This is the most punk shit you can do.

An appreciation post for Lil Nas X and "Montero."

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Given the subject of the book I just wrote, I’ve been thinking a lot over the last two years about the crossover between counter-culture and the mainstream. It’s long been a hot-button issue and everyone’s opinion on the subject varies. There are hardline subculture purists who believe the two should permanently remain separate, that once a movement like punk or hardcore reaches the mainstream, it becomes commodified and loses its power. Others believe punk should be a Trojan horse used to infiltrate the masses and inject counter-cultural messages into mainstream conversation. A frontperson of one of the bands in the book, who clearly falls into the latter category, justified it to me like this: “I always wondered what the hesitation was with major labels. Why not be able to walk into a Kmart and have your record there? Be a choice in that. Be the thorn in the side of society and let the weirdos take over.”

That brings me to this week’s weirdo: Lil Nas X, a gay, Black, 21-year-old rapper and third degree meme black belt. A few days ago, he released a video for his song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and the outlandish visuals were specifically designed to be a thorn in the side of society. In the most notorious scene, he descends to hell in booty shorts and spends half a minute giving the devil a lap dance. By modern pop culture standards, it’s fairly tame. No more shocking than anything you’d find on any given episode of South Park. But still, the vocal cabal of right-wing talking heads produced a full week’s worth of outrage gruel out of it. Heaven forbid! A lap dance! With THE DEVIL? Our kids can see that!

Even the free-speech chuds who think conservatism is the new punk rock had a full-blown meltdown about it. Their main criticism was that while censorship is for tyrants and free speech is to be protected from cancel culture at all costs, Lil Nas X built his career on “Old Town Road,” a song enjoyed by children, so he is therefore honor-bound to be a PG artist/role model for the rest of his career. Many, like this mealy mouthed turd, pointed out that they have no problem with Lil Nas’ homosexuality! They love gay people! Their cousin Richard is a gay. It’s fine that Lil Nas likes men, they say, so long as he never does anything that might publicly celebrate or express his identity in a positive or overtly sexualized manner.

“Pre-teen fanbase.” Ah yes, the time-honored conservative tradition of using the nation’s beautiful children and their virgin ears as a cudgel to beat us with their oppressive Christian agenda. (They don’t give a fuck about the beautiful children being mowed down with our beautiful AR-15s at school, only that they might see a gay guy on TV.) The right-wing fuckheads do this all the time. Every single time Beyoncé shows more than an inch of skin at the Super Bowl or sings about orgasms or whatever, they will have a full-on Helen Lovejoy tantrum that we need to THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Bill O’Reilly, the noted sex pest who was cut from Fox News for being a dirty old pervert, LIVED FOR THIS SHIT. He would take every opportunity to note what a bad influence Beyoncé is on little girls.

Granted, O’Reilly and every current Fox News pundit are completely full of shit. I sincerely doubt the “Montero” video actually offends their moral consciences, because they don’t have any. They are simply ghouls who make a very good living putting their makeup-caked skeleton heads on TV every day and making up a new thing for your Aunt Diane to be afraid of. 25-year-old associate producers comb the internet for stories that might rile up the channel’s church-going viewers, throw it up on a teleprompter, the anchors spend 20 minutes screeching about it on-air while mispronouncing all names involved, and they’ve already forgotten about the segment the minute they step into the town car waiting to take them back to Long Island.

I mean, this is just a pathetic conversation for two adults to have:

Even still, Lil Nas X has been masterfully playing them all week. The right-wing shitheads must have some sort of humiliation fetish because, one by one, they’ve been lining up to get publicly rinsed by this man. Governors, pundits, Candace Owens. Hell, even the Gun Girl got scraped out of the bottom of the barrel to get hit with a Hall of Fame knockout:

To scroll through Lil Nas X’s Twitter feed is like watching a kung fu movie fight scene where one hapless ninja after another watches the ninja before him get thrown through a plate glass window by the protagonist but still thinks “ah, but my approach will be different!” Cut to that ninja also getting thrown through a plate glass window. These people will never learn the internet’s most important lesson: you simply cannot defeat an Extremely Online Gen Zer who has nothing but time on their hands. They are to be feared.

It’s a symbiotic relationship. The right-wing hacks get to blow their little racist, homophobic dog whistles at their dumbshit followers and Lil Nas X gets free promo for “Montero” (almost 50 million views already!). The cynic in me hates that we are all playing our part in this self-promotional theater wherein two sides exploit our beliefs to rack up clicks off each other. But on the other hand, I am in absolute awe of what Lil Nas X is doing right now, using the same powerful machine that exists to subjugate him to his advantage. He’s a disrupter, a punk. 

Oddly enough, the song that keeps coming to mind when I think of “Montero” is Propagandhi’s “Less Talk, More Rock,” one of the most clever songs in the history of punk. After Green Day’s Dookie blew the doors open on the genre in ‘94, suburban kids began flocking to clubs in droves, a rapid growth that had its pros and cons. On one hand, small venues and indie labels were now making enough money to stay afloat, but on the other, a bunch of chongos and jocks missed the point of the music entirely and started turning up at shows to aggressively mosh and hurt people. So Propagandhi, who’d benefitted from punk’s commercial explosion with a popular album on Fat Wreck Chords, wrote a song that was a line in the sand for those meatheads. Go ahead and dance as hard as you want to this song, frontman Chris Hannah sang, but guess what, it’s a song about a same-sex experience I had as a kid. “If you dance to this, then you drink to me and my sexuality, with your hands down my pants by transitive property.”

Here’s Hannah on the song in Exclaim:

"When How to Clean came out, we had no idea anyone would like it, then we went and played some shows and all of a sudden, oh, who are all these fucking jocks and skaters and surfers here? Fuck them. Let's draw a line in the sand, let's make sure we're not misunderstood. We have these values, let's make sure nobody misunderstands them, even if it separates the wheat from the chaff and we're the chaff and it's just us. Let's lay it out on the table."

Lil Nas X’s transgressive impact on pop culture is much larger in scale, of course, but it’s still a line in the sand nonetheless. He roped in millions of followers with a catchy single years ago and is now allowing them a peek at his personal life with “Montero.” And while it may offend some, it’s also extremely fucking catchy. So anyone dancing to it at a wedding or playing it at their six-year-old’s birthday party is going to have to face the fact that they are quite literally dancing with the devil by transitive property.

I hope this goes on forever. Nothing makes me happier than when conservative America tells a notable figure: stick to music, or shut up and play football, or keep your politics out of art, and that person responds, respectfully: fuck you.

That all said, hail Satan, Lil Nas X forever, be the thorn in the side of society and let the weirdos take over.

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