It’s indisputable that Lil Nas X is the most entertaining figure in popular culture right now.
He has a perfect blend of wit, spontaneity, and raw charisma. He takes what he does seriously, but not himself. He is a synthesis of everything positive about not only our generation, but the cultural moment we’re living in including pride, acceptance, defiance, and memes. He is a new kind of popstar, and a man ahead of his time.
Since his explosion onto the scene two years ago, there has been one huge question lingering on my mind: Does Lil Nas X have the artistic chops to capitalize on his “Old Town Road” momentum, or would he simply be the most successful one-hit wonder of all time?
That question was answered by the “7” extended play (EP), released a few months after his big break. “7” was a fantastic collection of songs, with high-profile features from Billy Ray Cyrus, Travis Baker, and Cardi B, and what sounded like limitless production value. It was an artistic statement that he would continue to make again and again.
I can not possibly overstate how great of a songwriter this guy is. He can put out a chart-topping single in his sleep at this point. It has been banger after banger, basically non-stop since “Old Town Road.” He told everyone that he’s here to stay, he had the IT factor, and his success wasn’t a fluke. Still, he had one final test: an album. Lil Nas X has passed that test with the release of his first full-length studio album, “Montero.”
Yes, I am absolutely delighted to report that “Montero,” one of the most anticipated albums in recent memory, the one that will cement him not only as a star, but a true artist is– fine. It’s alright. Nothing too crazy, it was exactly what I expected it to be.
We start off with the lead single, “Montero (Call me by Your Name),” which had a controversial music video. You’ve seen it by now, Lil Nas X is a masterful provocateur, but the song is good enough to back it up. It’s a great introduction, not only to the album, but the artist’s voice as a whole. Bold, triumphant, explicit.
It’s immediately followed by my favorite track, “Dead Right Now.” It’s mellow, but carries a brilliant intensity. There’s a great lyrical moment here, detailing his life before fame in a succinct manner:
“2018, I was at my sister’s house the whole summer, songs weren’t doing numbers, whole life was goin’ under. Left school then my dad and I had a face-to-face in Atlanta. He said, ‘It’s a one in a million chance, son,’ I told him ‘Daddy I am that one.’”
This song is really the most we get to hear about his backstory which is something that he’s told us surprisingly little about. I like this move because it gives him this veil of mystery that adds another dimension to his persona.
“Dead Right Now” runs directly into “Industry Baby,” featuring Jack Harlow. It’s easily one of the best songs of the year, with both him and Harlow giving aggressively playful verses, backed up by an expertly crafted instrumental, co-produced by none other than Kanye West.
The album starts off extremely well, but there really isn’t much to say about most of the tracks that come after. I am impressed at how cohesive the album is, sticking to major themes of newfound fame, (repressed) sexuality, and leaving your past behind. Musically, the album oscillates consistently between spacey, often guitar-driven instrumentals, and intense, orchestra-driven numbers.
Lil Nas X also amasses an impressive collection of features throughout. I do enjoy “Scoop” featuring Doja Cat quite a bit, which shows off an aggression from him we haven’t seen before. My current celebrity crush, Megan Thee Stallion, makes a notable, yet underwhelming appearance on the song “Dolla Sign Slime.” I also can’t ignore the obvious poetic genius of featuring Miley Cyrus on the closing track.
There is one thing that holds this album back. I hope I’ve made it clear so far that Lil Nas X is an extremely talented individual. He is a gifted songwriter, a competent rapper and lyricist, and he is nothing if not a showman.
But he is also a terrible singer. Shockingly bad. And he does a lot of singing on this album. He is drowning in autotune the entire time, and even then he is strained and flat. It always sounds like his voice is just on the verge of cracking. It’s fine on most of the rap-driven tracks, but there are several full ballads here. I really want to love “One of Me,” which features Elton John, Nas’ spiritual predecessor of sorts, on piano, but his singing sounds thoroughly unnatural through the whole ordeal.
Despite some shortcomings, “Montero” is a success. If I were to have a word with Lil Nas X, I would simply say “Congratulations, you did it.” You’ve done everything you needed to do to prove yourself as a serious artist and entertainer. You have a long, illustrious career ahead of you, and you will surely be remembered as one of the better cultural figures of our time. Now please, hire a vocal coach.
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