Lil Nas X and his debut album “Montero”

On his debut album “Montero”, Lil Nas X lets us catch a glimpse behind his queer Internet persona – and thus creates a pop album with heart and soul, without forgetting the troll part.

By Melissa Erhardt

Lil Nas X releases are like a little happening every time: It’s this kind of unpredictability, this anticipation for a spectacle that always seems to surpass itself. What did Montero Lamar Hill do again? Who has he trolled again now? His art lives from this shock provocation on the one hand, and the admiration and role model function on the other: A black, gay pop star who is so open about his sexuality, who wears a lilac Versace dress at the MTV Music Awards shows up or promotes Uber Eats in a brightly colored feather suit with Elton John? It has never happened in this way before. He packs this fact into well-produced pop songs with catchy hooks, legendary videos and lots of meme content.

From internet troll to musician

Because of this, it has been more than difficult for me to imagine a Lil Nas X album in the last few weeks. This Nicki Minaj-Stan who hung out in the depths of the internet 16 to 18 hours a day and then, out of nowhere, set the record for most weeks with cowboy boots and a $ 30 YouTube beat full of vigor broke the top of the Billboard charts, is this Lil Nas X set to release an entire album? (Whereby, if you take a closer look: His success wasn’t that “out of the blue”. He had already uploaded songs to the Soundportal several times and tweeted them – decorated with memes – to do it with a bit of skill and a lot of algorithm luck to land a viral hit. With “Old Town Road” he finally succeeded). What should an album sound like by someone who has so far built their success on singles that stand for themselves as a provocative, tongue-in-cheek work of art?

The performance was made even more difficult because with the EP “7”, which he shot back in 2019, he made a superficial attempt to spin the success further. The outcome was downright panned by critics. An excerpt: “The EP ends up being a set of nothingness, like watching a Kylie Jenner vlog, content made for the sake of justifying its existence”. So can a Lil Nas X ‘album – apart from the terrific promotion that trumps almost everything we’ve ever seen – have any added value for us? The answer is: yes, it can, and how. “Montero”, the album finally turns the internet phenomenon “Lil Nas X” into a real, tangible person – with ups and downs.

Uncomfortable and painful

Lil Nas X wants to get certain things out of himself on his debut, “no matter how much it hurts or feels uncomfortable to say things”. He already starts on “Dead Right Now”, the second track on the album after the pompous, flamenco-inspired opener “Montero”. It gets uncomfortable and painful here, for example, when he talks about his toxic and distant relationship with his drug-addicted mother somewhere between trap flow, trumpet samples and gospel choir à la Kanye. Or when he talks about his childhood on “Sun Goes Down”, about his inner conflicts and his insecurity, which he felt again and again due to his homosexuality and his blackness:

„Since ten, I been feelin lonely / Had friends, but they was pickin‘ on me / Always thinkin‘, 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 /It’s hard when you’re fightin’ and nobody knows it when you’re silent”

The fact that his father, who initially reacted to his son’s outing with the assumption that this was a “temptation of the devil”, could now be heard as a gospel singer on “Dead Right Now”, makes the whole thing even more intense.

A musical as well as content highlight of the album is the track “Void”. Montero Lamar Hill then shows himself to be more vulnerable than ever before: It is someone who does not know whether he can withstand the pressure and the speed of daily life and is afraid of ending up alone or even failing. It’s the kind of pain with which he admits it – he who so many have referred to as a one hit wonder or a Reddit freak – that gives the song a depth that you won’t find anywhere else on the album: “I’m spendin ‘ all them dark months of time / Trapped in the lonely, loner life / Lookin ‘for love where I’m denied ”.

On Montero, Lil Nas X makes himself vulnerable, he undresses – and at the same time ensures that thousands of his fans, who may be going through the same thing, can relate. Be it because of their sexual orientation, their skin color or other feelings that he expresses on his debut. He does it on purpose, as he says in the Breakfast Club interview: “You can have a bazillion hit songs, but when people actually know about your life, they can relate more. It hits a little bit different. “

Troll Pop at its best

For everyone who has thought up to this point that “Montero” would be a tragedy: It is definitely not. As painful and vulnerable as he is in one song, in other numbers he presents himself boastful, cheeky and self-assured. Of course, Lil Nas X stays true to his “Troll-Pop-Game” – the hits that are made for memefication and tik-tok challenges. In addition to the already released bangers “Industry Baby” and “Montero”, there are also, for example, the tracks “Scoop” or “Dollar Sign Slime”, for which he got female rap support with Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat.

His feature guests on “Montero” also include Miley Cyrus, Elton John and rapper Jack Harlow. Lil Nas X countered the criticism that he had no black male feature guests on his album by saying that they might not want to work with him – alluding to a homophobic attitude of many male (rap) artists in the music industry. Then Kid Cudi stood protectively behind him:

“There’s a homophobic cloud over hip-hop, and he’s going to break that shit down. We have to stand with him. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to let him know – you have my support. When we do our song together, however trippy the video is, let’s get sexy with it.”

Who knows – maybe there will be a Montero Deluxe album soon – by then he might also be able to persuade his great role model Nicki Minaj to do a track together.

Self-discovery between superstardom and growing up

From a purely musical point of view, the album is certainly not a masterpiece. His production team, which includes the duo Take-a-Daytrip (Juice Wrld, Sheck Wes), John Cunningham (Halsey, XXXTentacion), Omer Fedi (Kid Laroi, Justin Bieber) and even Kanye West on “Industry Baby”, rather relies on a mixture of well-produced but popular pop and trap productions.

Nevertheless, Lil Nas X managed to present himself as a rough and smooth pop star with his debut album “Montero”. He, who probably never expected to take off like this and is now trying to position himself in this new role, lets us catch a glimpse behind the facade of the Internet phenomenon. He wants to show that he is not just a “one hit wonder”, but also a serious musician. Most of all, he probably wants to prove it to himself. With his “Montero Show”, which was dropped shortly before the album, he once again proved that his strength remains the unpredictable happenings. And what he has done for the queer community is indescribable anyway.

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