Lil Nas X’s Saturday Night Live Performance on May 22nd tore through the media, much like his underwear did on stage.
Some people are using it to vilify the artist, others claim it to be nothing more than a PR stunt. But what it really boils down to is that Lil Nas X has capitulated on what it means to be yourself as an artist. He doesn’t apologize for what he’s doing and it should stand as a reflection of a society no longer waiting to be accepted.
Though the controversial rapper is no stranger to controversy, in the midst of this incident he was facing another battle.
After speculation around the Twitter account “nasmaraj,” in 2020, Lil Nas X finally admitted to the account being his. The rapper even referred to it in his most recent song “Sun Goes Down” where he states, “I’d be by the phone stanning Nicki morning into dawn, only place I felt like I belonged.”
It wasn’t until the rapper publicly asked Nicki Minaj to collaborate when the barbz (Minaj fans) began calling him out. Many wondered why he didn’t want to admit the account was his and why he chose to support her when it was convenient for him.
He then took to Twitter to publicly apologize to Nicki Minaj and to explain that he didn’t want people to know he was gay. One barb responded, “being a barb don’t make you gay” where he then tweeted, “it don’t but people will assume if you had an entire fan page dedicated to Nicki u are gay, and the rap/ music industry ain’t exactly built or accepting of gay men yet.”
Lil Nas X came out not too long after the Twitter controversy where he received expected backlash but knew not to take it too seriously, though he can’t forget the struggle of being in the closet. He sat down with Gayle King of CBS This Morning to discuss his coming out song “Closure.”
In an interview with The Guardian, he stated his sexuality is something he thought he would take to the grave, but decided to take the opportunity to use his platform. However, more backlash came his way this year when he released the video to “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” on March 26.
The video opens with Lil Nas X stating, “in life we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see,” as he then embraces his sexuality throughout the video. It didn’t take long for critics to come in and state their issues with the video.
Many were unhappy with the religious aspects presented, especially the CGI of Satan but Lil Nas X took to Twitter and said, “y’all love saying we going to hell but get upset when I actually go there lmao.” Others claim it was the dancing that made them uncomfortable, even though many mainstream female artists are seen doing the same in their videos. It seems the critics proved him right, the industry was not ready for a presence like his.
Typically, the values of Black Culture and Hip Hop do not create a safe or welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community. Black men are constantly pressured to present themselves as masculine and having no emotion, this has led to identity issues for those in the LGBTQ+ community where many struggle to identify with their blackness and their sexual orientation.
While Lil Nas X seems to find himsef helming the narrative of LGBTQ+ issues in rap and hip-hop, he’s far from being the first artist in the game to comment on it.
In a 2005 interview, Kanye West spoke up about homophobia in Hip-Hop where he said, “everybody in Hip-Hop discriminates against gay people.” He went on to discuss the contradictions in Hip-Hop, mentioning it represents fighting for your rights, speaking your mind and breaking down barriers yet it still discriminates against people who are gay.
West is known for being outspoken but in this moment he’s shedding a necessary truth on the subject, one that isn’t often talked about but needs to be. Lil Nas X seems to be ahead of the game here in that he doesn’t care about explaining, he simply is.
West went on to say, “the exact opposite of the word Hip-Hop I think is gay,” citing the language used in rap to refer to the LGBTQ+ community. Over time this language has created boundaries in the Hip-Hop community and placed a lot more pressure on gay artists entering the industry.
Despite the critics, Lil Nas X has remained unbothered. Just last week he performed the controversial song “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” on Saturday Night Live where he showed off his moves before his wardrobe malfunction. He also recently discussed his identity issues in his song “Sun Goes Down,” where he goes back in time to comfort himself in high school. He goes on to state,
“Since ten, I been feeling lonely. Had friends, but they was picking on me. Always thinking, why my lips so big? Was I too dark? Can they sense my fears? These gay thoughts would always haunt me I prayed God would take it from me.”
Reflecting on where he is now he goes on to say, “I’m happy it all worked out for me, I’ma make my fans so proud of me.”
This song is a great reminder of the contribution Lil Nas X has had and how he is constantly breaking through barriers. Although there are other queer black musicians in Hip-Hop, his impact is going to pave the way for others.
His twitter spectacle is only really more of a reminder that Lil Nas X knows exactly what he’s doing, he is in charge of his image and nothing will deter him from presenting himself authentically.
With a culture that makes it troubling for the Black LGBTQ+ community to be involved, it is crucial we have figures like Lil Nas X represented in Hip-Hop. Not only is he a commendable writer, one that bears his soul and makes use of his issues, but his value as an entertainer is also more than simply amusement; he presents a common quest for authenticity.
Whether he expresses himself through pole dancing down to hell, or provocative performances, we’re all in for a special ride with this unique artist. All we can ask of him is to continue being true to himself.