Image courtesy of Billboard
By Joey Brasco
Lil Nas X ruled 2019. His breakthrough single “Old Town Road” holds the accolade of longest-standing number 1 single on the Billboard Top 100 list. The success of that song and the subsequent 7-EP made for an unprecedented year.
Yet, 2020 was a comparatively quiet one for Lil Nas, with just two singles released. 2021, however, has proven to be a different story. The lead single for MONTERO which shares the same name, came with a great deal of controversy, mainly due to the song’s music video. Singles “SUN GOES DOWN” and the Jack Harlow assisted “INDUSTRY BABY” further previewed the album, along with numerous social media stunts. So with all this attention and controversy surrounding it, how does the actual album stack up?
Previously mentioned singles “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” “SUN GOES DOWN,” and “INDUSTRY BABY” all are clear hits on the album. “MONTERO” is a simple and catchy tune backed by Spanish-inspired guitars and a lyrical focus on Lil Nas’s sexual desires. The Kanye West co-produced “INDUSTRY BABY” is a triumphant, horn-laced smash that sees Lil Nas pumping up his accolades and shutting down anyone who thought his success was a fluke.
He boasts in the chorus, “I ain’t lost since I began, yeah / Funny how you said it was the end, yeah / Then I went did it again.” The Jack Harlow feature provides a helping of the rapper’s usual wit and charisma with plenty of quotables: “Where’s y’all sense of humor? / I’m done making jokes ‘cause they got old like baby boomers.”
“SUN GOES DOWN” offers a different side of Lil Nas, one that is more dejected and love-sick artist struggling with his identity in the world. With its forlorn guitar melody, the track is equally uplifting and heartbreaking. The chorus contains the lines, “Send me a gun / And I’ll see the sun,” while the lead verse laments that, “it’s much more to life than dying / Over your past mistakes /And people who threw dirt on your name.” It is vulnerable and raw lyricism like this that shows the value Lil Nas provides as an artist beyond his hit-making ability.
Still, a lot of this album’s exposure will undoubtedly come from the big name features and radio-ready tunes delivered around the midpoint of the tracklist. “SCOOP” features a chorus which is equally simple and catchy, as well as an off-the-wall vocal performance from Doja Cat to tie the track together. “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” has the makings of an instant hit. With emphatic and braggadocious verses from both Lil Nas and Megan Thee Stallion, the track’s chugging horn melody and earworm chorus add to its viral presentation. The track “ONE OF ME” unfortunately does not deliver as much as the others. Fans may be disappointed upon realizing the Elton John feature only amounts to a short piano outro. Coupled with a pretty repetitive chorus, this is not one of the album’s stronger tracks.
The song “LOST IN THE CITADEL” is a nondescript pop-punk number that sounds out of place in the tracklist. With other songs delving deep into Lil Nas’s personal life through his unique fusions of pop, alternative, and rap, this song sticks out in a negative way. Although the song “THATS WHAT I WANT” has come out as one of the album’s most popular tracks since the release, its generic beat may not stand up to repeated listens like deeper-cuts on the album will.
Despite these minor critiques, MONTERO soars on the back of compelling lyricism, memorable melodies, and smash-hit singles, with plenty of songs on the second half of the album demanding repeat listens. Deep-cut “LIFE AFTER SALEM” sees Lil Nas reflecting on his self-destructive taste in relationships over warped-guitar leads. The song’s climactic chorus sees Lil Nas wailing overdramatic electric guitar solos. Songs like this and others on the back half of the album prove the singer has much more depth than a singles artist.
Finally, on the album’s beautiful acoustic closer, Lil Nas and guest singer Miley Cyrus plead, “Oh, never forget met / Like I’m your favorite song.” With the effort Lil Nas put into this, his debut album, he should not fear that possibility. Lil Nas showed he has the capability to strike the difficult balance of delivering hits for the masses and touching deep-cuts that will have those willing to delve deeper into his music coming back for more. Lil Nas X is no fluke; he’s a star who’s just getting started.