“Call Me By Your Name” Combats Conservative Criticism


Lil Nas X is lured by a snake version of himself in the Garden of Eden. (Source: UnderWonder Content Production Company)

By Mary Bosch (III)

The phrase “go to hell” has taken on a whole new meaning. On March 26, Montero Lamar Hill, better known as Lil Nas X, released the song and music video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” This music video caused controversy, but the 21-year-old two-time Grammy award-winning rapper and songwriter has been using that contention to promote his new single (see here), whose video became the fastest to ever reach 100,000 views on YouTube. The song is also quickly moving toward the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100.

Much of the song and its title are inspired by the 2017 film Call Me By Your Name. This film was one of the first representations of homosexual romance that Lil Nas X ever encountered, and, after watching it, he was inspired to write about a lover of his own, tying it to the film’s story.

In the film, one lover intimately tells the other, “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.” Lil Nas X references this by including his first name in the song’s title, as well as directly quoting the line: “Call me by your name.” Montero is singing this song to the younger version of him, who would not have imagined being so open about his sexuality. Along with the video, he wrote a short, kind and self-reflective letter to his 14-year-old self, which also inspired another individual to write an accepting note to her former closeted self.

The song tells a story in and of itself, but the music video has its own storyline that is extremely significant to the backlash Lil Nas X has received. First, the singer is seen in the garden of Eden where he is seduced by a snake, which was also played by himself. He is then sent to purgatory and condemned to hell, where he descends on a dancing pole. Once he is in hell, he performs a seductive dance with the devil before snapping the devil’s neck and dethroning him.

The use of biblical imagery and the descent into hell is a clapback at queer people often being told that they are “going to hell.” The release was also accompanied by the sale of 666 pairs of “satanic” shoes each containing one drop of real human blood, which resulted in a lawsuit from Nike, ending the sale of the shoe.

The video, accompanied by the shoe release, has received significant backlash and hate, particularly from right-wing Christians. Many of them claim that the video is satanic in nature, or that its influence on Lil Nas X’s younger fan base will be detrimental. Of course, children’s access to sexual content should be monitored, but Boston Latin School Gender-Sexuality Alliance Webmaster Ash Albert (III) believes that these complaints are just prejudice in disguise.

“We’ve seen a lot of various controversies come out about sexual music videos this year,” they state, “And really what I’ve been taking in this whole time is that American pop culture, since basically its existence, has been sexualized, to some extent. […] But in recent years, I really only see controversies surrounding […] something that can be used to further the oppression of another group. We are seeing this controversy over Lil Nas X having sexual content in his videos coming out as a way of attacking him for being a black gay man.”

Sharing their interpretation of the video, Kasaan Kirby (III) says, “You can see how Lil Nas X is particularly talking about […] coming out, talking about hiding a part of your identity or holding a bad record of being some kind of person. You want to hide that from anyone else for shunning you or saying ‘Oh, you can’t make it into heaven; you have all these sins,’ and then we automatically see, set in the beginning, the garden of Eden and that he was there peacefully by himself.”

Furthermore, Kirby relates the themes of the video to their own experience with self-expression, describing, “[The ‘MONTERO’ music video] kind of shows that you can’t just lock away the feelings that you have. You’ll always find a way to reach inside yourself and to come out and express yourself, like me.”