When “Old Town Road” took over the world in 2019, no one could have predicted that its singer (a precocious, meme-literate teenager) would end up making an album that celebrated so much that has been taboo for so long.
Lil Nas X, aka Montero Lamar Hill, has made a thoughtful and emotional album full of his insecurities, his imposter syndrome and his grapples with being open about his sexuality.
The novelty rap-country of his world-beating hit is nowhere to be found, replaced by songs that range from emo-rock to slimy trap. Lil Nas X’s voice is very supple: one second he’s growling lustily about how he just wants some dick (“Scoop”), the next he’s hitting angelic highs as he openly craves something more (“Lost In The Citadel”).
It’s a gentle “screw you” to anyone who ever told him he wouldn’t amount to anything beyond that one hit, summed up perfectly by drafting in Elton John to tinkle the ivories on “One Of Me”, a song about being told “You’s a meme, you’s a joke, you a gimmick from the go”.
Rap and hip hop have not been genres that are kind to queer artists but having been at one time adamant never to reveal that he was gay to the world, it’s gorgeous to hear Lil Nas X sing so openly and plainly about queer love (and its pitfalls), not only on “Call Me By Your Name” but throughout the record.
He also lays out his mental health struggles, particularly on the truly lovely “Void”, his falsetto trailing into the ether of reverby, cinematic guitars and strings. If I had to choose one word to describe this album, I think it would be tender.
It feels at times, though, that so much work has been put into not being a meme, joke or gimmick that Lil Nas X has misplaced a bit of the fun that made “Old Town Road” so irresistible and his internet presence so endearing.
Perhaps he’s all too aware that he’s “a sign of the times every time that I speak”; the pressure to be a “real artist” is written all over Montero. Now that he’s cleared that hurdle maybe he can relax a little more. One thing shouldn’t be in question: Lil Nas X is here to stay.