“Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and its critique on LGBTQ-excluding Christianity

Audiences demonizing Lil Nas X still don’t seem to understand the true meaning behind the video


On March 9, 2021, the “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” release date was announced via Twitter along with its cover, created by Spanish–Croatian artist Filip Ćustić and featuring Lil Nas X as both Adam and God in a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. (Photo courtesy of Filip Ćustić)

Gwen Mahler , Staff Writer

When Lil Nas X released the corresponding music video to his new single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” social media quickly flooded with reactions, with fans praising him and onlookers demonizing him. Biblical themes paired with explicit homoerotic imagery drew retaliating backlash from conservative Christians and overwhelming support from the queer-friendly community; but the vast attention, both positive and negative, seem to miss the viral song’s genuine meaning.

Montero Lamar Hill, more commonly known by his stage name Lil Nas X, made his breakthrough two years ago when “Old Town Road” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 2019. A little over a month after that, Lil Nas X came out as gay during Pride Month.

Though snippets of his Billboard-charting new single have been circulating in various TikTok videos since July, the single along with its infamous music video was not released until March 26. Three minutes after the “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” music video dropped, Lil Nas X tweeted out an open letter titled, “Dear 14-year-old Montero.”

“I know we promised to never come out publicly, I know we promised to never be “that” type of gay person, I know we promised to die with this secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist,” Lil Nas X said in the letter. “They will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

The provocative music video begins with Lil Nas X seated under the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, a scene straight out of the Bible’s Adam & Eve story. In a twist on the original story, it’s Adam who is tempted by the snake, and as he is seduced by the serpent, they become one, representing Lil Nas X giving in to the carnal desires he was forbidden to explore. As the screen pans off into the distance, a Greek quotation from Plato’s “Symposium” is shown on the tree of life: “After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half.”

If that didn’t already get people’s attention, just seconds later he is seen pole-dancing down from Heaven into the fiery pits of Hell, in nothing but thigh-high boots and a pair of Calvin Klein’s and giving the devil a lap dance before snapping his neck and stealing his horns. The Latin phrase “Damnant quod non intelligunt” is written on the ground below Satan, which translates to “they condemn what they do not understand.” 

According to an interview with Lil Nas X published by HuffPost, the final scene represents “dismantling the throne of judgment and punishment that has kept many of us from embracing our true selves out of fear.”

“Call Me By Your Name” is a reference to the 2017 film directed by Luca Guadagnino. On the surface, Lil Nas X’s single is thought to be inspired by the cult gay romance portrayed in the film of the same name. However, when taking a closer look, it is evident that inspiration was taken less from the Oscar-winning film and rather from his own personal life. 

Whereas the actors in “Call Me By Your Name” do not personally identify as queer menthey were simply playing a part they could walk away from, Lil Nas X cannot so easily close the curtain on his sexuality. His rendition of “Call Me By Your Name” is more than just a coming-out story—it is taking a stand in the public eye as an unapologetically queer Black man. 

Tying into the music video’s theme, Lil Nas X collaborated with art collective MSCHF Product Studio to create 666 individually numbered pairs of Nike Air Max 97 “Satan Shoes” adorned with pentagrams, inverted crosses and the Bible verse Luke 10:18. They also contain 66 ccs (4.0 cu in) of ink mixed with one drop of blood from a member of the MSCHF team in the sole. 

The shoes, which were priced at $1,018 per pair and sold out in under a minute, were compared to comic books by rock band Kiss that were printed using the band members’ blood. Nike, Inc. was not involved with the design or release of the shoes and later filed a lawsuit against MSCHF for trademark infringement and dilution.

The song and music video received praise from Rolling Stones for being “unabashedly queer.” Variety’s Adam B. Vary wrote that the video “changed everything for queer music artists.” David Harris, a magister of the Church of Satan, approved of the music video’s portrayal of consensual sexuality as well as the ending of Lil Nas X crowning himself as Satan.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the music video received criticism from those who deemed it immoral or harmful to children. Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem, conservative pundit Candace Owens, and evangelical pastor Mark Burns all reacted negatively on Twitter. 

In response to criticism, Lil Nas X fired back in a tweet:

“There is a mass shooting every week that our government does nothing to stop. Me sliding down a CGI pole isn’t what’s destroying society.” 

The negative reception to the song and music video was characterized by the Los Angeles Times and Vice as illustrating a Satanic panic and was compared to past moments in popular music history, from jazz music being referred to as “the devil’s music” in the early 20th century to John Lennon’s comment in a 1966 interview with the London Evening Standard that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”

Lil Nas X hopes that, despite the controversy surrounding his music video, his younger fans will watch and take away from it a message of acceptance and understanding.

“I want kids to know that they don’t have to harm themselves,” Lil Nas X said in an interview with Time. “That they’re capable and worthy.”