Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO” Proves His Place in the Mainstream

The debut album, which follows Lil Nas X’s overnight fame, largely lives up to its promotion and hype.


Arguably one of the most highly discussed celebrities of the year, Lil Nas X has been seemingly everywhere. Building up to the release of this record, there’s been an ungodly amount of press coverage, controversy (some of which being more valid than others), and over-the-top promotions either through the artist’s response to these topics or the dedication of the fans themselves. One of the most groundbreaking things about this is that the majority of this record’s popularity has been from people who actively tried to speak against the artist, where they essentially, as of bringing him into the discussion, are accidentally platforming him and giving him the opportunity to gain an even larger audience than he had before. As a result, this album cycle has been, before the release of the record even began, completely genius, breaking into entirely new creative and promotional possibilities for musicians in the future, all by simply using the internet and its behavior to their advantage. 


In spite of all of this, Lil Nas X’s debut record goes beyond just being a way for Lil Nas X to respond to his controversial state. The things he discusses on this record are significantly more mature, self-reflective, and interesting than what the promotion behind it would have you believe. Instead of simply trashing people that don’t like him and only discussing controversies that people won’t care about just a year from the release, something that many artists, good or bad, have fallen into the trap of throughout the past decade, such as Goblin by Tyler, the Creator and the more recent Certified Lover Boy by Drake, Lil Nas X rather dives into his own mental state around the intense concepts and struggles he’s had with coming into his fame, discovering his sexuality, and much more. The result is a record that heavily celebrates his overcoming of all of these issues, and opens up the possibility for many fans, who may be struggling with those same problems, to be able to relate themselves to the artist.


The first single to this record, and the opening track to this album, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” sets the tone for the record incredibly well, simply due to the circumstances surrounding the track. Later into the record, X goes on to describe his negative mental state around the accusations of being a one hit wonder of sorts, with his single “Old Town Road” being the longest running chart topper in history, and yet this track directly proves that he is the exact opposite of those accusations. This track, more than anything else on the record, utilizes these attacks on X in order to gain promotion, and the result is him getting yet another track becoming one of the most played and recognizable songs of the year. The music video, for example, gained heavy and intense backlash from mainly conservative and religious groups for its somewhat-satanic as well as LGBTQ+ themes. Through Lil Nas X essentially poking fun at this backlash, though, the track only grew more and more, and is heavily responsible for him being cemented as one of the biggest artists out there for the foreseeable future. In addition to all of this, there was also a partnership with promotional company MSCHF, which made even more fun of this backlash through the release of heavily limited shoes. Every aspect of this pressing involved itself in satanic references (the pressing quantity being limited to 666, the price being $1,018, which is a reference to a bible passage, and the use of MSCHF member’s donated blood being mixed into the paint of the soles), which was meant to promote the track even further through controversy. 


The song, of course, though, wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it wasn’t as good as the promotion made it out to be. Easily one of the catchiest tracks of the year, the track uses seemingly simple chords and instrumentation that, when blended together, comes off incredibly lush and grand. A Spanish guitar guides the majority of the track, complemented by heavy bass and drum hits, and an infectious hook that makes for one of the most stand out sections of the entire record. There’s so much going on in terms of the instrumental that the song feels significantly longer than it actually is, in an incredibly tasteful way. Thematically, the song is one of many on the record that discuss his sexuality, and essentially opens up on those themes in a fun, lighthearted, and engaging way. 


X only continues to discuss his personal want for a relationship on the insanely fun pop track “THATS WHAT I WANT.” The track uses guitar and synths in order to create an instrumental that sounds like a well-executed version of something that would have been on an early Imagine Dragons project. The track discusses his struggle to find someone he can be in a relationship with, where he states many of the things that are going against him situationally, such as the pandemic state, his fame, and his sexuality, all of which are making it harder for him to actually find someone that he can be with. Additionally, the track “LOST IN THE CITADEL” feels incredibly similar both sonically and lyrically, which uses a driving electric guitar and some fantastic singing to create yet another upbeat sounding pop track. These are both fantastic tracks, and largely show his ability to alter his genre from his former rap and hip-hop dominated early discography.


Prior to “THATS WHAT I WANT,” the third and final single from the album, “INDUSTRY BABY,” uses a Kanye-produced instrumental and a feature from Jack Harlow in order to push witty and hilarious commentary from X. When all of these elements come together, it becomes one of the most absurdly fun tracks of the year. The hook on this track is one of the most hard hitting things I’ve heard in a while, it has some fantastic lines, and keeps the energy for the entire length of the track incredibly well. On top of this, it’s essentially the only track on the record where he really tears down the people attacking him over his “satanic” controversies. Even the music video itself makes fun of the situation, by essentially parodying and mocking the people saying he is going to go to jail after Nike took him to court over the production of the shoes mentioned prior. Overall, it’s just a triumphant song that goes over incredibly well, and flips the brag-rap style on its head to make something genuinely engaging.


The majority of the other tracks on this record, rather, have a much more introspective and, in some cases, depressive take on this criticism. Tracks like “ONE OF ME,” which features a piano-heavy instrumental from Elton John (an incredible feature, especially considering this is the first full-length album from Lil Nas X), goes into depth on his own personal doubts and his want to, essentially, cave into and accept the criticism in an unhealthy way. It’s the first track that goes into detail of the one-hit-wonder accusations, as well as the general need to constantly outdo himself. It’s an interesting take coming from X, that gets expanded on on later tracks such as “LIFE AFTER SALEM” and the closer “AM I DREAMING.”


The only other real moment that hints at this introspective side of the second-half, and even more so the last third, is the second track “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” which goes into depth on the start of X’s career. He describes himself dropping out of college in order to pursue music, after discovering that what he was doing wasn’t genuinely worthwhile to him, getting backlash from his family, mainly his father, and going to live with his sister. Sonically, he has a vocal cadence similar to Kid Cudi, with spacious and atmospheric production, guided by large trumpets, heavy bass hits that almost drown out the mix, and choir vocals. The track, like some others on the record, comes off pretty repetitive, but is still an important part of the record narratively. 


Despite this, though, there are still some more non-single tracks that don’t go as much into detail on his personal life and introspection, and rather are meant to serve as songs that break up these darker themes with fun, banger tracks, but many of them don’t hold up even remotely to some of the others that were released prior to the full record. “SCOOP,” for example, lacks somewhat in its pre-hook and hook, alongside production that isn’t as engaging as any of the tracks that came before it. The most interesting part of the track is the Doja Cat feature, which brings the majority of the energy of the track. After this feature, though, the track seemingly goes nowhere else. The worst example of this, though, and my least favorite track, is the first track on the second half, “DOLLA SIGN SLIME.” The flow here can genuinely feel annoying at times, and ends up genuinely being saved by the Megan Thee Stallion feature on the song. 


Thankfully, though, I would still argue that the album’s second half is better than the first, something that I was afraid would be an issue, considering that many artists will stack their albums, or put their best tracks early in the tracklist in order to get the most streams out of the best tracks on the record. The track “TALES OF DOMINICA” essentially proved this, with production that’s on par with others like “MONTERO,” despite trying to accomplish something entirely different. This song, like “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” is also highly reminiscent of Kid Cudi, only, amazingly, more grand and huge sounding than even him. The track utilizes the return of the Spanish guitar, only with incredibly heavy percussion making up the majority of the mix. Despite its simplicity, it’s one of the most fun tracks on the record, even if it is much more mellow than some of the songs prior. 


The song that follows, “SUN GOES DOWN,” kicks off the much darker, isolatory, and intense third leg of the album. This song, which was the second single from the album, uses primarily bright synths and an acoustic guitar throughout the majority of the track, and is noticeably darker than any of the tracks that came before it. Not only is it the first song that goes into a significant depth on his suicidal thoughts, but it also is a much more self-reflective take on him discovering his sexuality. He describes feeling isolated, and again, goes into his suicidal thoughts from that time. Though, as a single, the track could benefit from being longer in order to go into more depth on these thoughts, its placement on the record compensates for this perfectly, as many of the other tracks go into even more detail past this point.


The following track, “VOID,” which is the longest track on the record despite just barely hitting the four minute mark, continues on the themes of childhood from the previous song. It essentially makes a comparison between him still not feeling like he’s where he wants to be in life and his childhood, describing an experience where he was writing a letter stating that he’s going to run away from home. The production of the track is similar to something that might be on a Joji project, and yet isn’t even one of the darkest tracks on the record. That, instead, would be what is probably my favorite song from the project, “LIFE AFTER SALEM.” It opens up with some of the darkest sounding instrumentation from the entire record, with a heavily distorted, slow, and grimey guitar passage that, in contrast to the previous banger-track “DON’T WANT IT,” is a tone switch that only gives this track more of an impact. What’s interesting about this transition is the theming of “DON’T WANT IT,” which, despite its bright tone, essentially describes not being sure if they even want to be in this kind of popular-artist position, while also commentating on and reaffirming his apologies for his much more realistic controversy, where he essentially being islamophobic through an alternate account he had prior to blowing up. It’s a feeling that there is something still lyrically wrong, and fits into this darker theme of the third section of the record as a result. All of these themes feel like they’ve fully hit by the time “LIFE AFTER SALEM” hits, and gives it that much more of an impact. 


After its opening section, which has ominous lyrics, such as the constant repetition of the line “take what you want from me,” eventually builds into what is genuinely the most intense and dramatic point in his entire discography. It’s a huge guitar solo section, continuing with the grimey style of the production. Over this incredibly large instrumental, X is singing so loud that it feels like he has to compete with the dark instrumentation in the best way possible. Every aspect of this style comes together perfectly, and, as a result, becomes one of the most memorable moments of the entire album. The whole thing feels like a sonic climax to the themes of the record, essentially serving as a final-battle type aesthetic before the closer.


Taking the near-perfect setup to tie together the themes of the record, the final song “AM I DREAMING” is almost a call-to-action for the listener. The track primarily only uses acoustic guitar, and yet, in context with the last song, comes off incredibly dark and desolate, almost serving like the record’s and its concept’s metaphorical reflection point before death. It essentially asks the audience to remember them for their character, and the things that they actively choose to share with them, instead of through the audience’s perception of them through third parties like the media. The feature here, from Miley Cyrus, is probably the most well placed artist on this entire project. Noting her experience from being perceived negatively from the media, as well as both of their struggles with being accepted from the public eye without criticism due to their state in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a perfect place to put her on the record. 


Overall, this record perfectly cements the placement of Lil Nas X in the mainstream, and proves that, unlike how many people may have believed, isn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon. With some incredibly big name features, an incredibly large budget, almost-always well done execution, and a large amount of inspiration, MONTERO proves his worth as a musician to the industry, the media, and the mainstream. It opens the door for plenty of possibilities in his career, and is something that he, whether you choose to support him or not, definitely deserves.