Album Review: MONTERO // Lil Nas X

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Lil Nas X is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2019, he bemused music critics with the unique smash hit ‘Old Town Road’ that blended the genres of country and rap. 

He came out as gay shortly after ‘Old Town Road’ achieved success and while he was met with lots of support, he also received significant amounts of backlash. In the lead up to the birth of his long waited debut album MONTERO he has sparked consistent fury from some due to his employment of overt queer themes in his music videos mixed with religious imagery. 

Shortly after he received backlash from his music videos, he created the ‘Satan Shoes’, a piece of merchandise that contains drops of real blood. He has also stirred up debate with the announcement that he is ‘pregnant’ with his debut, a marketing ploy to celebrate the ‘birth’ of his album. 

One thing is for certain: Lil Nas X is unapologetically, unashamedly, true to himself. MONTERO is a liberating album that is an exhibition of the artist’s emotional journey and queerness that refuses to conform to any genre. 

The album kicks off with the award winning single ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’, an anthem with lyrics that explore the theme of a man, openly gay, being in a relationship with a closeted queer partner- “you live in the dark boy, I cannot pretend/I’m not phased, only here to sin.” The track’s verses are soundtracked by an entrancing two chord loop before we are launched into the exhilarating chorus. Lil Nas X’s vocals are characterised by a monotone delivery in the chorus, which only adds to the entrancing factor of this catchy lead single. ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’ is not the only energetic jam that can be found in MONTERO. Beginning with a horn sample and finishing with a Jack Harlow feature, ‘Industry Baby’ is an uplifting victory lap for Lil Nas, who sings in the chorus “I told you long ago on the road/I got what they waiting for.” 

The track ‘Dollar Sign Slime’ is another feel good tune about achieving success in defiance of doubters, which is bolstered by Megan Thee Stallion’s incredible rap feature about the same topic. 

The track ‘One Of Me’ is a fantastic highlight on the album, with Sir Elton John taking to the piano keys on the track. In an interview with 105.1FM, the rapper described how Elton John has given him encouragement to keep on being himself in a heteronormative industry. The song ‘One Of Me’ combines Elton’s keys with a thumping electronic beat, as Lil Nas X raps about how people were expecting him to fail- “word on the block is you fell off and I’m just sayin/If it ain’t Old Town Road Lil Nassy, I ain’t playin”. Lil Nas X has openly talked about how he feared he would become a one hit wonder. 

Lil Nas X’s persona is one of confidence and self assurance. It can therefore be easy to forget the difficulties he has experienced centered around identity and sexuality. 

‘Sun Goes Down’ is a track that Nas labels as “going back in time to visit a younger self who’s struggling inside and hating himself”. Growing up in a religious household, Nas has often talked about how he used to believe that his thoughts about being gay were a ‘test from God’ and they would eventually ‘go away.’ This is perfectly illustrated by the lyric “these gay thoughts would always haunt me/I prayed God would take them away from me”. 

‘Tales of Dominica’ is another superb track that centres around hopelessness in dark times. Nas’ description of “living on an island made from faith” soundtracked to a slow electronic beat is one of the most emotionally touching moments on the album. Lil Nas X dropped out of college in 2018 to pursue a career in music full time – he always kept faith in himself that he would succeed. 

‘Dead Right Now’ is a track with similar themes on self belief. The lyrics suggest that Lil Nas X’s father told him that the career he was pursuing meant he had a “one in a million chance of ever making it.’ Sure of himself, Lil Nas replied with “I am that one in a million”. There are very few people that would question that now!

The latest single ‘That’s What I Want’ is soundtracked by an acoustic guitar loop that expresses Lil Nas X’s desire for a soft intimate relationship with a partner- “Need a boy who can cuddle with me all night/ keep me warm, love me long, be my sunlight”.

Later on in the album, during ‘Life In Salem,’ electric guitars take centre stage and the last minute of the song flirts with the hard rock genre to great success. 

The album closer ‘Am I Dreaming?’ offers a solemn look to Lil Nas’ future.  Lil Nas X asks the listener, with the help of a beautiful feature by Miley Cyrus, to  “never forget me, and everything I’ve done” as the track draws to a close. 

Ending the album on this sombre note may imply that Lil Nas still holds fears about being a ‘moment’ instead of leaving a legacy. ‘MONTERO’ is an album that critics and listeners will be talking about for generations to come due to the successful exploration of genres and for putting queerness as the central album theme. Lil Nas X’s debut album is self confident and assured, but it also has its reflective moments, which serve to remind us how far he has come in such a short space of time. 

Words by Ester Scott


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