“Montero (Call me by Your Name”) is the latest song by Lil Nas X (a gay musician whose real name is Montero Lamar), and which tells the story of how he really wants to have sex with a closeted gay guy he knows. In line with modern hip-hop, it explicitly notes how he wants to have sex with him (he wants to “shoot a child” in his mouth), and about how much he parties (a lot of cocaine is available). It’s not high art, it’s not musically interesting and, despite the fact that some of the innuendo is funny, I’m not a fan of how it approaches its subject matter. And while it is true that Lil Nas X borrowed the title from the book of the same name, nothing in the lyrics suggests literacy; on the contrary, it’s just the same kind of stupid song about sex that mainstream hip-hop produces all the time (somehow requiring 5 songwriters), albeit this time dealing with homosexual lust.
Now, to be fair, a song that openly discusses gay sex does have its benefits, since it can help normalize the discussion of homosexuality. There are many kids who struggle with perceiving themselves as wrong or sick for simply being gay, and so a reminder that they’re just the same as everyone else, and that there’s nothing wrong with them, is a good thing. The problem is that I don’t think that more inclusive lowest-common denominator material is necessarily a good thing. The mainstream is churning out garbage, and simply making it LGBT-friendly garbage doesn’t make it any better. But I guess that you gotta take what you can get.
While just the topic of the song would be enough to make conservative Christians clutch their pearls and reach for the holy water, what really did the trick was the music video. Borrowing much of its imagery from Christian and Greek mythologies, it highlights Lil Nas X‘s own internal conflict about his sexuality… before he pole-dances down to hell, gives Satan a lap dance, and then kills him and takes his place as the new king of hell. Visually, the video is stunning, and it’s clear that a lot of attention was paid to mythological symbolism. And though I think that this level of effort and quality is wasted on this type of music (the video has no real relation to the lyrics), I can’t deny that it’s really well-made.
As if twerking on Satan wasn’t enough to irritate the faithful, Lil Nas X then added the cherry on top by also participating in the sale of 666 pairs of limited edition “Satan Shoes” (Nike Air Max 97s customized and altered by the art collective MSCHF) featuring pentagrams, biblical references, and a drop of human blood (the same gimmick that Kiss used for comics back in the 70s). If Lil Nas X was trying to piss off the American Christian right, this was a surefire way to get a response.
Like Cardi B‘ atrocious “WAP” before it, “Montero” is one of those completely manufactured front-lines in the Culture Wars, and which are exploited by all sides to inflame their own followers. Since it’s very unlikely that there is much overlap between Lil Nas‘ fans and the Christian right, the fight is not so much about convincing anybody, but instead about signaling their values. Those who wanted to defend Lil Nas X (as a proxy for black and LGBT issues) acted as if this song about ejaculating into a guy’s mouth was just as significant as the fights of Harvey Milk, while the Christian right got to attack it as if it was a symptom of America moving away from (their) god.
When a guest on Fox News suggested that the song had been released in the eve of Holy Week just to insult Christians, he was widely ridiculed. The idea that anybody owed any kind of deference to the Christian mythos showed such a sense of entitlemente, that the people pushing that idea (be it on TV, or from the pulpit) were rightfully portrayed as cranks. Considering how the Christian right has treated homosexuals, this entitlement was especially ridiculous. Why should a man they themselves think is damned to eternal damnation have to pretend that he respects their beliefs? Why should anyone adapt their expression to satisfy the needs of those who have chosen to follow a religion?
Despite my own personal opinion of the song, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” does give us an opportunity to think about what we risk when we allow “offensiveness” to determine what kind of expression we allow. After all, when the Christian Right criticizes homosexuality or satanism, they are only following their religion. Based on their mythos, homosexuality and satanism are forbidden and, just like Muslims reacting to images of Mohammed, they do feel seriously offended by media that goes against those beliefs. The issue is that their beliefs deserve no special privilege over our rights. They are free to believe in whatever religion they want, as long as they understand that the rest of us owe those beliefs no special deference. We should remember this the next time that somebody asks for the head of those of us who depict their prophet, create offensive art, or put Satan on our shoes.