Lil Nas X Doesn't Owe You (Or Your Kids) Anything

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and David Crotty/Patrick McMullan/ Visoot Uthairam/ jayk7/Getty

Over the weekend, rapper Lil Nas X released the much anticipated video for his song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name.)” The 21-year-old has been teasing the song and the video for months, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in any way. But while most of us are squealing with glee over the video, there are a lot of people who are big mad. And that’s not surprising, but for once, it would be awesome if people could just keep their ridiculous opinions to themselves and let artists just do what they’re going to do.

In the video, Lil Nas X plays on Christian imagery like Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Heaven, Hell, and the Devil. As expected, Christians are having a heart attack because how could someone just casually use their imagery as social commentary? Christian imagery is sacred, and anyone who chooses to use them as symbols is just the worst. People are out here saying they’ll never listen to this music again because they’re so offended. It’s funny, for a group of people who hate “cancel culture,” they sure have no problem cancelling an artist who dares to go against what they hold sacred.

I find it very interesting how people who call themselves Christian weaponize Christianity when it suits them. They have no problem turning a blind eye when a member of their clergy is committing adultery or abusing people. But when a young Black guy decides he’s going to make a music video where he gives the devil a lap dance, it’s too much? How do they decide where they’re going to draw the line? Because it seems like one of them is a real problem, and the other is a fake one that they can use to deflect real issues. I’m admittedly not religious, but I live in America, so I’ve seen my fair share of fake moral outrage. And not one has it ever been something deserving of all the fake outrage it gets. So maybe we should just call it what it is?

Lil Nas X is likely using the religious imagery in the “Call Me By Your Name” video to reclaim an exclusionary narrative. We’re all well aware of how Christians target the LGBTQIA+ community. But so many members of the community identify as Christian, even though they’re openly excluded in many places. Imagine growing up in a circle of people who are supposed to have your back only to sit there week after week while they tell you that you and your way of life is a “sin.” What do we think that does to people in the long term?

For Lil Nas X to take some of the strongest and iconic Christian imagery and insert himself is nothing short of brilliant. Black Christians are often told from a young age that homosexuality is the literal worst thing to exist, and for Black people in the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s a real mind fuck to reconcile what they’ve heard their entire lives and who they are.

“I grew up in a pretty religious kind of home—and for me, it was fear-based very much,” Lil Nas X said in an interview with TIME. “Even as a little child, I was really scared of every single mistake I may or may not have made. I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ community, to feel like they’re O.K. and they don’t have to hate themselves.”

When Lil Nas X dons a pink wig and stands on the stage of the Coliseum being stoned? LGBTQIA+ people have been killed for being who they are forever. Think about how many trans women, especially women of color have died this year alone. And thanks to his religious upbringing, he assumes he’ll go to Heaven, only to be sent to Hell upon discovery of who he really is. So if you’re going to Hell anyway, why not fucking enjoy it? Slide down that stripper pole, and make no apologies for it. (Also, how fucking impressive are his pole skills? Amazing.)

People are trying to say that by giving a version of Satan a lap dance, Lil Nas X is like, a devil worshipper or something. Sounds fake, but okay sure, Jan. Again, not religious or anything, but I think this moment is something we call symbolism. I interpret him giving the devil a (very impressive) lap dance as him truly accepting his sexuality in an open forum. Kind of like an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of thing. If people already think he’s going to Hell because he’s gay, not only is he going to go, but he’s going to lean all the way into it. It seems that making this video is his way of making peace with who he is, and who he thought he had to be.

There is an argument that because “Old Town Road” was such a hit with kids, that Lil Nas X is somehow a children’s music artist. I’m sorry, but if you want your kids listening to children’s music, that’s what The Wiggles are for. He’s a Top-40 radio artist who just happened to make a song that’s popular with children. There’s no way he should have to censor his music for an audience he didn’t ask for. Mainstream music artists aren’t making music for children. If children happen to like it, that’s great. But we have to stop thinking that they owe parents and children something. This is the same conversation I remember having a teen with my mother when Britney Spears was super popular. If a 21-year-old musician wants to create music using the word “fuck,” that’s his business. Stop trying to dictate what kind of music artists create.

I’m the mother of a seven-year-old boy. He’s a big fan of Lil Nas X because his kindergarten teacher used to play “Old Town Road.” But I’ve shown him other songs and videos so he understands that he is more than that one song. I don’t shield him from anything, so my son is aware that the guy he thinks is “cool” is also gay. We haven’t shown him the video for “Call Me By Your Name” yet, but he’s heard the song and loves it. I did tell him he can’t say the grownup words out loud, but that was it. Honestly, he’s going to love the video because he loves fantasy and dress-up and playing pretend. And that’s all the video is — make believe.

And while we’re on that, what about the little queer kids out there? They need to see that there are musicians out there like them. We talk about representation mattering, but it goes past instances of race. Kids who are or may be queer deserve to have idols who are openly queer too. Lil Nas X has been very open about how his childhood influences his own desire to be open about his sexuality. Many queer kids spend much of their childhoods being told they’re less than. So imagine the kids out there who somehow see themselves in Lil Nas X. Their lives could be changed by this video. Especially Black queer kids, and doubly so for those who live in religious households.

At the end of the day, Lil Nas X is a musician and a creative artist. Only he can say how he chooses to share his work. And you can have issues with the way he chooses to do so, but you need to sit with why it bothers you, and not try to make it solely about him.