Updated 13th April, 2021.
After shooting to fame with Old Town Road in 2019, Lil Nas X (intentionally or not) has found himself at the centre of a growing list of controversies.
The first of said controversies: the lyrics and subsequent video clip for his latest release, MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name). The rapper and singer came out as gay publicly in 2019, a process he cites as the inspiration for the new song, inspiration which he shared by way of a Twitter note ahead of the song’s release.
“I wrote a song with our name in it…I know we promised to never come out publicly, I know we promised to never be “that” type of gay person, I know we promised to die with the secret but this will open doors for so many other queer people to simply exist…people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be. sending you love from the future.”
The song and music video in question has ignited rage in conservatives for it’s explicit lyrics, satanic and sexual imagery, intertwined with Christian symbols– the video clip following Lil Nas X through the Garden of Eden, flirting with the serpent, before pole dancing his way into hell, giving Satan a lap dance, killing him and stealing his crown. The video, a social and religious commentary piece, depicts Lil Nas X denying heaven in order to fully lean into and express his sexuality, something as mentioned in his Twitter note, he has been grappling with since he was 14-years-old.
The main criticism of the video is that Lil Nas X has developed a young audience off the back of Old Town Road’s success, an audience for which the recent track has been deemed wildly inappropriate. However, despite the backlash and the labelling of the rapper as a “satanist”; in the week since its release the video has garnered over 70 million views on YouTube. Lil Nas X has also taken out the number one spot on Spotify globally and is said to be eyeing the number one position on the Billboard charts.
Leaning into the satanic theme, the rapper’s second controversy came by way of a sneaker collaboration with streetwear brand MSCHF. The MSCHF x Lil Nas X “Satan Shoes” are Nike Air Max ’97 makes that contain 60 cubic centimetres of ink and 1 drop of human blood (drawn from MSCHF employees), released on March 29th and retailing for $1,018 USD.
Despite the 665 out of 666 individually numbered pairs selling out in less than a minute, and Miley Cyrus being spotted wearing the shoes pre-public sale, the collaboration has drawn condemnation from mainstream media, Twitter users and Nike in promoting “satanism”– building on the existing backlash from the recent video release of MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).
In response, Nike has announced in a statement to The New York Times, the brand “did not design or release [the] shoes…do not endorse them,” and are “seeking compensatory, statutory and punitive damages, plus disgorgement of profits in an amount to be determined and is asking the court to order that the shoes and all marketing materials be turned over to Nike for destruction.”
Following the lawsuit initiated by Nike, US district judge, Eric Komitee granted the global sportswear brand a restraining order effectively blocking MSCHF from shipping the 665 pairs of shoes (despite a majority already having been shipped) — as well as preventing the final pair from being claimed as part of a competition run on Twitter, with Lil Nas X imploring his followers to use the hashtag #SatanShoes on Twitter to enter.
While the order was in effect until a trial could stand to begin, Nike and MSCHF have since come to a settlement agreement on Thursday, 8th April, 2021. As WWD reports, the premise of the settlement is that MSCHF will “initiate a voluntary recall to buy back any ‘Satan Shoe’, with the intention to remove pairs from circulation.” However, David H. Bernstein (one of the attorneys representing MSCHF) seems as unbothered as Lil Nas, issuing a statement explaining “The 666 shoes (665 of which were already sold and shipped to collectors [prior to] the temporary restraining order hearing last week) were individually numbered works of art that will continue to represent the ideals of equality and inclusion wherever they are displayed.” He further explains “the artistic messages MSCHF hoped to share with these shoes were also powerfully communicated through Lil Nas X’s music video…and were dramatically amplified by the Nike lawsuit, which brought extraordinary publicity to MSCHF and its works of art.”
Interestingly, Twitter users were quick to point out the double standard in what triggers public backlash. In 2019, MSCHF released a single pair of “Jesus Shoes”, adorned with a gold crucifix and filled with holy water from the Jordan River and blessed by a priest, which sold for $4,000 USD. Nike similarly had no affiliation with the collaboration. Despite not being implicated at the time of release, the “Jesus Shoes” have since been included in the settlement pertaining to the “Satan Shoes”.
Bernstein further commented explaining the settlement “was the best way to allow [MSCHF] to put this lawsuit behind it so that it could dedicate its time to new artistic and expressive projects.”
In response to the backlash, the rapper has uploaded a video titled “Lil Nas X Apologizes for Satan Shoe”. While the 46-second, age restricted video starts with Lil Nas X holding the shoe and speaking face to camera, it almost immediately cuts to the controversial MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) video clip. Further solidifying his unbothered attitude, the pinned top comment on the “apology” video is from Lil Nas himself, reading “IM SO SORRY ? real apology [here]”, before linking directly to the official video clip.
While he has since expressed his frustration regarding the “cancellation” of the shoes, it is also fuelling a spike in downloads for MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), the song having reached number one in Ireland, UK and Saudi Arabia and Billboard’s Global 200, something the MSCHF attorney acknowledged in his statement regarding the lawsuit.
The devil works hard but Lil Nas X works harder.