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Bussy water, Satanic lap dances and bottoming bangers: How Lil Nas X trolled his way to the top

·5-min read

The internet belongs to Lil Nas X, and we’re all just living in it.

When the “Old Town Road” star stepped onto the music scene three years ago, no one could’ve predicted his debut studio album would be delivered in a flood of bussy water after an outrageous pregnancy-themed rollout. But here we are.

The image of Lil Nas slowly squeezing out an LP record on a hospital bed may be his surrealest moment yet, but it’s entirely in keeping with his viral promotional style that provokes, inspires and generally sets the internet on fire on a weekly basis.

He’s become such a familiar face on our feeds that it’s easy to forget what an extraordinary phenomenon he is. In a world where many artists’ online presence is carefully curated by extensive social media teams, Lil Nas X is gleefully throwing himself in headfirst and trolling the trolls straight back.

He’s fluent in TikTok and Twitter, an expert in clapbacks and a master of meme-speak. He doesn’t just tap into pop culture, he is pop culture – and the internet loves him for it.

“Lil Nas X understands the internet probably better than any other artist currently working,” wrote internet culture expert Ryan Broderick in his Garbage Day newsletter.

“His music isn’t meant to be consumed as just music or watched just as a video, but it’s also meant to be remixed, transmitted, shared, parodied and commented on. He understands that in a digital world, music isn’t static, but meant to facilitate an ongoing conversation.”

It’s an entirely new way of promoting music, using the internet in a way that doesn’t feel forced or contrived but entirely natural. He’s vulnerable, relatable, self-depreciating and deadly funny – all qualities that make him born for Gen Z fame.

“I guess I didn’t realise how great I had become at doing internet stuff until people started telling me. I was like: ‘Is everybody not using the internet this way?'” the star recently told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe.

“You learn so much subconsciously just doing the things that you do on the internet or to push and promote other people or just to defend other people or other groups of people and whatnot. And yeah, it’s come across as a great tool.”

Lil Nas X in a floral suit with a super-wide lapel
Lil Nas X in a floral suit with a super-wide lapel

The fact that Lil Nas X does it all as proud gay man is pioneering in of itself; the fact that he does it while mashing together two of music’s most hyper-masculine genres, rap and country, is nothing short of phenomenal.

For other artists, coming out as gay within those spheres might’ve been career-ending, and it’s true that some bridges were burned for Lil Nas X. When a fan commented on the lack of Black male artists featured on his album “Montero”, Lil Nas replied tellingly: “Maybe a lot of them just don’t wanna work with me.”

The backlash from the religious right has been particularly fierce – in the last year alone he’s been demonised as “evil”, “depraved,” “Satanic”, and much worse.

But it hasn’t stopped the star putting his sexuality front and centre in his work, whether that’s defiantly kissing a male dancer on stage at the BET awards or lap dancing with the devil himself in his bottoming banger “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”.

“I have never seen anything like this in my entire life,” said pop star Lizzo in an interview with SiriusXM. “It is incredible for a pop star to be openly gay, and to perform in the same time where everything is hypersexualised, to have permission to be hypersexualised himself.

“I think it’s the most empowering, it’s the coolest thing ever. I love pissing people off, and he’s pissing people off.”

Lil Nas X is well aware of the negative reaction he provokes from conservative circles, and this too he uses to his advantage. He simply makes a game of it, merrily schooling Fox pundits and Republican governors alike with his hilarious and irresistibly sharable tweets.

“I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because I was gay. So I hope you are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves,” he tweeted after “Montero” dropped in March.

His skill at redirecting online conversations may look effortless but it’s not done without thought. “I definitely make sure I am picking my fights carefully,” Lil Nas told Zane Lowe. “I try to pick out the ones that I’m like: ‘OK, here’s something to actually talk about.’

“Because if somebody’s just like ‘trashy gay’ there’s nothing there. But if somebody is like: ‘You’re pushing this and this is destroying Black men as a whole and emasculation,’ actually, this is somebody who actually believes something versus just an insult.

“So it’s like, let me talk to this person, because you never know whose mind is flickering. Because I’ve had a lot of views that I’ve changed within the last three years, you know?”

That he’s so self-aware at just 22 years old is just one of the things that marks him out as the defining pop star of his generation. His ability to shape the internet discourse to his advantage will be what cements it.

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