Last Friday, Lil Nas X released his new single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and its accompanying music video—and stoked several types of controversy in the process.
For one, US conservatives, including a few lawmakers and religious figures, have decried the music video as sacrilegious and offensive—primarily over the scenes in which the openly gay Lil Nas plays with Christian imagery. It opens with the artist playing both a version of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and closes with him giving the devil a sensual lap dance, breaking off his horns and putting them on.
The “Montero” video’s treatment of religion was informed by Lil Nas’ own repressive upbringing. “I grew up in a pretty religious kind of home—and for me, it was fear-based very much,” he told TIME. “Even as a little child, I was really scared of every single mistake I may or may not have made. I want kids growing up feeling these feelings, knowing they’re a part of the LGBTQ community, to feel like they’re OK and they don’t have to hate themselves.”
The Satanic panic and moral handwringing continued when Lil Nas X collaborated with the Brooklyn-based company MSCHF on a pair of sneakers dubbed “Satan shoes.” That’s partly due to the imagery used in the design—a pentacle and the Bible verse Luke 10:18 (“He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’”)—but also because its air bubbles contain ink mixed with human blood. Only 666 pairs were made available on Monday, each priced at $1,018—and they all sold out in less than a minute.
The sneakers are a customized—but not authorized—pair of Nike Air Max 97s, which has led Nike to sue MSCHF for trademark infringement. Lil Nas was not named in the lawsuit, but has responded to the news in classic Lil Nas fashion: memes and jokes. The artist has also been gleefully clapping back at the conservative backlash with acid-tongued tweets, some of which you can see below:
we are in a pandemic & there is a mass shooting every week but y’all are gathering in church to discuss shoes lmaooo https://t.co/PW9Szwd8KB
— nope 🏹 (@LilNasX) March 30, 2021
LETS FUCKIN GOOOO! WE MADE FOX NEWS! https://t.co/pkEpbcMPqy
— nope 🏹 (@LilNasX) March 30, 2021
Lil Nas X really choose violence on a Holy Sunday….. as he should 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/c3Rwqotd61
— . (@IovelsX) March 29, 2021
Another scene in the “Montero” video has also stoked discussion of a different sort. Fans have commented on the similarity between the part of the video in which Lil Nas slides down to hell via a pole to FKA twigs’ 2020 video for “Cellophane.” The director of that video, Andrew Thomas Huang, then claimed in an Instagram Story that he had been approached by Lil Nas’ label to possibly work on the video—but that the label later “pivoted away” and did not hire him, but instead tapped the “Cellophane” choreographer to work with Lil Nas X.
In a series of tweets, Huang stressed that he was a fan of Lil Nas X and his “iconic” breakout song “Old Town Road.” The director also said that “sharing collaborators is common” and that he loved seeing the “Cellophane” choreographer Kelly Yvonne work with Lil Nas (“love a Satan dance”).
But “images are also expensive to make,” Huang wrote. “Years of work went into the creation of ‘Cellophane’… ‘Cellophane’ was a confession in the most vulnerable sense.
“When an artist is in a position of power (amplified with the help of major record labels, social media, PR, etc) and repurposes someone’s labor and ideas to serve their brand image, they cause harm by displacing the efforts of the artists who did the original leg work,” he continued.
Huang laid the blame at the feet of major record labels, asserting that “the demand for content pushed by major labels renders our work disposable and pits artists against each other.”
He ended his tweets by “urg[ing] the music community, particularly major record labels like [Lil Nas X’s label] Columbia Records to respect directors, uphold artistic accountability and honor the ingenuity of artists dedicating their blood sweat and tears to imagine better futures amidst a broken industry.”
It appears that Lil Nas X and FKA twigs have personally ironed out any misunderstandings, though. On Instagram, the artists revealed they had had a conversation about the videos. Lil Nas X called “Cellophane” a masterpiece, and said “I was not aware that the visual would serve as inspiration for those who worked on the effects of my video.”
“I want to say thank u to twigs for calling me and informing me about the similarities between the two videos, as I was not aware they were so close.”
For her part, twigs made a post thanking Lil Nas “for our gentle honest conversations and for acknowledging the inspiration ‘Cellophane’ gave you and your creative team in creating your iconic video!”
She added, “I think what you have done is amazing and I fully support your expression and bravery in pushing culture forward for the queer community. Legend status.”