Lil Nas X’s MONTERO: How Music Videos Tell a Story of Success

Emilia Ferreira and Lily Grodzins

The music on Lil Nas X’s debut album, MONTERO, can be described in two ways: slower with softer instrumentals or fast-paced with a more intense sound. However, the contrast within his work falls perfectly in line with many of Nas’ music videos; they are all complex extensions of the music and offer a better understanding of the album. A common theme in Lil Nas X’s music videos is the reflection of his younger self. For example, the “Sun Goes Down” music video features a younger Lil Nas X, someone less confident in his sexuality and future. Through lyrics such as, “I pray God would take it from me,” Lil Nas explains how religion influenced his self-image in the past. “Sun Goes Down” also shows him working in fast food and apprehensive at a school dance.

It’s the present version of Lil Nas X who is able to comfort and uplift his past self, driving home the overarching themes of the album: growth and success. Lil Nas X isn’t afraid to flaunt his success, especially that of his first hit, “Old Town Road.” He also doesn’t shy away from calling people out for calling his success as a fluke, or labeling him a one-hit wonder. The lyrics of “Industry Baby” reflect an unwillingness to give in to this expectation that he has already reached the highest point in his career.

A common theme in Lil Nas X’s music videos is the reflection of his younger self.”

Instead, he confronts these claims and disproves them, especially after the immense popularity of “Call Me By Your Name”, a prime example of how Lil Nas’ music portrays his struggle to come into his own as a queer musician. When the music video opens, the viewer gets a bird’s eye view of the Garden of Eden, as they hear Lil Nas X’s voice preface the video: “In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see … we banish them. But here, we don’t. Welcome to MONTERO.” Then, the narration is replaced with that iconic E-cord, and viewers catch their first glimpse of Lil Nas X.

He presents himself as androgynous, representing both Adam and Eve at the moment when they are tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. But in Lil Nas X’s adaptation, the apple is replaced by his sexuality as a gay man. When he finally surrenders to it during the opening scene, he is immediately sent out from the garden and the scenery changes. In the MONTERO video, Lil Nas plays a variety of characters, including the judges who convicted him for his “sins” and the audience who stones him. In the finale, Lil Nas becomes the devil he originally tried so hard to resist. Through his transformation, Lil Nas shows not only his own acceptance of his sexuality— a contrast from the portrayal of his past in “Sun Goes Down”—but also how society has viewed and demonized him because of this self-acceptance.

This piece also appears in our October 2021 print edition.