After a long break, Lil Nas X announced he would be releasing a new single. As usual, the song would get hyped, the publicity would be multifaceted and designed to cause controversy — and it would climax with a hit music video that would turn the song platinum.
It worked before, with the devil lap dance video for “Call Me By Your Name,” and for “Industry Baby” and its prison video (tied to Nike’s legal action against his collaborative Mschf shoes). Why shouldn’t it now? His new single is titled “J Christ” — and the music video has over a million views on YouTube in under twenty-four hours.
And yet, it feels empty.
The music video is exactly what you’d think it would be, showing Lil Nas X dressing up as various Christian figures, from Moses to Jesus. At one point he twerks in a cheerleader outfit in a celestial stadium. And for what purpose? To get eyeballs on TikTok.
Subverting Christian imagery was bold when Marilyn Manson did it, at the height of Jerry Falwell’s power, and at least had a thematic purpose in Lil Nas X’s “Call Me By Your Name” music video; but repeatedly doing so in 2024 is just boring. Even the title “J Christ” is just plucked from the line “I’m back like J Christ” (what lyricism! the next Bob Dylan!), and there is no broader religious theme to the song. He could have made a cool gospel-influenced track, like Kanye did on Jesus is King and Donda, or leaned into the relationship with faith and sexuality. Instead, it’s just a generic “I’m back” track, with a bad chorus and alright beat. The only distinctive, interesting element is how similar it sounds to “Sally Walker” by Iggy Azalea (which also had a better music video).
Lil Nas X burst onto the scene with “Old Town Road,” a country-pop blend that soon became an international hit single. In fact, the remix version with Billy Ray Cyrus still holds the record for longest run at number one on the Hot 100, at nineteen weeks. And for a while, Lil Nas X repeated his success, writing earworm choruses and weaving wide influences to make catchy pop hits.
You might not like the video for “Call Me By Your Name,” but it was memorable and didn’t sound like anything else on the charts; nor did the top tracks on his album, “Lost in the Citadel,” “Tales of Dominica” and his gay love anthem, “That’s What I Want.” His best song, “Industry Baby,” is less creative, but is just such a well-written, snappy single that you can’t help but love.
Though many wrote him off as a one-hit wonder, Lil Nas X escaped that purgatory through unpredictable hit songs and masterful viral marketing; but his chase for virality has eaten away at his artistry, despite that being totally unnecessary. At this point, Lil Nas X is not an interesting new voice in pop, but the Mr. Beast of pop music, making ugly, predicable videos for generic songs.
If he was actually going to be controversial, and take a risk standing up for gay love in the face of religious zealotry, he would release a music video mocking Islam, or highlight the vicious treatment gay people receive in Muslim countries. A few days ago, we passed the ninth anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, where genuinely controversial artists were slaughtered by extremists for their work.
Lil Nas X is not interested in being meaningfully controversial. He just uses controversy-baiting to get clicks, but it’s so transparent at this point that it doesn’t work anymore.