Op-ed: The Lil Nas X ‘Montero’ music video could trigger an honest dialogue

Over the past week, my Facebook wall has been filled with the opinions of the recent release of Lil Nas X’s new music video, Montero, as well as his “Satan shoes.”

The Montero (Call Me By Your Name) music video is provocative and incorporates religion into its theme. It’s not the first of its kind, as Lady Gaga’s Judas and Madonna have had their fair share of controversy for using religion in their music videos as well. The most provocative theme in the video is when Lil Nas X – whose birth name is Montero – is seen twerking and giving a lap dance to a devil, as well as pole dancing from heaven to hell.

I had heard of the song before I saw the video and had little intention of rushing to see the music video, despite being a fan of his. However, after seeing a lot of backlash on the comment sections of posts about his music video, I just had to click and watch. I was mesmerized by the artistry and creativity of the video. I initially didn’t see much wrong with the video, but quite frankly I just enjoyed the theatrics and wasn’t thinking critically about the message.

There were many likes praising the music video for its artistry, as well as an embrace of queerness, but there was also the backlash from the video as well. Much of the backlash was due to religious reasons; many felt as though the act of twerking on the devil was disrespectful to religious people as well as promoting demonic behavior.  In addition, there was backlash as some felt he was luring kids into seeing this content, due to him creating the hit song Old Town Road which was popular among children. Lastly, there was criticism for him being a man in women’s attire.

Lil Nas X expected such a reaction and stated in a Time interview that “I feel like we’ve come to a time in music where everything is nice and nothing is really cutting edge or starting conversations anymore.”

He further went on to say that he has experienced and seen a lot of condemnation and bashing of homosexuality due to religious reasons. He wanted to create a music video showing the common condemnation of homosexuality that the religious community does and create a dialogue around that.

Is the backlash justified?

I honestly can understand the backlash that he received. Although I’m not religious, I can understand how making to a certain extent a mockery of one’s religion – or at the very least misinterpreting or misusing religion for one’s own benefit – can be offensive. I think there’s a level of respect that should be had toward religious beliefs.

On the other hand, as a gay man, I can understand the intent of the music video and the feelings of the rapper Lil Nas X. I personally was never really involved in church. I was forced to attend at a young age by my father. For the most part, I have never participated or experienced homophobia directly from church – unlike many gay or LGBT people. 

However, I have seen the homophobia online. I’ve seen and heard pastors give sermons on the “sin” of homosexuality and I’ve seen the hateful comments of us going to hell. We all have biases and prejudices. I can admit that the church and religious people more generally are one of the groups that I have a level of negative feelings towards, due to a history of contempt towards gay men. So, I can understand Lil Nas X’s intent of wanting to start a conversation, and he used religion because religion has historically always used us as examples of the ultimate sin.

A self-fulfilling prophecy

There’s a psychological theory called a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, an “individual’s expectations about another person or entity eventually result in the other person or entity acting in ways that confirm the expectations.”

In other words, a person can become what society labels them to be. If a person is labeled a criminal, for example, that person just might act and identity even more so with the identity that society gave them. Certain religions have labeled homosexuals as deviant and sinful, which has the potential to affect how homosexuals view themselves and behave.

In that context, the Montero video is a self-fulfilling prophecy in action. If religion and its followers want to label one as a sin and send them to hell, then they might embody that, twerk on the devil, and ultimately kill him and become the devil – just as Lil Nas X did in his video.

I respect Lil Nas X’s artistry and his ability to create a provocative story in a music video in order to create a dialogue. There needs to be a dialogue about how casting judgment against the LGBT community – something that isn’t supposed to happen within Christianity – has an effect on the people that they are judging.

The religious community can and does have an effect on its followers’ mental health and even on those who don’t follow a religion. It can turn one into hating themselves, feeling like an abomination, a person destined to hell. It can turn someone away from religion. And regardless of religion, we must be conscious of how our judgment and labels affect people’s identity and behavior.

Editor’s note: The following video is not safe for work.

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