“I need time to give up just like before/I love it how you know I’d only come right back for more”
And so the chorus goes, with its roundabout search for love and belonging. It’s a habit and a talisman of heartbreak. Lil Nas X doesn’t shy away from the vicarious pleasure of being hurt, of having and holding a broken heart. He does things differently because he knows what he is doing with himself and in music. That is what makes his debut album Montero so alluring. The quoted lyrics from Lost In The Citadel is but a small sample of the experience of a deeply queer story.
The term ‘queer’ has in many ways lost meaning today. It still seems to be the only word capable of capturing any deviance from the norm of a cis-het existence on this broken planet. There is always another dimension to what we call a queer experience. So, I would be amiss to call Lil Nas X’s work representing any sort of universal queerness. What I received from it is not an objective standard for good and bad either (I will leave that job to the critics), but I vibed with it in a way that novelist Brandon Taylor considers vibes as an aesthetic value. On the release date, Lil Nas X was the most streamed artist on Spotify reaching over 46 million streams globally. Many felt those vibes indeed.
All the hype and interest that lead to this massive release had a lot to do with how Lil Nas X represents himself, and of course his excellent marketing. Right from the release of the eponymous single of the album and the controversy around blood shoes to the veritably curious pictures of a pregnant Lil Nas X giving birth to his album, he embraced his queerness and it stood out in a world of sanitised pre-release publicity (and sometimes silly artifice). It wasn’t shock value, but his way to evoke and provoke that made him so special. It riled his critics and all the haters (including many racist and queerphobic assholes) and also brought him a heck load of publicity.
Being a black queer man, Lil Nas X is not the ‘ideal image’ of queerness represented by popular white ‘twink’ boys (like Troye Sivan), or like Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet who are packaged in this manner of desirability for conservative appeal. He is queer in a way that is messy and beautiful and chaotic and sometimes deeply melancholic. Some have referred to this album as a paean to sadness, but I find it deeply humbling as this sadness is also about survival.
His complicated relationship with his biological family is apparent in Dead Right Now and Tales of Dominica, where he provides a heartrending portrayal of his dynamic with his mother, who has suffered from drug addiction. Not similar, it still reminds me how it is difficult for me to have a simple conversation with my parents. After all the pleasantries while talking to my mother, there is an emptiness in how we broach subjects as if I am not enough. It’s perhaps because I am not enough for her. I have to manage my emotions and hide behind the note of cordiality. I can finally breathe with relief after putting down the phone.
As someone who has long struggled with gender identity and ‘sexual deviancy’, I feel it when Lil Nas X speaks of this loneliness in Void or the constant need to run away from life and living on Sun Goes Down. Also, that break in the tension like the sunbeam bursting through after the thunderstorm: “But there’s much more to life than dyin’/Over your past mistakes”.
And the pain of heartbreak is never far behind. His offer to be a part-time lover in Life After Salem is that desperate attempt to cling to something that was (maybe) good once. This inescapable and inexplicable sense of loss has an acrid taste of spent tears during lonely sunsets. I gulp down invisible tears when he croons with Miley Cyrus in Am I Dreaming: “Never forget me”. Our histories have been invisibilised and erased for so long. Lil Nas X is giving a name to this history by reclaiming his story. Though gruesome in its pain, this album is also an ode to his success and the hope for more.
When I listen to him, I believe in that hope. Hope is what anchors us to another tomorrow. And I will wait to let it play out its tune.
I am not very active on this blog anymore. If you would like to stay in touch, find me on Twitter or Instagram. I would appreciate it if you would share my work with others in your circle. You can also Buy Me A Coffee.