'MONTERO': a new leaf for Lil Nas X

It was 2019, life was good, and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” came out of nowhere. What seemed like a meme became months of repetition, remix, and a career for Lil Nas X. Though he has released a couple of semi-successful singles since his first album, Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO” has proven to be a cauterizing moment in solidifying his place in the music industry.

The eclectic creativity behind “Old Town Road” reaches full form in “MONTERO,” as Lil Nas X brings listeners into an entirely different universe–somewhere between Mount Olympus and “League of Legends.” From the cover artwork to the associated videos (especially those for “ONE OF ME” and “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”), the album is a voyage into a bubblegum-platinum videogame based deeply in classical mythology.

The generosity of “MONTERO” means that its astounding visual thematics do not translate to musical lack. Clean production and unexpectedly wonderful instrumentation characterize the album, ranging from morose, lute-like acoustic guitars in “TALES OF DOMINICA” and “AM I DREAMING” to renaissance heralding trumpets in “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” and “INDUSTRY BABY” to Glass-Animals-style synths in “VOID.”

Regarding the five other voices featured on the record, Lil Nas X put together a diverse and joyful lineup: queer icon Elton John (“ONE OF ME”), Doja Cat (“SCOOP”), Megan Thee Stallion (“DOLLA SIGN SLIME”), Jack Harlow (“INDUSTRY BABY”), and, in a wonderful ode to her father’s role in “Old Town Road”’s success, Miley Cyrus (“AM I DREAMING”, which also features birds!).

In genre, Lil Nas X flaunts his unique flexibility. Like “Old Town Road,” a distinctly country-hip-hop track, “MONTERO” brings the best of rap, pop, and hip-hop, while still managing to dabble in areas far more subtle. The down-and-dirty metal feel of “LIFE AFTER SALEM” and Paramore-style rock on “LOST IN THE CITADEL” pull the record in a seemingly alt direction, while gospel samples in “DEAD RIGHT NOW” throw us into the heavens. The varied sound has something for everyone, and since it’s his first album, will draw audiences far past the hit singles.

Lyrically, the album re-introduces us to Lil Nas X in a bold way; it is expository in nature from its title — Lil Nas X’s given first name — all the way down to the picture of a nude Lil Nas X right on the cover. Tracks like “VOID’’ and ‘’SUN GOES DOWN” bring us into the deepest depths of Lil Nas X’s worst moments, with lines like “Lately, I’ve been feeling small as the salt in the sea” reminding us that his journey as a breakout artist has not always been easy.

“THATS WHAT I WANT,” along with its groundbreaking video, brings Black queer romance and sexuality to the general public in its purest form: “I want someone who love me/I need someone who needs me.” Between the longing and the reminiscing, though, there is room for the kind of too-cool triumphant spirit that makes this genre-bending record accessible to pop culture.

From the highs of “DONT WANT IT,” to the lows of “VOID,” to the massive complexity of tracks like “ONE OF ME,” Lil Nas X opens the doors to a vast mansion where he sits on a throne of Swarovski crystals, journaling about the woes of high school and rewatching his Grammy wins. “MONTERO” is, more than anything else, a celebration of everything that Lil Nas X has done in the past three years. Calling himself “living proof that if you want it/you can have anything right before your eyes,” he reminisces on his life before fame with a humble certainty. As for the future, “ART OF REALIZATION” gives fans something to chew on: “I’ve been driving a lot … With no actual direction/Not heading toward any specific place.”