This Sunday, copies of the New York Times Magazine, included in the Sunday edition and typically landing with a thud for 350,000 or so Tri-state subscriber homes including many who think of themselves as both upstanding and small “c” conservative.
They may wonder who that is on the cover, and if they know it’s Lil Nas X gay trolling they may wonder how those Medusa-looking braids fit under a tight cowboy hat, or why he gave up the promising Roblox kids career. And they may say to themselves how did he get here? And why swap the ever-gayer country wardrobe for this “feminized” purple jumpsuit, but using many other not-so-polite words to say it. But they will not find an ounce fo anything tentative, or any indications that any shit will be taken about any of it.
And they may ask themselves, “how did he get here?” And they may read about his astonishing journey; his accomplishments without a single real stumble, not a single unforced error, not a single criticism or call out that can be said to have hit its mark in an astonishing ascendency over just a few years few years. The elements are all in the photoshoot, as Maiysha Kai wrote for The Root:
Perhaps it’s the elaborately braided Black Boy Joy Lil Nas X is exuding on the cover (courtesy of hair and makeup artist Widny E Bazile)—or the earnest and unapologetic grin he’s giving photographer Shikeith; but it’s clear that resistance is futile, y’all. As evidenced by the pulsating and provocative success of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, this is Lil Nas X’s real coming out party—and we’re just guests.Maiysha Kai writing in The Root
Hitmaker Lil Nas X has had no shortage of headlines in the last few months. From grinding the Devil to death in the music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” to tactfully covering a wardrobe malfunction during “Saturday Night Live” to delivering the first male same-sex kiss ever broadcast on the BET Awards, the young rapper has kept his name on the tips of tongues with his own personal brand of Black queer expression.
All of these happenings speak to Lil Nas X’s growing comfort with his own expression since coming out as gay two years ago just as much as they communicate a comforting message of acceptance to the queer members of his audience. It’s a far cry from the life circumstances that served as a prelude to his international stardom: having his Nicki Minaj-stanning internet presence scrubbed, his mother’s struggle with addiction and the death of his grandmother, with whom he was extremely close.
In a New York Times Magazine cover story, Lil Nas X opens up about how that tragic series of events pushed him to believe that his life was at an end before “Old Town Road” was even a single note. But delving into music helped pull him out of his mindset, giving him a realm under his control that ended up being the perfect antidote to his tribulation.
“I have this feeling like: You know what? This is mine. This is for me, and I commit myself to it,” Lil Nas X said. That commitment grew when he dropped out of the University of West Georgia during his freshman year, ready to dedicate himself to music in a way he hadn’t previously done to anything else in his life.
“Old Town Road” would launch the emerging queer figure to superstardom in short time, thanks in part to Lil Nas X’s own efforts to meme-ify to the track, a practice that capitalized on his early days as member of the Nicki Minaj superfan squad the Barbz, and it latching onto a country trap trend that made it spread like wildfire on Tik Tok. The controversy surrounding the song’s removal from Billboard’s Top Country charts didn’t hurt either.
The result was a hit that reigned atop the Billboard charts for nearly five months, which Lil Nas X braggadociously refers to in his latest hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” More hits followed, and more are expected once his first full-length album “Montero” drops later this year, but the most earnest way his newfound presence manifested was when he came out in June 2019, smack in the middle of “Old Town Road’s” time at number one.
Though he was already out to members of his family, performing at a Pride event during the U.K.’s Glastonberry Festival proved to be the final catalyst for him to share his identity with the world. “People were waving their pride flags, and it was just so much excitement; I was like, Oh, my God, this is it,” Lil Nas X told Jazmine Hughes of New York Times Magazine.
Hughes wastes no time with the former New York Times stylistics that meant reporters had to distance themselves –even as part of the story– with the third person “a reporter” stuff. And so her interactions with Nas X explain and distinguish what is new and a generation’s identity and what is new and uniquely Lil Nas X — not just when it comes to gender and sexuality , but politics and what “success” looks like too.
“the difference between the Nas of “Old Town Road” and the one heard now, both in musical approach and in self-depiction: The new one is really, really gay. Coming out, for Nas, was a recalibration. He wanted to be not just a pop star but a visibly gay one, a figure built on that Gen Z tendency to heighten a sexual identity into an exaggerated shtick, but one founded on a genuine pride and comfort. (When I first told him I was a lesbian, he limped his wrist in approval — an offensive gesture meant to mock gay men, reappropriated into a convivial meme.) After years of hiding himself, there was now no mistaking it: He was trying to be, all at once, a hitmaker, a huge pop star, an out gay man and a sexual being. “Jazmine Hughes, New York Times Magazine.
And he hasn’t looked back since, continually pushing the depiction of gay pop stardom, Black queer expression and continuing the diversification of mainstream hip-hop. Even more so, he wants to push those norms even further. “Nas’s project, though, is to move past the mainstream and publicly acceptable practice of queerness, which is often so divorced from actual sexual pleasure that it can feel neutered,” writes the New York Times’ Jazmine Hughes.
“It’s one thing to accept a gay person, as many do, by ignoring what we do behind closed doors. But it’s quite another to embrace gay people as sexual beings, who can also enact an identity – just as straight people so proudly, publicly and lucratively do – in part through sex itself,” she added.
It’s a message best summarized by one of many tweets Lil Nas X sent out following his BET Awards performance: “you’re right i am insecure about my sexuality. I still have a long way to go. I’ve never denied that. when you’re conditioned by society to hate yourself your entire life it takes a lot of unlearning. which is exactly why I do what I do.”
Lil Nas X Gay: Previously on Towleroad
Screengrab of photo from Shikeith for The New York Times
Towleroad Editor Michael Goff contributed to this post.