Lil Nas X's latest single is 'revolutionary' and 'radical,' says social justice advocate
For Jon P. Higgins, the hip-hop artist's latest hit is a step forward for the genre and mainstream queer art
American hip-hop artist Lil Nas X continued climbing the stairway to stardom earlier this week, after his second single Montero (Call Me by Your Name) debuted at the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
This is the second time that Lil Nas X, whose name is Montero Lamar Smith, has topped the charts. His 2019 hit Old Town Road stayed at number one for a record-breaking 19 weeks.
And while Old Town Road sparked controversy, with the country music industry seeming to reject the song for not being country enough, Montero (Call Me by Your Name) has drawn attention for its unapologetic look at queer love and queer lust.
The song's lyrics feature references to the narrator's sexual relationship with a man who isn't comfortable publicizing his sexuality, but who nonetheless wants to hook up with another man.
And the accompanying music video has also drawn ire from conservative and Christian voices for its use of Christian iconography.
WATCH | Lil Nas X in Montero (Call Me By My Name)
Nonetheless, for people like social justice advocate Jonathan P. Higgins, Lil Nas X's latest single is revolutionary because it doesn't shy away from a subject that has long been excluded from mainstream conversations: Open and frank discussions about queer love.
Higgins spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury to share their thoughts on the artist's latest hit — and why audiences shouldn't sleep on it.
Here is part of that conversation.
Why is it so revolutionary for a hip hop song like Call Me By Your Name to make it to number one and see this kind of excitement and praise?
I was not a huge fan of Old Town Road when it first came out. However, with this song, immediately — literally the first time I heard it — I was like, 'Wow, this is extremely catchy.'
But I think the other part of it is ... the first song of its kind to have both, I would say, a mainstream Black rap, hip-hop artist very, very flagrantly talking about their interactions with another man.
Because ultimately, I mean, [Lil Nas X] tweeted a couple of days ago ... I finessed a number one song about having a hook up with a guy. So it's very much in your face. And I think it's, in a lot of ways, revolutionary and very radical.
me after getting a song about gay sex to the top of the billboard charts <a href="https://t.co/UJK5HpDCOA">pic.twitter.com/UJK5HpDCOA</a>—@LilNasX
That's the reason why people are really starting to really take to the song — take to Lil Nas X's brand — as extremely radical, and it's redefining the ways that we look at sexuality in the hip-hop industry.
Here's a Black queer person succeeding in the music industry — an industry that is marked by white supremacy and queerphobia. Let's try to forget about white folks for a second. What message do you think that Lil Nas X's latest single sends to black audiences?
My whole entire career I've spent talking about the ways that Black queer people are erased in several different spaces. And so, when I started processing out what all this looks like, I think about back in the early 1980s, early 1990s when we had artists like Tupac or Biggie Smalls, rest in peace.
It was all sexualized in the sense of them being able to talk about how many women they're having sex with, and who they're having sex with, in the industry. And it was very much celebrated that these men were lauding themselves as sexual figures.
And then you have women who towards the end of the 90s going into even now [doing the same] — Lil Kim would be, I would say, the first one to really sexualize herself in the sense of saying, 'I am a woman, I am sexy, I like sex. You're going to hear me rap about it.' And then you get down to this idea of now society saying, 'Oh, these women are oversexualized. We need to do something about it.'
This is the first time that we've ever seen a hip-hop artist say, 'OK, well, if [cisgender] straight men can talk about their sex lives and cis straight women can talk about their sex lives, then why can't queer rappers do the same thing?'
I always say the personal is political, and I think that that's what this is. [Lil Nas X] is infusing their personal and political views into their creative work and telling a story that really resonates with a lot of people, specifically folks like myself.
It's incredible how much confidence there is in this song and in the video, and it makes me think of the huge divas in pop music like Lady Gaga and Beyonce and Rihanna and queer male fans [who] have driven a lot of that diva culture. And now here's a queer, male artist who is vying for divadom. Do you think that queer audiences will follow Lil Nas X?
I think we're going to see a lot of queer artistry — and I would say not even just in music, because what I think Lil Nas X is doing and saying is that you can really find success in being yourself.
I get messages all the time from people that are saying by you crafting the path that you've crafted, not only just as an educator but also as a public figure, you're reminding me and telling me that I can speak my mind and speak up for myself and protect myself in ways that I didn't think was possible.
It's not beyond me to understand that what Lil Nas X is doing is referencing the works of James Baldwin, who was very upfront about how he saw the world. [Lil Nas X] is mindful about quotes from Zora Neale Hurston, where she said, ultimately, the world will paint a picture of you and it won't be the one that you want when you've passed on. So I think that that's really what we're starting to see.
We're seeing individuals say, I'm going to paint the picture of me the way I want to paint it. And I don't want the world creating a notion of me or my brand or who I am in terms of my audience. And like I said, it's proving extremely successful for him in his career.
Written and produced by Sameer Chhabra. Q&A edited for length and clarity.
Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.