The artist of last year’s most viral song is paving the way for LGBTQ+ performers in hip-hop…
By Bianca Guzzo
The one song everybody knew the words to in 2019 was “Old Town Road” by new artist Lil Nas X. The song went viral, and exploded on both radio and online platforms. It became so successful, multiple remixes were released with other recording artists spanning multiple genres. North West even directed and produced her own music video for the song starring her mom, Kim Kardashian West. It felt like the whole world was singing along to “Old Town Road,” but we didn’t know much about the person behind the viral hit. So, let’s roll.
The 20-year-old performer of the song, Lil Nas X, was born Montero Lamar Hill in a small city outside of Atlanta, Ga. Following his parents’ divorce, he headed to the place where most preteens in the 2010s found themselves: online. At a time when meme culture was beginning to boom, and there were actual people making actual money posting videos of their daily lives on YouTube, the possibilities to go viral were endless.
Hill’s original plan of succeeding was to become a popular internet personality, often appearing in various comedy videos on Facebook. He told Rolling Stone e was regularly posting on various social media platforms in the hope that something he made would go viral. Not reaching the level of hype he was hoping for, he then launched a Nicki Minaj fan account on Twitter, which became wildly popular. In just a few years, he would find his own music becoming popular on the internet, thanks to the social media platform TikTok.
“Old Town Road,” which was released at the end of 2018, started to gain popularity during the first half of 2019 – and as it got even more attention online, it started to steamroll through to mainstream music charts. The song was so popular, it was re-released a number of times with various collaborators such as Diplo, Mason Ramsey (the Walmart yodelling kid), a member of the K-pop band BTS and, most famously, the version with Billy Ray Cyrus, which is still played regularly on mainstream radio stations. As the song continued to reach new heights, it was clear that Lil Nas X had finally gotten the viral recognition he had always wanted.
Whether you’ve heard it a few times, or more times than you would like to admit, there is something undeniably special, and different, about “Old Town Road” compared to anything we’ve ever heard before. Its mixture of hop-hop and country music has launched Lil Nas X into the mainstream music scene with a sound and aesthetic that is purely his own.
On the last day of June 2019 – after “Old Town Road” had gone platinum, and was the song stuck in everybody’s head whether they liked it or not – Hill came out as gay in a post on Twitter, shortly after coming out to his own family. Once again, the internet erupted for Lil Nas X, and an icon was born. To have somebody so young be openly gay in the hip-hop scene was a really big deal, and he had no plans on apologizing for it.
With every performance and awards show, Lil Nas X serves us something truly unique. And while more androgynous looks are currently having a trending moment on red carpets, Lil Nas X has been blending traditional country accessories with neon colours, bondage pieces and futuristic materials. He has created a “cowboy from the future” look that is uniquely his own.
While Lil Nas X has been celebrated for his authenticity, he has also been met with, and continues to deal with, a lot of homophobia from within the hip-hop community – most recently, being attacked for his neon pink Versace cowboy outfit at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Rapper Pastor Troy went on a rant in an Instagram caption he posted of a photo of Lil Nas X at the Grammys, stating he would most likely never win a Grammy because he doesn’t dress or act like Lil Nas X. He went so far as to drag supreme queen RuPaul into it, saying, “He Making Money!!” Rupaul do too, but I ain’t bumping his CD!!! Integrity is Priceless.” This criticism was met with a lot of backlash, with many people rightfully coming to Lil Nas X’s defence. It also had a lot of people continuing the discussion on homophobia in hip-hop, and how Black men specifically are affected by the societal pressures to act and look a certain way, and how that affects LGBTQ+ people within the Black community.
Along with viral success, Lil Nas X has opened the doors for more conversations to be had and progress to be made on what it means to be LGBTQ+ in the hip-hop community. His second single, “Panini,”is an indication that he won’t be sacrificing his personal style to please anybody else. He’s a trendsetter through both his style and his music, which has always been an explosion of electricity, fun and futuristic ideas.
It’s certain that Lil Nas X will further push the boundaries and continue to help generate conversations about homophobia and LGBTQ+ people in hip-hop. So, while a song that went viral on a social media app mainly populated by teenagers may have given him a kick-start, it is not what entirely defines him as an artist, or a person. “Old Town Road” was simply a springboard for someone, and something, different that the world needed right now. And we should listen up, because he’s got a lot to say, and this is only the beginning.
BIANCA GUZZO is a writer based out of the GTA. She spends her free time watching Trixie Mattel makeup tutorials, though she has yet to nail the look.