*not going to be one of my typical reviews, sorry*
Here we are, what absolutely shouldn’t have happened is a reality - the should be one hit wonder TikTok cowboy rapper Lil Nas X’s debut album is here and it is an event.
Before singles for this album dropped, I wasn’t even sure if I thought Old Town Road was a good song - I’m still not sure if it is - but I was fully on board rooting for Montero Hill, AKA Lil Nas X, because of the dumb controversy and pushback against him. Frankly, his entire career has been defined by this at every point - a dumb pushback from close minded folks trying to stop his success that reminds you how behind the times a lot of people still are. And while hearing people lose their mind over shit that isn’t a big deal like pretending to be pregnant, him and his backup dancers twerking, and Satan Shoes (seriously, are people living in 1692?) is worthy of an eye roll, it ended up working in LNX’s favor as it even easier to root for him, and it became clear he was really likable and genuine. And as the singles for his album dropped, and with the release of “Montero”, another thing has become very clear - Lil Nas X is a certified hit maker.
I think some people will be a little surprised by my rating of this album because most albums I rate super highly have some sort of quality that separates it from the more straightforward albums that get all the limelight. “Montero” does have a quality that separates it from other albums - and we’ll get to it - but that exists in the context it was released in. For all intensive purposes, the music on “Montero” is very straightforward pop music. But god damn, Lil Nas X makes VERY great pop music. In my reviews, I talk a lot about things like song structure, well written melodies and hooks, well layered production, pacing, dynamics, etc - things that some music listeners and makers don’t realize how important they are until they’re not there. But every song LNX has crafted here is well crafted, solid arches from beginning to end, has super catchy hooks, tons of quotables, and is produced so layered and beautifully (shoutout to executive producer duo Take a Daytrip, who have quickly become some of my favorite producers in mainstream music). And while every song here feels radio ready with the potential to be a single, nothing feels like it’s running on a formula or is generic in any way, it’s just well crafted pop music plain and simple - banger after banger after banger. “That’s what I fucking want” out of mainstream pop music, which I frankly think a lot of artists that get the most attention nowadays don’t deliver on. Sure, for some people a well crafted tune isn’t going to be enough to get them to love what they’re hearing, but I think the music on “Montero” more than keeps me entertained with Lip Nas X’s great ear for infectious pop music.
But it’s more than Lil Nas X’s hit game that makes him compelling to me. I cannot overemphasize how big of a deal that we have a real, bonafide pop star that’s black and queer and makes music about being black and queer. Sure, we have had some big names make music about being accepting of different identities, we have had artists that make music about being in marginalized groups before, we’ve even had a handful of big name who happen to be black and/or queer, and if you take a deeper look into it you might see that it part of them soak into their music. But never before have I seen an artist that really is what could be considered a pop star make music that is explicitly about being queer in an unavoidable, almost in your face kind of way, especially not while also being black. A song like “Montero” or “Sun Goes Down” or a music video like “Industry Baby” not only existing but receiving airtime in mainstream media is a big fucking deal. A little about me: I’m 25 years old. I haven’t lived the exact same experience LNX has, I especially don’t know what it’s like to be a black man, but I am transgender woman and pansexual. There was no one like Lil Nas X when I was growing up. You barely saw any queer people in mainstream media, and if you did they certainly didn’t bring it up, and if it was it was through winks and innuendos you only saw if you looked and you could ignore if you didn’t want to see it. Even now it’s still mostly that way, and if you were to see anything more explicitly queer it would mainly be in what felt like designated queer spaces - only enough to not make middle America uncomfortable. That is not what Lil Nas X is doing.
“Montero” is full of songs that are explicitly about queer narratives, with songs about him coming to terms with his identity, exploring his doubts and fears, dealing with his relationships specifically to men (and yes the fact that it can’t be interpreted as being about anything besides men matters) - hell, the title track deals with a relationship that practically every queer person I know has experienced themselves. These songs that are unapologetically gay on top of visuals of him kissing and dancing with men and embracing both feminine and masculine aesthetics/dancing - again, while being one of the biggest pop stars in the world right now with all eyes on him - matters, and if you don’t think that’s the case take a look at how everyone is losing their mind about it. Him being his authentic self in his music, art, and daily life and talking about his queer experiences in his music with his huge platform will likely normalize these identities and hopefully connect to someone who is young and is going through similar experiences, showing them that it’s okay and normal to experience something like it. I wish I had a huge pop star like Lil Nas X and an album like “Montero” when I was still trying to find myself (hell I’m still trying to find myself). The queer kids of the youngest generation, especially those that are also POC, are so lucky to have an artist live his true authentic self unapologetically and still have one of the biggest platforms in music.
Some might hear just another pop album - which I’d still argue against because the music itself is beyond great. However, I think, what Lil Nas X did on “Montero” will truly be something special for a lot of people, especially if you know what it’s like to not have any role models that share a similar experience as you. I never thought the kid that wrote “my life is a movie, bull riding and boobies” would get me so worked up emotionally, but it really makes a difference seeing an out and proud queer person succeed and get to be the main character for once.