It’s common to look at the subjects of explosive viral fame and assume they got lucky, but Lil Nas X (né Montero Lamar Hill) has been planning and meticulously executing his meteoric ascent since before anyone had ever heard his breakout hit Old Town Road.
In his teens, he developed a major Twitter following by growth-hacking the algorithm on his Nicki Minaj stan account. He started promoting his music under viral tweets, and when he wrote Old Town Road, he promoted it ruthlessly, even posting about it on music subreddits under a fake name. A one-hit wonder is born every minute, but from the very beginning, Lil Nas X was determined not to be one of them.
Lil Nas X’s electric debut album, Montero, grapples with his rise to fame and his queer identity. Over the course of his short career, he’s faced no shortage of roadblocks: after coming out as gay at the peak of his popularity, he’s been pulled from the charts, protested, banned, harassed and maligned by people both inside the industry and out. But despite it all — and maybe even because of it — he’s maintained the shit-kicking attitude and ever-present humour built during those days trolling with the Barbz on Twitter.
The first half of Montero brings you to the dance floor of the most extravagant party you’ve ever seen: triumphant brass bands, infectious hooks and boasting, self-assured lyrics referencing coke and champagne construct an explosive, queer Mardi Gras soundscape. This party, of course, has a wild guest list: Doja Cat drops in for a taunting, sneering verse and Megan Thee Stallion’s booming feature outshines even Nas’s prodigious confidence.
And at the centre of it all is Lil Nas X himself, the eternal showman thrusting himself onstage to revel in his newfound success. “This one is for the champions,” he raps on Industry Baby. You feel like he’s talking directly to you, holding your hand and inviting you to celebrate his victories with him.
As the album continues and the night winds down, though, we watch Nas try to figure out who he is once the party’s over. Summer jams are replaced by contemplative, yearning tracks questioning his identity amidst the newfound glamour. Lil Nas X spent his whole life fighting tooth and nail to be where he is right now — so now that he’s here, what does he do? Miley Cyrus, another queer star with a controversy-laden come-up and country roots, joins him on a stripped-down and quietly tragic finale. Ever since he appeared out of nowhere to become rap’s resident provocateur, it seems like the whole world has been trying to figure out who Lil Nas X is. In this album, he dares to admit that he’s not quite sure either.