Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” is a masterpiece

by Riley Martinez, Staff Writer

“In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. We lock them away. We tell them ‘No.’ We banish them. But here, we don’t. Welcome to Montero.”

These words open the music video for Lil Nas X’s newest song, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”. Though the song was released only a little over two weeks ago, it now sits at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart – because, despite the controversy surrounding his use of biblical imagery, the song is, at its core, a well-done, lyrically beautiful reflection on the queer – and specifically queer Christian – experience.

The music video opens with Lil Nas laying in a Garden of Eden-esque dreamland called Montero, being pursued by the third eye – symbolizing spiritual or personal enlightenment – of a giant snake version of himself. This scene awakens Nas to what was already there and is paired with the lyrics, “You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend.” The video jumps to Nas being persecuted in a Coliseum, then stoned by versions of himself – presumably for his sexuality. He is killed and flies upwards towards heaven, wrapped in an opalescent sheen until a stripper pole shoots up at his side. He grasps the pole, swings downward towards hell, and the shackles he’s had on for the last two scenes disappear. Nas seduces the devil, kills him and takes his place. At the feet of his throne rests a Latin inscription. It reads, “Damnant quod non intelligunt,” – they condemn what they do not understand.

This religious imagery, paired with the phrase, “Call me by your name,” in a song about accepting one’s queer identity, is groundbreaking because it negates the purposelessness which many religions – but namely Christianity – assign to homosexuality. Both the phrase itself and its origin allow for queer love more than Christian spaces generally do.

Many if not most people will recognize the phrase “Call me by your name” as the title of Luca Guadagnino’s popular 2017 Romance film. Although this movie (and the book it is based on) popularized the phrase, the idea behind it stems from Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium. It refers to Aristophanes’ assertion that we as humans were originally created as united halves of one whole, separated by the gods as punishment for challenging their divinity and destined to spend our lives in pursuit of our other half. 

As far as the phrase goes, “Call me by your name” essentially means “Tell me that I’m your soulmate, that there is no separation between us two.”

 

In popularized Christian mythology, and as Nas emphasizes in both his song and video, the act of pursuing homosexual relationships is believed to be on the same tier of sin as using substances like weed, cocaine and other drugs. This is obviously not a fair comparison, and so Nas turns it into one of the biggest themes of the song. He extends the same blanket acceptance to those taboo activities as he does to homosexuality, effectively renouncing Christian ideas of what is or isn’t acceptable and effortlessly intertwining his pursuit of a man in the lyrics with his pursuit of freedom of expression in the music video.

Many people in the Christian community were outraged by Nas’ use of biblical imagery. Many were upset specifically by his highly casual attitude towards Christianity, and many hold the perception that he is either co-opting or corrupting religious symbols. However, Nas’ inclusion of and actions towards the religious symbols he uses are all highly intentional. He has made this abundantly clear through both the song and its accompanying marketing

Lil Nas has previously spoken about being raised Christian, and about the homophobia he internalized from the Church. Rather than trying to make queerness palatable to a religious audience, Nas rejects both the idea that queerness is not already as palatable as other sexualities, and that Christian beliefs are anything he needs to cater to. He presents the visual of a queer person rejecting heaven in favor of hell, not being rejected by heaven, and in doing so gives queer people back the agency that they’ve been denied in religious spaces for centuries. In this context, hell represents an avenue to free expression of one’s queerness that Christian representations of heaven have never provided. He embraces hell, conquers it, and reclaims the rights of queer people to exist without damnation.

No matter which medium you use to listen to the song – streaming services or the music video on YouTube – one thing remains constant: the song is, any way you slice it, about what it’s like to be queer in a world that tells you repeatedly not to be. That’s why it resonates with so many people; it takes the one aspect of queerness that non-queer people most want to hide – the sexual part of “sexuality” – and displays it with enthusiasm. Nas isn’t saying, “Oh yes, I do like men, but don’t worry you won’t have to see it,” as has been the tacit agreement between popular culture and queer figures for decades. He’s saying, “Yes, I do like men. This is part of my life and I’m going to write about it in the same way that other musicians write about sex.” 

And he does, and he did.

The song is pretty revolutionary. It’s thought-provoking, it’s layered and, more than anything, it’s unapologetic. Lil Nas X created this song with intention, and with a desire to showcase a part of the queer experience that is so often unfairly overlooked – the part where queer people get to just exist and be queer. 

It’s important to note that as of Tuesday afternoon on April 13th there has been speculation regarding the continued regional availability of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” on streaming services. This is unprecedented, and Lil Nas X has addressed the situation himself on his personal Twitter

While the fate of the song remains undecided, one thing is for certain: it’s making the waves it was supposed to. 

In a short letter to his 14-year-old self, Nas writes, “I know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist.” That’s why this song is important, and that’s what’s at stake.

So, if you’re only mad about the Satan shoes – take another look around. 

Riley Martinez is a sophomore studying humanities.

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