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‘I am allowed to get on my knees for multiple reasons’: Lil Nas X plays with religious controversy for his return to music

The young, openly gay rapper, once again uses scandal as a promotional tool with ‘J Christ,’ his new single

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X at the BET Awards 2021, held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.Rich Fury (Getty Images,,)

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By the time you read this, Lil Nas X has probably posted a barrage of new tweets, but at the time of publishing this article, the freshest news was that the musician had just revealed that his new single, officially released at 12:00 a.m. on Friday, January 12, is titled J Christ. “My new single is dedicated to the man who had the greatest comeback of all time!” he tweeted, along with an image in which he appears crucified.

Prior to that, on January 3, the musician tweeted: “I love this constant cycle the world has with me. When I started making music yall told me I was just another Twitter rapper. Then I made the biggest song of all time. Yall called me a one hit wonder. Then I dropped one the most streamed albums of the year with 3 top 5 hits. Now yall saying my new shit not finna do nothing. At some point yall gotta realize I am God’s favorite.”

That is just one of the many messages that Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill) has been posting since the end of 2023 to announce his new song, which is accompanied by a video directed and scripted by himself and recorded in Brazil. Little else is known – for now – about this release, which smells like the preview of a second album, the successor to Montero, which came out in 2021 and became a global success. After teasing a small part of a rap-style song on his TikTok account, he announced that the single featured a very beloved pop star, and that it was going to be “the greatest comeback of all time.”

Lil Nas X
Portrait of a young Lil Nas X at the beginning of his career. Variety (Penske Media via Getty Images)

Another tweet, this time a photo of the singer Kesha carrying a sign that said “New music coming soon!” made people think of her, but she quickly posted a denial. Then, on January 9, following the announcement of the song’s title and cover art, he revealed that the guest pop star was... God himself. In another of the many posts, he appears next to the singer Pink Pantheress, and he also retweeted a good number of news items from accounts that appear to be fake, created by himself, in which numerous stars shower his new song with all kinds of superlative praise.

One gives the benefit of the doubt when one sees Beyoncé, Elton John, Taylor Swift, Tom Holland, Ellie Goulding, Nicki Minaj or Megan Thee Stallion, but when the support comes from Michael Jackson or Queen Elizabeth II, one realizes that Lil is an expert at laughing at (or with?) everyone.

Did he find Jesus, or just a perfect marketing strategy?

All this viral marketing action first exploded on November 30 when the star shared a video with an acoustic folk ballad and the phrase: “Y’all mind if I enter my Christian era?” What seemed like an isolated tease gradually grew, with the musician – officially an atheist until then – trying to convince us that he had converted to Christianity: using the symbol of the cross instead of his name on social media, making TikToks from a church, showing pictures with alleged church billboards advertising his single outside several rural American houses of worship, announcing that he would be premiering his video in churches of New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, or posting a video game designed by himself in which you go to Heaven or Hell, accompanied by the line: “Will you fly high with the angels and party with God, or will you suck Satan’s dick and bunk with Hitler?”

Lil Nas X
Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X, creators of the mega-hit ‘Old Town Road.’Matt Winkelmeyer (Getty Images for Stagecoach)

To cap it all, on January 3 he shared the first sketch of the official art: a drawing of him dressed as a priest, with the legend “In the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.” Just last Tuesday he announced that this year he will begin taking biblical studies at Liberty University, a private Evangelical college with deeply conservative ideals. This could be him poking fun at Kanye West – who co-produced one of Montero’s songs and recently converted – but, above all, the whole thing has all the makings of a viral strategy aimed at scandalizing. Something that he is already achieving, in view of the many messages (real or made-up, who knows at this point) from Christians outraged by Lil’s blasphemous demeanor, to which he responds by saying that he is not making fun: he is making art.

In reality, this African-American and LGTBI+ icon (he is openly gay) would only be stoking the controversy with which he already shook the most reactionary sectors of the US with the video for Montero (Call Me By Your Name). An irrefutable proof of this is this message from November 30: “Making Christian music does not mean I can’t suck dick no more. The two are not mutually exclusive. I am allowed to get on my knees for multiple reasons.” Minutes later, he wrote: “Y’all see everything I do as a gimmick. When in reality I’m just an artist expressing myself in different ways. Whether I’m a cowboy, gay, satanic, or now Christian y’all find a problem! Y’all don’t police nobody else art like mine. Y’all hate me because I’m fun cute and petite.” Also: “I promise to make all my haters no longer want to live this year,” he tweeted on January 4. And, in his first image of the year, he appeared wearing a white dress, a la Madonna in Like a Virgin. Obviously, the controversy associated with the 1989 video of Like a Prayer (in which Madonna dances in front of burning crosses and kisses a black saint in a church), is a much-mentioned reference.

A brilliant and controversial career

One can infer anything from such unapologetic self-aggrandizement: that everything is a big smoke screen to hide the fact that his new music is rather generic, or that we are truly before one of the pop milestones of our time and the boy from Atlanta is making history for the third time. The first was with his debut single, Old Town Road, a country-rap song performed by a Black, gay boy, which in 2019 spent 19 weeks at number 1 in the US, breaking the record for consecutive weeks at the top of the charts. The second time was in 2021, when he was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the year after only one (newly released) album. His strength in the industry is undeniable, as proved by the cast of collaborators featured on that album: Elton John, Kanye West, Miley Cyrus (her father, Billy Ray, had already participated in the remix of Old Town Road), Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and Jack Harlow.

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X attracting attention at the Met Gala 2023. Theo Wargo (Getty Images for Karl Lagerfeld)

J Christ will be the first thing Lil Nas X releases after a year and a half of silence, a seemingly long time considering the rapid pace of the online world, always eager for novelties. In another of his recent messages, he joked that he had not released anything because he had forgotten his Spotify password. In truth, however, he has not been completely idle: after the release of Montero in September 2021, he started working on a tour that would begin just a year later.

His live show responds to all the canons of new pop, although scenically it is not really all that new. There are no musicians on stage, and what plays through the speakers is so faithful to the album that each song can be identified by the Shazam app. As the critic Diego A. Manrique would say, more than a concert it is a burlesque show, marked by constant changes in scenery and costumes, choreographies and a three-act structure; basically, the pop concert model that Madonna established in the mid-1980s. From her, as well as Lady Gaga, Lil Nas X adopts and amplifies the strategy of favoring an overwhelmingly kitsch imagery. The songs are secondary: the important thing is to keep the eyes of the fans – and their phones – glued to the stage at all times. Part of this tour was captured in the documentary Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero, whose premiere at the Toronto Film Festival was also surrounded by controversy, as it had to be delayed due to a bomb threat.

His performance at the Grammy Awards ceremony in April 2022 was yet another source of controversy. In the always conservative American record industry, he was criticized for repeatedly grabbing his genitals and for placing the microphone between his legs as if the device was his penis. In 2022, several singles were released. The first one, Late To Da Party, also furrowed many brows, because its lyrics criticized the Black Entertainment Awards, as he felt snubbed by them, denouncing underlying homophobia. Then came Down Souf Hoes, a duet with Saucy Santana, another gay African-American rapper. His last official song to date, Star Walkin, was released in September 2022 and was marketed as the main song of the video game League of Legends, where he also appears as character. Then came the silence... and now, godly thunder. Or so he says.

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