TORI S. BARENDREGT | REPEAT OFFENDERS
Lil Nas X had his music video for ‘Montero (Call Me by Your Name)’ released on YouTube on March 26th and it has since become the subject of controversy amongst some conservatives. Rap has never really been my thing but then my Facebook feed became flooded with memes about this particular video. Most of my friends were in overwhelming support but one post expressing their disgust about it stood out and I thought I should check it out for myself and see what all the drama was about.
The conservative backlash against ‘Montero’ seems to be largely focused in terms of the religious right. While there has been some comment on the video’s lack of disclaimer for explicit content (notably Joyner Lucas tweeted along these lines and Lil Nas X responded with a good point about parents regulating their children’s online consumption – and, I mean, isn’t most rap music generally explicit anyway?), more of the concerns have been about the video’s promotion of devil-worshipping.
To sum up the plot of the music video, it begins in what can be identified as the Garden of Eden where Lil Naz X, calling to mind Adam, is enticed into temptation by a snake (or rather the devil) with a human male’s torso. But instead of knowledge, temptation here is homosexual relations. This is followed by a trial where the rapper is chained and brought in front of a court for his relations with the devil. Amongst the outrage from the gallery, someone throws a rock at his head and kills him. He is ascending to heaven when a pole rises from hell which he grabs and slides down to give the devil a lap dance. Lil Nas X then breaks the devil’s neck and takes the crown for himself.
While I can understand how some offense can be taken at the appropriation of religious beliefs that trivialise and poke fun at Christians – in this case, you can argue that Lil Nas X is suggesting that those who believe in hell and eternal damnation are wrong or it isn’t a big deal, perhaps even suggesting that their god isn’t real – I do not see this video, nor the song, as promoting devil-worshipping. In fact, I have a hard time believing that it was made to trivialise Christian beliefs but rather it was made to support a LGBTQI+ agenda.
What I find interesting is that most of the backlash has been focused on the video and hasn’t considered the meaning behind the lyrics or the video’s connection to them.
If you are like me and have a hard time understanding rap lyrics when sung, then it might be a good idea to give them a read to see what it is Lil Nas X is speaking about, but I’ll give you the gist of the message here: The song does draw on religious intertextuality, saying “If Eve ain’t in your garden, you know that you can / Call me when you want…” There is also mention of “God was shinin’ on me,” but absolutely no mention of Satan, the devil or even hell. Rather, it is discussing a secret same-sex relationship with someone who has yet to come out and the song becomes a critique on this lifestyle: “Cocaine and drinking wit’ your friends / You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend.”
So, what’s with the seemingly pro-devil-worshipping video? It is a stand against Christian persecution towards queer people.
The LGBTQI+ community has been persecuted in society for centuries, portrayed as deviant, criminal, and even as a mentally ill. Homosexuality was a crime in the entirety of the United States until 1962 when Illinois decriminalised it. South Australia was the first state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality but not until 1975. But it is popularly known that Christianity labels queerness as a sin and queer people continue to face persecution and discrimination today.
“In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. We lock them away, we tell them no, we banish them. But here, we don’t… Welcome to Montero.”
This is the prologue that opens the song in the video, and it offers insight into the rapper’s view on queerness as a sin. In light of this statement, the religious intertextuality in the first half of the video speaks to Christian beliefs about queerness, demonstrating homosexuality as a temptation of the devil and a sin. What follows is Lil Nas X’s demonstration of his disregard for Christian beliefs about his sexual orientation. While Christianity expects homosexuals to be ashamed of their ‘condition,’ to want to be ‘normal’ and to fear going to hell and suffering eternal punishment, Lil Nas X is saying that those aren’t his beliefs and he is not going to let them affect the way he feels about himself or the way he lives his life. If he is sinful because of the way he was made, then he will embrace it.
Considering the message of the song and the lyrics themselves, the religious intertextuality can make sense for the music video. The outrage, then, comes from its failure to use religious intertextuality that is conducive with Christian beliefs. We need to remember that Lil Nas X belongs to a minority and he is in a position to represent that minority and push its agenda. Queer people have been struggling and continuing to struggle to fit into a world that refuses to accept them, and he is merely trying to encourage them to be themselves and not let other people’s beliefs hold them back. We all deserve to be free to who we are.