longest No.1 of all time.
Now, years later, the singer births himself again. He began his “comeback” by hyping himself up with an aptly titled holiday single. After lukewarm success, X returned with his debut album’s lead single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. The song, and its video, sparked the controversy pop hopefuls could only hope for. It ruffled feathers, made national news on both ends of the growingly divisive landscape, and even sparked faux and very real lawsuits.
In an industry so chameleonic that its nearly impossible to obtain success in a traditional way, Lil Nas X utilizes his marketing and Internet culture sensibilities to the greatest of heights.
The best part of his debut album Montero, on top of the fact that it pisses off so many regressive people across the world, is that the album is actually good.
It delves deeper into the life of Montero Hill. It fluctuates quite seamlessly through feelings of gratitude, strength and conviction to intense sadness, vulnerability and loneliness. It interweaves stories of love longing (“That’s What I Want,” “Lost in the Citadel”), celebrates one’s riches and successes in spite of adversaries (“Industry Baby,” “Dolla Sign Slime”), and enriches a character through important backstory (“Dead Right Now,” “Sun Goes Down”).
The album’s narrative perfectly encapsulates the delicate approach Hill himself took to introducing himself to the world. On opener “Call Me By Your Name,” he asserts his ability to make an undeniable ear worm, a hit so annoyingly invasive it lingers with the listener until they’re left with no choice but hit replay time and time again.
This boastful nature gradually unravels as the album’s tracklist continues. On “Dead Right Now” Nas X continues the sound of the opener, gradually delving deeper into his past. The song is both a righteous knife twist to his years of detractors and a deeper glimpse into his upbringing in an oppressive world, not just at the hands of his sexuality but in the context of a broken family.
As the album continues, it shows more of its layers. On “Lost in the Citadel,” Nas X reflects on a lost love and the lesson learned from its failure. On “Void” and “Sun Goes Down” he sits with his trauma and explores how it informs his current persona. On closer “Am I Dreaming,” he nods to his fans and yearns for validation. “Never forget me and everything I’ve done,” he pleads.
The closer mimics a lot of albums to come in the Gen Z pop landscape, capitalizing on a slow burning swim deeper into the oceans in which these artist’s live. Like Billie Eilish’s debut, the album goes deeper and deeper and ultimately reveals to the listener as much as they’ll continue to venture, closing on a deeply pensive and not so hopeful note.
Perhaps a nod to this new generation’s seemingly nonexistent attention span or perhaps an effort to bury personal toil within a chunk of pop bangers, its a new form of the pop album that continues to work on Montero.
Is Lil Nas X’s debut absolutely spectacular? Of course not. But in the record’s ability to largely mimic some of the best pop albums of the last few years and solely exist makes it a groundbreaking project. It will continue to assert queer people, those lucky enough to experience it as teens and those who still yearn for that adolescent, angsty validation, for years to come.