Home Music artist How Lil Nas X Made Pop’s Most Radically Queer Videos

How Lil Nas X Made Pop’s Most Radically Queer Videos


Lil Nas X’s new video for her single “This Is What I Want” is as much an old-fashioned love story as anything starring teenage Taylor Swift.

In the clip – directed by Colombian creative director Bad Bunny, 21, Stillz – he meets his male crush at a school football game, they hook up in a hot and humid fervor and take a bucolic wood-fired camping trip together. Things don’t work out – the guy chooses a straight family, alas – so Nas walks down the aisle in a wedding dress, dripping mascara with a metal electric guitar on his shoulder.

It’s a sweet, heartfelt end to perhaps the most radical queer pop music video series in history.

“These videos are extremely important. They are such an antidote to the toxic masculinity that was rampant in the Trump years, ”said Virginia Kuhn, an cinema teacher at USC which teaches feminist film theory. “In a culture dominated by visual media, disrupting this central imagery is so powerful. He faces football and Christianity, prison, childbirth and marriage. This has it all. It feels like the 80s with Madonna’s videos.

The 22-year-old pop star released her widely acclaimed first Columbia LP, “Montero”, last week. But even though he’s a rapper, singer, and songwriter, his surprising visual concepts and increasingly skillful and devious performances in music videos and social media campaigns put him at the forefront of the world. queer iconography in the TikTok era. For a young fanbase who has made “Old Town Road” a viral sensation, Nas’ sensibility opens up flexible possibilities when it comes to gender, just as icons Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Prince have done for generations. previous ones.

While highlighting the black male body – naked and dancing, brazenly pregnant or resplendent in a wedding dress – he renders his subversiveness delicious and his aesthetic generosity is radical.

“Very often we see subversive work like this not being enjoyable,” Kuhn said. “That’s why he’s so important right now, it’s so cheerful and visually lush. He has such a sense of humor, but he makes you test your assumptions. Artists can get sucked into the industry where videos are just a way to sell music. It makes music videos essential again.

Little Richard’s barely veiled appetites on “Tutti Frutti” at Sylvester’s heavenly nightclub and the first waves of house music, to the ballroom culture and vogue that permeates Madonna’s hits, Lil Nas X comes from a long tradition of black queer music creating and remaking the popular culture around her. In contemporary TV shows like “Pose,” fashion lines like Hood by Air and Telfar, Frank Ocean and Tyler, the designer’s franchise on gay lust and underground queer rap by Le1f, Mykki Blanco and Cakes Da Killa, the strains of art that Lil Nas X absorbed has circulated above and below ground for generations.

But few of them made it so artistically, commercially and culturally significant. throw ass on Instagram.

Lil Nas X was released gay in June 2019. When he began this album’s long rollout in March, the Luciferian lapdance of “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” did exactly what they hoped for. The clip, where Nas frolic in a 2000-era digital Eden before dropping a stripper pole to hell, outraged the Christian right and poked Nike’s lawyers with an injected shoe spin-off of blood.

If Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion sent the righties to spit with “WAP“,” Montero “finished work for Republican politicians like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who said, “This is outrageous and disgusting and perverse and #PalmSunday no less. Somehow @lilnasx thinks satanic worship should be common and normal.

It was virtuoso trolling, and everyone from Nas to Noem seemed to get what they wanted out of it (publicity, laughs and fundraising – Nas directed fans to charities like the Bail Project for each track. of “Montero”).

But the fact that a black gay rap artist – not to mention one who is also such a country fan that he took over Dolly Parton “Jolene”- could pull this off the top of the charts was surprising. Hip-hop artists like Young Thug have sometimes played with dresses to illustrate their free spirit, but Lil Nas X has made a non-obvious choice to put gay love and desire at the center of his craft. Male pop groups don’t often cover the love songs of female groups, and when Nas X sings “Jolene, I beg you, please don’t take my man”, the weight of a whole culture straight also exercises on him. .

The nude shower choreography of “Industry Baby” blew up the snap of the jail rap video. Lil Nas X winked at “Brokeback Mountain” and his “Old town road“with a cowboy sex streak in” This Is What I Want, “which ended with a teary streak sequence played straight on camera. He vowed to treat his LP deployment with the serene, floral joy of a celebrity Instagram pregnancy announcement, a round belly and all.

Christian Breslauer, director of ‘Industry Baby’ video, said Lil Nas X has a vision for everything from color palettes and storyboards to camera movements, and deserves to be seen as a force in filmmaking. contemporary.

“He had all the visuals planned,” Breslauer said. “Leading it was like dancing with a partner who had practiced all the movements.”

Breslauer has made numerous straight-sexy videos, including Doja Cat’s.StreetsAnd rap hits like Roddy Ricch’s The Box. But he saw Lil Nas X’s highlighting of black male nude bodies in dance scenes, and his playful twist of a dark, confined space like a prison cell, as significantly subversive.

“A lot of artists over time have had to stay in the closet because of their fan base,” Breslauer said. “But there is a reason he collaborated with Elton John, who was larger than life and owned it. There will be kids in the Midwest who haven’t gone out but learn their dance moves and feel free to themselves.

For queer moviegoers like Annie Rose Malamet, the ultra-contemporary clips of Lil Nas X hint at generations of NC-17 experiences that revamped the film’s ability to shock, thrill, and illuminate.

“You can see all these queer cinema references like ‘Pink narcissus‘ and ‘Flaming creatures. ‘ If a gay person is playing with satanic themes, you can’t think of Kenneth Anger and Satan as a deliverer ”, declared Malamet, writer and podcaster on the history of queer horror and genre films. “But a whole new generation might not know these credentials. I find this extremely refreshing. Whether he’s not afraid to imply he’s an ass in a sexual situation, I don’t know if people understand how drastic that is.

Malamet was also thrilled with the idea that, while lesbian sex has long been fetishized in music videos, Lil Nas X has turned the tide on rap and pop fans. “We never see explicit male-to-male sex,” she said. “Normani dancing on Teyana Taylor is more “acceptable”. I hope the impact is that young homosexuals see it and then go looking for what is not common.

Kuhn, for his part, plans to show videos of Lil Nas X in his classes alongside more experimental dishes like Su Friedrich. Her clips alone are an art that crosses borders, she said, and she suspects future queer cinema specialists will see them in the same tradition.

“Other mainstream queer movies aren’t breaking taboos like this right now, not institutionally. These videos will have long-term autonomy, ”said Kuhn. “He trusted his instincts, and that’s so rare for a young pop star. Using that chair to advertise your sexuality was very rewarding to watch.

Then she laughed, remembering the burning and disturbed devil from the “Montero” video.

“Well, maybe ‘pulpit’ isn’t exactly the right word for it.”