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Lil Nas X and the limits of trolling your way to the top — Andscape

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Although he’s proven himself to be a shrewd pop star, Lil Nas X is beginning to learn the downside of his constant pursuit of internet virality.

In a video recently posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, the 24-year-old rapper said that while he intended to “not necessarily apologize” for the ruckus caused by the visuals for his latest single, “J CHRIST” — in which the artist draped himself in Christian imagery, including the crucifixion of Jesus — he did want to set the record straight.

“I want to explain where my head was at,” he said.

Lil Nas X noted that he was not naive to the root of the controversy given “religion is a sensitive topic for a lot of people” and discussed facing backlash previously over using religious iconography in the music video for his hit song, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” Yet, he claimed not to see the criticism over his latest video coming.

“This wasn’t a f— you to you people, f— you to the Christians,” he explained. “It was not that. It was ‘I’m back like Jesus.’”

The comeback analogy he attempted was easily decipherable to the public. Still, as Lil Nas X continued to try to clarify his point, his lack of understanding of the religion he poked fun at was exposed. It wasn’t just the music video for “J CHRIST” that upset people, but also some of the accompanying social media posts in promotion of the new single — notably a TikTok clip in which he dressed as Jesus, eats communion bread and drinks wine from a chalice.

Lil Nas X said he intended to “lighten the mood” by “eating crackers” and “drinking juice.” But upon further reflection amid public outcry, he has grasped that not everyone finds humor in poking fun at the sacrament of communion, which he said stands for “Jesus’ blood and bones or something like that. I don’t remember completely.”

Lil Nas X attends BMI Presents A Night With Lil Nas X Awards dinner at The Gathering Spot on Oct. 20, 2021 in Atlanta.

While Lil Nas X does not owe the public anything, intent doesn’t negate impact, and it’s probably for the best to tamp down on the growing criticism down while you can. And for what it’s worth, Lil Nas X seemed sincere with this act of contrition.

“This is not to try to get everybody on my good side,” he explained. “This is more so to clear my head about my own decisions. I know I messed up really bad this time. And I can act unbothered all I want but it’s definitely taking a mental toll on me.

“I was put on this earth to bring people closer together and promote love. That’s who I am,” he said. “I’m not an evil demon guy trying to destroy someone’s values. That’s not me.”

To be fair to Lil Nas X, much of the criticism he received from some public figures, particularly rappers such as Boosie and Hurricane Chris and popular streamer Kai Cenat, reflects a double standard.

Lil Nas X is not wrong to point out, “I’m not the first person to dress up as Jesus. I’m not the first rapper, I’m not the first artist, and I won’t be the last.”

However, his efforts in “J CHRIST” might be the most empty in recent memory.

When some queer fans and detractors alike pointed that out to him (albeit harshly and with questionable word choices), he lashed out. “The problem with a lot of y’all gays is y’all think im trying to be like [G]aga or [M]adonna when in reality with all due respect idgaf what they did and im doing what i want with my career,” he wrote on social media.

Fair enough. 

But Madonna had issues with Catholicism specifically and Christian double standards more broadly. She was much more adept at articulating her point of view in both her art and defense of it. Lady Gaga was less adversarial but much better at using religious imagery than Lil Nas X has been thus far.

That is not to say Lil Nas X doesn’t have the right to do things his way or that he can’t evolve and perhaps make more substantial art that deals with religious imagery in the future. But as a gay man like Lil Nas X, whose relationship with religion has been fraught over disagreement with how much we should pay attention to the verses in the Bible that seemingly address homosexuality, I wish Lil Nas X used Christian imagery to make a point besides “please help me go viral.”

Everything about the “J CHRIST” video has been a troll, and for all the controversy it has stoked, it hasn’t done much to make the song a success thus far.

The criticism has only overshadowed the song and squandered an opportunity for him to be taken more seriously as an artist. 

That’s a shame because, for all his antics, Lil Nas X has proven himself to be more than just his massive hit “Old Town Road,” which while catchy, didn’t squash fears that he might be nothing more than his generation’s answer to “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Lil Nas X has demonstrated chops as a rapper and singer, and as he shows in clip after clip in recent months of rehearsing, he is working in earnest to become a better performer. This is what you want in a pop star, but the current conversation is more about him being a demon than a serious artist. 

Unfortunately, no matter what he does, anti-gay bias will drive a certain segment of the population to criticize everything Lil Nas X does and, in some cases, blow things out of proportion. As unfair as that is, if an artist going to stoke controversy purposely, why not have a point besides simply trying to go viral for the sake of going viral?

One can only imagine the pressures Lil Nas X faces as a gay Black pop star, but the gimmicks and shock value that catapulted him to the top will not keep him there.

His debut album, Montero, proved that he has more to offer than just attention-seeking antics, but the inclination to go viral at all costs could overshadow music.

Lil Nas X deserves grace, but he must understand that one can only troll so far before it runs out.

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer living in Harlem. He praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes.





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