‘Montero’ controversy: Video offers more than just shock value

Montero controversy: Video offers more than just shock value

How do we differentiate meaningful artistic expression from something done for pure shock value? After viewing Lil Nas X’s new single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” I’m pulled to both ends of the spectrum.

It’s been a little over a month since Lil Nas X debuted his new “controversial” single, and the world has gone nuts over it to say the least.

It comes as no surprise that even in this day and age, any form of art portraying the devil or even mentioning his name is bound to stir up some controversy. (The associated release of Lil Nas X’s “Satan shoes” added an additional layer to that controversy)

After viewing the music video along with the Genius interview featuring Lil Nas X, I can confidently say that this song wasn’t made just to get a reaction out of people.

“It was the most real and the most vulnerable I’d ever been on a song” remarked Lil Nas X when he described working on “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” 

I think Lil Nas X’s fans along with open-minded listeners would agree that the song is rich in symbolism and has many key takeaways.

The music video opened up with a short but meaningful monologue from Lil Nas X discussing how we as a society tend to conceal the parts of ourselves that we aren’t comfortable disclosing with those around us.

He then went on to say how we push those parts of us down and forget about them, but in “Montero,” you are free to be yourself without that burden.

A few key points that I noticed in the video was how Lil Nas X had played every character. Whether it was a half-human/half- serpent or a cloud, he played the role.

When the music started to play, Lil Nas X is seen sitting under the “tree of knowledge” strumming his guitar while a snake slides through the grass around him. A half serpent alien approaches him from behind scaring him off. As Lil Nas X tries to run away, the serpent-alien seems to follow him everywhere he goes. It’s in the flowers, the sky, and it eventually appears right in front of him stopping him in his tracks.

The alien seems to hypnotize Lil Nas X and tower over him until he is laying on top of the rapper. They share a kiss and then the video zooms in on what I assume to be the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The message inscribed on the tree is taken from Plato’s Symposium, and it translates to “after the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half.”

This passage is referencing how mankind was created according to Greek mythology. Human bodies were made up of man and woman, woman and woman, or man and man. When Zeus got angry, he split up the bodies which inturn, created a desire between the two halves. This story explains why humans feel love and yearn for our other half (partner).

Half way into the video, Lil Nas X is dragged into the middle of a colosseum while five of his blue haired alter egos stand before him. This scene seems to be alluding to the Marie Antoinette stoning. As he is chained up in the middle of the stadium, the five versions of himself seem to be judging and scolding him.

The stone figures that fill up the enclosed arena start shouting at the rapper in outrage while throwing rocks at him. Eventually, one of the stones hits him in the head killing him.

The scene following shows what appears to be Lil Nas X ascending to heaven. There is an outline of an angel waiting for him, but instead of rising up to the heavens, a stripper pole takes shape, and the rapper glides down it all the way to Hell.

This is very similar to the story of Lucifer. In the Bible, Lucifer was known to be a beautiful angel who defied God. After going against the Lord, he was exiled from heaven  and “fell from grace,” hence the term fallen angel.

When Lil Nas X reaches the gates of hell, Satan is waiting for him on his throne. For the next 20 seconds, Lil Nas X and the devil engage in a lap dance. I assume that the rapper’s goal is to seduce the devil and then eventually kill him off.

After Lil Nas X entices the devil with his dance, he comes behind him and snaps his neck. He takes the devil’s Maleficent-like crown and places it upon his head making him the new ruler of Hell.

In my opinion, I thought the video was well directed and edited. It was obvious that this production had a large budget due to how incredible the CGI (computer generated imagery) looked.

I was also genuinely impressed by how much prior knowledge of historical and religious events one has to have in order to get a full understanding and interpretation of the song.

I personally did not feel offended or uncomfortable once throughout the entire video. I was more entertained and intrigued by the imagery and cultural references. 

I thought this song took a step forward in telling a story about being comfortable with your sexuality. Lil Nas X is an openly gay man, but that didn’t mean that putting out a song like this wasn’t intimidating. By using his voice to fight for the LGBTQ+ community, he was uplifting and representing those who are and have been consistently silenced.

I think people had an issue with this song because they couldn’t differentiate this work of art from something with little to no artistic value such as Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion’s “W.A.P.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I find that song very catchy and I really don’t care if it’s seen as vulgar, but I just don’t understand the message behind it. Some people said that it was made in support of the “sex-positive” movement, while others thought it was hot garbage.

I personally remain neutral on the topic, but I really think that it’s just a song with empty meaning. Nothing in the lyrics or music video made me think twice about sexual expression or feminism.

On the other hand, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” is rich in symbolism. It goes above and beyond in showing the audience that you can and should fight for who you want to be. Life is way too short to be getting caught up in how other people view you.

As far as controversy goes, I completely understand why a parent would be concerned about their child watching the video, but at the end of the day, it’s not an artist’s responsibility to protect someone’s kid. It’s certainly not their job to cater to every kid that watches and listens to their music, that’s up to the parents.

In all honesty, if parents are that concerned about this video getting into their kid’s hands, they can just put video restrictions on their device. It’s not overly complicated and you can easily google how to do that you aren’t sure how.

It’s true that musicians are role models for children, but the bottom line is that they are adults (for the most part) with the right to put out whatever they want. While having that kind of power comes with responsibility, the public has no right to truly hold these public figures accountable for expressing themselves.

In regard to the far-right conservatives who are outraged by the music video, I think that there are far more important things to be worried about than the cultural implications of a man giving Satan a lap dance.

They may believe that the agenda of this video was to corrupt young children with anti-Christian scenes, devil worshipping, and homosexual scenes, but that wasn’t the case.

“The truth is that I am pushing an agenda. The agenda to make people stay the f*** out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.” 

So there you have it. The entire point of this song was not to undermine people’s religious values or to expose young children to sexual themes. Its purpose was to encourage people of any sexuality, race, or gender to live their lives how they want without worrying about everyone else’s opinion.