MONTERO marks Lil Nas x’s ascension as the new king of pop

Originally published on Sumner Newscow on October 1, 2021

Happy Friday. And welcome to the new pop era. Just like the generation piloting it, this era is young, exciting, and queer. That’s why Lil Nas x is at the forefront.

After teasing fans for over a year, Lil Nas x (real name Montero) dropped his debut album MONTERO and it’s everything we expected from him. It’s extremely entertaining and parades his knack for catchy beats and lyrics to match them, but adds a newfound depth that we didn’t see in his early days.

For better or worse, Lil Nas x will always be known as the “Old Town Road guy.” That song was addicting and skyrocketed to the top of the Hot 100 for 19 consecutive weeks, the longest streak ever.

MONTERO is largely a response to the publicity and controversy that surrounded the artist since that initial success. He was set to become a genre-defying pop star with mass appeal to every sect of the viewers…until he came out as gay.

This album tells his story growing up in the closet as well as the change in popular reception he saw after publicly coming out. It’s a great story and the album was excellently produced to match.

So, without further ado, let’s break it down.

MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)

This was the first song LNX dropped after coming out and it was a bold statement that he wasn’t hiding his sexuality anymore.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the controversies that followed. From the Satan Shoes to the (award winning) music video, the roll out for this song was perfect. Lil Nas x played conservative outrage to his benefit and became an overnight sensation once again.

It didn’t hurt that the song itself was a banger.

Take a Daytrip produced the hit and accompanies LNX for most of the rest of the album. They love a good trumpet element and hard beats, but this song had a sleek banjo and Montero’s voice.

DEAD RIGHT NOW

Fans online bisect the album into the beginning party half and the following depressing half, but this song is one of the darkest on the album if you listen to the lyrics

DEAD RIGHT NOW fits the sound of a traditional club hit, but the story is all about his early struggles as a musician. The title of the song itself is a reference to Montero’s thoughts of suicide when he first came on the music scene.

From there, he turns the title around to mean he’s treating the people who abandoned him like they did him early on: like he was already dead. It’s not uncommon for artists to release songs about how everyone in their lives suddenly became best friends after they blew up, but few are this depressing.

You’d never know that from the tone, however. This song pairs well with the hits on either side of it. A smash chorus and verses that break up any monotony or pattern you might find. It has major potential as a single.

INDUSTRY BABY (FEAT. JACK HARLOW)

Best song on the album, hands down.

You can read my original review here, but the jist is that it’s a smash on its own merits, that once again played controversy to its advantage. Not only does it have the staying power of a future Record of the Year nominee, but it also made me appreciate Jack Harlow of all people.

I’ve always though Harlow was just a Mac Miller impersonator and while his sound certainly mimics the late rap star, he’s funnier than Mac was and I like his style. His line in the song “I ain’t peak in high school, I’m still out here getting cuter” is, admittedly, one of the best on the album.

This was also the first time I realized just how heavily Take a Daytrip leans on a good horn feature.

THAT’S WHAT I WANT

The next single off the album and you can take that to the bank.

Sometimes I forget that Lil Nas X is only 22, but I remember with songs like this that he’s fresh out of school age. THAT’S WHAT I WANT is the classic “find me somebody to love” song on the album, but with a distinctly youthful feel.

The video confirms that by placing the scene during a high school football match and having a secret affair in the locker room. Lots of queer kids wanted to have a secret hook up during school like their straight peers, but not many of them did and this song is making up for lost time.

The love he longs for in this song is much more innocent than that of Call Me by Your Name too. The opening lines are pretty PG: “Need a boy who can cuddle with me all night, keep me warm, love me long, be my sunlight.”

Sounds like a high school crush to me.

THAT’S WHAT I WANT is a companion piece to SUN GOES DOWN later in the album that covers LNX’s missed out love as a teenager. Unlike SUN GOES DOWN, however, this song is much more upbeat and focuses on what he missed out on rather than the pain he felt at that time.

SCOOP (FEAT. DOJA CAT)

The first meeting of the new king and queen of pop.

As I predicted back in April, Doja Cat had the song of the summer with Kiss Me More and she followed that up with several iconic live performances and a solid album to back it up. Between Doja’s come up on YouTube and Lil Nas x’s domination of Twitter, it was only a matter of time before they put out a song together.

SCOOP was just the kind of song you’d expect from internet stars. It’s packed with fun lines from LNX like being in Pilates or what he’s not asking about guns (lyrics here). Doja matches with a few jokes of her own such as, “can’t call me stupid with this big ol’ fucking forehead motherfucker.”

Like the rest of the first half of MONTERO, SCOOP is a catchy jam with enough depth to it to keep you interested. I don’t know if this will ever be a single, but for fans of LNX or Doja, it’s a great addition to any stan playlist.

ONE OF ME (FEAT. ELTON JOHN)

Now, the fun part of the album is over.

On its face, ONE OF ME is biting critique on the “straight” men that came after him once he accepted his sexuality. It calls them out for their hypocrisy and how they’re probably so critical of LNX because they can’t accept their own queerness.

But to really understand who this song is directed to, you have to know about a washed-up rapper named Boosie Badazz.

Boosie is a rapper out of Baton Rouge that cannot stop obsessing about Lil Nas X. Whenever Lil Nas x posts a picture online with a fake pregnancy, Boosie has to comment on it. Whenever Lil Nas x kisses another boy on TV, Boosie has to claim he’s attacking every boy “trying to act straight.” It really can’t be overstated just how much LNX lives in Boosie’s head.

But, up until this point, Lil Nas X hasn’t responded to any of Boosie’s homophobic rants. Making the repeating refrain “I like this, I don’t like that” referring to his Old Town Road song, it’s a direct call out to all the rappers, Boosie included, that publicly wish he’d just stick to his little country songs.

Boosie has been rumored to be in the closet for years now and isn’t a stranger to loud, homophobic rants. Lil Nas x, just wants him to finally admit to us, and himself, that he’s one of the queer artists in rap now.

Also, Elton John was allegedly featured in this song, but I can’t find evidence of that anywhere.

LOST IN THE CITADEL

Oh, did you miss that trumpet? Because it’s back in this song, albeit in a subtle way.

LOST IN THE CITADEL is a “got dumped” anthem. The entire story revolves around missing a boy that broke his heart after he believed he “was an angel” that the universe sent. The rest of the lyrics have classic breakup lines like “pick my heart up off the floor” and an over-extended angel metaphor to confirm this a standard breakup song.

This track isn’t overly original, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It still sounds nice and acts as a nice bridge between the heavy message we just left in the last song and the upbeat “FU” anthem we’ll get on the next track.

John Cunningham produced this song by himself, and he seems to be a new favorite with the young rap stars of the day. If he can make a decent track out of this tired a concept, I’m looking forward to what he does next.

DOLLA SIGN SLIME (FEAT. MEGAN THEE STALLION)

Even though I think this track belonged earlier on the album, the transitions between songs are never better than the start of this one. The trumpet is much more than a prop that I make fun of in this review, it connects the loose collection of songs into a consistent collective.

This song is also just fun as hell.

DOLLA SIGN SLIME is all about how LNX never changed from his Old Town Road days so everyone that loved him then should do the same now. Just because he’s openly gay doesn’t mean he ever stopped making jokes and doing wild publicity stunts.

So, if the people that switched their views about him after his announcement don’t like him, he thinks that can kindly keep it to themselves because he’s the biggest name in music right now and he did it on merit, not just gimmicks.

Megan Thee Stallion is also on the track and there isn’t another person in rap that is as talented as she is when it comes to making fun of haters. Her verse is a pretty standard feature of hers, replete with solid jokes and fun lyrics I can’t put in the newspaper.

Fun song, 10/10.

TALES OF DOMINICA

This track is also a depressing ode to his family life early on.

It talks about his dysfunctional relationship with his mom and how he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his newfound success because he “can’t stand to see her face.” Lines about his broken home pair well with the faint acoustic guitar that plays like an underlying anxiety.

The lyrics reflect that anxiety with bars like:

  • Drifting on an oceanless sea
  • Can’t go running home, can’t face her face
  • Was everyone right about me?

There’s a superfluous violin on this track, which made me realize just how rich Lil Nas x is. An artist can’t afford horns, well produced beats, and violins if they didn’t have deep pockets. So, I guess having the biggest single of all time has its perks.

SUN GOES DOWN

Here’s the companion song to THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

The context around this song makes it much more meaningful than when it was initially released as a single, but for a more thorough review, read my first one here.

VOID

After a song dedicated to his high school self, it makes sense to write another to himself right after Old Town Road.

The time in between Old Town Road and Lil Nas x’s emergence as a cultural flash point is a strange liminal space in America. He’s still adored by a wider audience, but he’s not living as authentically as possible and still at risk of becoming a one hit wonder.

This song is a great insight into that time and how he was feeling.

LNX writes about the difficulty reaching the level of success he’s aiming for, while at the same time, worrying about how he’ll be received after coming out. The line “I’d rather die than to live with these feelings” makes it all too clear he’d rather just be known for his music.

But as any queer person can tell you, that’s not the way coming out works.

VOID, as a title, isn’t just a reference to his anxiety about fame, it’s about his loneliness as a person. He’s 22 so, I think he should cut himself some slack, but he repeats over and over that he’s writing his songs for one specific person that he can’t seem to find.

VOID is a terribly lonely song and it displays Lil Nas x’s best singing on the entire album, so it’s a great start to the end of the record.

DON’T WANT IT

Just kidding! This isn’t the end of the album; we still have three more songs so let’s pick the beat back up.

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean he’s going to pick the mood back up though. The first verse starts with “I smoked myself to sleep, I’m sad, I think I’m feelin’ lonely,” which he definitely is if he listened to the last song.

The rest of the track is about his mixed feelings about using controversy to his benefit.

He recognizes that his jokes are funny and they’ve heavily contributed to his success, but that controversy comes with a lot of mental strain. It’s probably hard getting bashed by white supremacists and homophobes on Fox News every week and I don’t wish that on anyone.

With all that being said he makes a joke with the line “tell the devil I can’t have him inside,” which is a clear double entendre to giving Satan a lap-dance in his MONTERO music video, so I think he came out on the side of controversy being useful.

LIFE AFTER SALEM

This song should’ve come after LOST IN THE CITADEL. It’s about the anger one feels after getting dumped, so it would make sense to come after the “got dumped” anthem.

Nearly every line is about how cheated Lil Nas X feels that he was used, and even goes so far as to say he doesn’t have feelings anymore. I think he’s being a little dramatic, but again, he’s 22 so he gets a pass.

The song ends with LNX’s admission that he’s up to be a booty call, which shows just how down bad he is for whoever broke his heart.

There’s also a lot of slow whistling in this song, which reminds me of old cowboy movies. If Lil Nas x made a pivot back to country music after this album, I wouldn’t be surprised nor upset about it.

AM I DREAMING (FEAT. MILEY CYRUS)

Now, it’s time to end the album, and we’ll come full circle to Old Town Road with another Cyrus, this time Billy Ray’s daughter.

AM I DREAMING is the culmination of everything Lil Nas x has talked about over this album and it boils down to a simple message: he’s not the Old Town Road kid anymore, but he’s always been the same person, and he’d like some acceptance.

That’s why it made sense to do this song with Miley Cyrus, who had her own problematic period of time called her Bangerz era. She developed a blaccent and parodied hip hop culture at the expense of actual hip hop artists, so I’d argue her controversial past is a bit more severe, but the message is the same: it’s time to move on.

The pair don’t want us to forget what they’ve done, but to recognize those actions were all leading up to who they are now, which are legitimate artists who got into the music industry when they were still children. It’s a great message to end on and wrapped up this project nicely.

So, was MONTERO the revolutionary album that will change music forever? Not really. But it was a great listen and proved (once again) that Lil Nas x is here to stay and isn’t just a gimmick.

I’m looking forward to what the artist does next.

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