The Out-of-Touch Adults' Guide To Kid Culture: Who Is Lil Nas X?

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With the release of a new video and the most controversial pair of sneakers ever created, the rapper, singer, and marketing genius Lil Nas X took over the everything-verse last week. So, if you’re unfamiliar with this unique fella, strap in for some learnin’.

Just who is Lil Nas X?

If you’re old and busted like me, you might not know much about Lil Nas X, so here’s a brief explainer: Born Montero Lamar Hill in 1999, Lil Nas first rose to fame in 2019 on TikTok where his country-rap anthem “Old Town Road” went viral before climbing to number one on Billboard’s charts. Lil Nas X is entirely self-made: He bought the “Old Town Road” beat from Dutch producer YoungKio for $30, recorded the track in an hour at a bargain-basement Atlanta studio, and promoted it himself, churning out tons of memes to get it to the top of TikTok’s algorithm.

With a number one song behind him, Lil Nas X grew his fanbase, particularly among young people, by releasing a children’s book, C is for Country, and performing in the video game Roblox in an event that was viewed over 33 million times. He’s also openly gay.

So where does a gay, Black, country-rap star with legions of kid fans go from here? Well, straight to hell. Last week, Lil Nas X released a video dripping with Satanic imagery, as well as releasing a limited run of personalized “Satan Shoes.”

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Sneakerhead drama: The saga of the “Satan Shoes”

Designed in collaboration with provocative art collective MSCHF, Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoes” were made using Nike Air Max 97s and are emblazoned with “Luke 10:18” (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”) They feature a pentagram pendant, an upside-down cross, and each shoe contains a drop of actual human blood. Released in a limited edition of 666, each pair costs $1018. They sold out immediately after being announced.

On cue, Christian types condemned the shoes. Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota tweeted: “Our kids are being told that this kind of product is, not only okay, it’s ‘exclusive.’ But do you know what’s more exclusive? Their God-given eternal soul. We are in a fight for the soul of our nation.” A young musician is using controversial imagery in his art? Quick, someone get the governor a fainting couch.

The hyperventilating of bluenose types is part of this kind of hype, but the lawsuit from Nike is a different kind of threat. The shoemaker says it had not given permission to use its logo or design, so it filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against MSCHF. A federal judge blocked sale of the shoes until the matter is settled. MSCHF responded by saying, basically, “too late.” They say they’ve already shipped all but one pair of the limited-edition kicks.

Youth culture flashback: That time KISS put their blood in a comic book

Believe it or not, Lil Nas X is not the first musician to use satanic imagery to create controversy and sell music, and he didn’t invent the idea of putting blood in his art either. Way back in 1977, theatrical rock band KISS promoted a KISS comic book by mixing their own blood into the printer ink.

The cover of Marvel Comics Super Special #1 boasts “printed in real KISS blood,” and it isn’t lying. The blood-drawing is documented in a special section of the comic, with the band members in full makeup and costume having their blood drawn to be mixed into the ink. Adorably, Marvel even hired a notary public to oversee and authenticate the process, so fans could be sure they were really getting Gene Simmons’ blood in their funny books. The reaction in 1977 was pretty much exactly like it is today; check out the sputtering self-righteousness of the news coverage of the KISS event. I mean, what is the world coming to?

Viral video of the week: Montero (Call me By Your Name)

The release of the Satan Shoes (and the predictable controversy that ensued) was all to help promote Lil Nas X’s newest single and video, “Montero (Call me By Your Name),” and judging by the number of views, that shit worked great. In less than a week, more than 74 million people have checked it out.

As you might have guessed from the shoes, the video is crammed with satanic imagery, including Lil Nas X giving a CGI devil a lap dance and then tearing off his head and putting the horns on himself. I’m not the target market for the music, but as a fan of 1980s heavy-metal-style pop-Satanism and open expressions of alternative sexualities, I’m fully in favor of this video as some of my favorite things.

As you might have guessed, the video provoked an outraged response, with that same South Dakota governor calling the video disgusting and perverted, to which Lil Nas X tweeted, “I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the s**t y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. So i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”

This week in video games: “Rainbow is Magic” returns

Lil Nas X isn’t the only thing that happened last week—it was also April Fools, and my kid and his friends have been playing “Rainbow is Magic” in Rainbow Six Siege nonstop since the game mode came out on March 28. Originally released on April 1, 2019, the limited-time event/April Fools joke turns the hardcore, tactical shooter action of Rainbow Six on its head, replacing the guns-and-guts aesthetic of the game with a silly, toy theme. A teddy-bear has been kidnapped, and a squad of pink-clad combat veterans must rescue it. Check it out if you’re a Rainbow Six fan. It won’t be around forever.

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