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Lil Nas X’s journey to becoming a beloved industry baby

Unless you lived under a rock in 2019, you’ve probably listened to “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X at least a thousand times by now. Whether you first heard the original song or one of its many remixes, namely the one with Billy Ray Cyrus that helped the song spend a record-breaking 19 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, it was truly inescapable at its peak.

My initial feelings about the success of “Old Town Road” weren’t positive or negative, but I certainly didn’t consider myself a fan. I went as far as writing Lil Nas X off as a one-hit-wonder. This is why, three years later, you might be surprised to hear that I have tickets to his Long Live Montero Tour in Chicago this weekend.

If I was asked back then if I thought that Lil Nas X would have multiple hit songs, I probably would’ve said “no” without any hesitation. He proved me wrong, though, as his “7” EP debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 just months after “Old Town Road” was released. Soon after, the EP went double platinum off the strength of singles like “Panini” and “Rodeo.” 

Since then, he has remained an artist that people expect greatness from despite often facing criticism, especially when it comes to the subject matter of his more recent songs and videos following him coming out as gay. The early 2021 release of the music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” sparked controversy from conservative commentators, who claimed the video was advocating for Satanism and that his new music was disappointing to kids who loved “Old Town Road.” 

Nevertheless, all of the attention surrounding “Montero,” the lead single from his debut album of the same name, earned Lil Nas X his second number-one hit. The video has now amassed over 494 million views as of this writing.

As a tie-in to the music video, Lil Nas X partnered with art collective MSCHF and released what were dubbed the “Satan Shoes,” which sold out online in less than a minute despite costing $1,018 a pair. The footwear included Satanic designs topped off by advertising claims that there was a drop of human blood mixed with the red ink of the soles in each shoe.

Nike, Inc. filed a federal lawsuit claiming the shoes were unauthorized redesigns of the Nike Air Max 97s, and it was settled within months. Although he wasn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit, Lil Nas X used the ordeal as an inspiration for the music video for his next hit, “Industry Baby,” in which he sentences himself for the offense in a skit.

Lil Nas X is a visionary who isn’t afraid to take risks, and his musical versatility is displayed in the records from “Montero.” Tracks like “Dolla Sign Slime” with Megan Thee Stallion and “Dont Want It” present a trapped-out style where the singer-rapper celebrates his success and acknowledges his talent. Of course, like any other artist today, he also included an upbeat love song with “Thats What I Want,” which is featured on the tracklist for “NBA 2K22.” 

“Dead Right Now” and “Tales of Dominica” are pop songs that address Lil Nas X’s rise in popularity after a rough start to his career. “One of Me,” featuring Elton John, offers a similar storyline by recognizing the belief of many that his only hit would be “Old Town Road” and that no one would bother listening to his other music. In the aforementioned “Industry Baby” with Jack Harlow, he makes it clear that he was confident in his future all along, saying he knew fans would come back for more.

Lil Nas X’s overall appeal is aided by his lighthearted and comedic demeanor, demonstrated in a variety of ways from his responses to criticism on Twitter to the creation of a storyline through social media  to promote the release of “Montero” that consisted of him being fake-pregnant with the album. He ultimately “gave birth” to it on its release date last September.

The key to Lil Nas X’s achievements appears to be his eccentricity and ability to be unapologetically himself at all times. In an industry in which many artists are unoriginal, Lil Nas X has gone places most people haven’t. After much reflection, it’s evident that his creativity and talent, along with a clear vision for his projects, have created a unique recipe for stardom.

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