The much anticipated single and music video “MONTERO” (Call Me By Your Name) by artist Lil Nas X is finally here and does not disappoint. While the song has many amazing lyrical references, we’re gonna dive deep into the visual symbolism of the “MONTERO” video and what makes this an amazing piece for queer people especially those that grew up with prominently religious households where being gay was often perceived a sin.
The video opens in the land of Montero (his birth name) which heavily resembles the Garden of Eden, as a serpent leads us to Nas sitting under a tree of forbidden fruit. As the serpent attempts to reach Nas, he refuses and runs from temptation until he can no longer escape it as he sees him in everything.
The theme of the video, that he co-directed with Tanu Muinu, is that Nas has been trying to constantly escape what has always been perceived as wrong or sinful but eventually gives in to it in some aspects. In the next clips you can see almost all the characters are portrayed by Nas (which I think is important to take note of since this is the land of Montero — his mind) but he is also set apart from the rest the characters that he is playing by wearing pink, a socially feminized color, which could represent him acknowledging his own homosexuality.
As we see Nas adorned in pink and chained, we can tell he’s being judged by the other characters in blue, which may represent the heterosexual figures in his life. But since they’re all portrayed by him, they could also serve as his own internalized homophobia as there’s a crowd of Nas look-alikes that rise and seem visibly upset by his display and throw what looks like a stone at him. This could represent the suppression of his identity for fear of what his fan base may think of him or how the industry may treat him after his coming out. But ultimately, he’s the main person holding himself back since we see all the figures that judge him played by him.
The stone knocks Nas out and we are taken to the beautiful iridescent scene where we can see Lil Nas X ascending towards what is perceived as the heavens — but can also be interpreted as his level of success as he sings “A dime and a nine, it was mine every week/What a time, an incline, God was shinin’ on me” (his 2019 single “Old Town Road” sold 10 million copies, won a Grammy and stayed No. 1 on the Top 100 charts for 19 weeks) as he continues to hide his truest self and rise to the standards of the majority, his peers, his fans and ultimately what he thinks would make him successful.
As Lil Nas X is rising and growing and things are going how people expect them to, he grabs a pole that is directly from hell. To me, this is the start of him choosing himself over the audience and criticism he might receive. You can see him embrace all the things he would have been criticized for — hair extensions, long nails, tattoos, heels — all the “taboos” that would “break” the image he had built so far. But he embraces them, and by association, his own queer identity instead of trying to uphold an image that isn’t true to himself.
We then see Nas X walk through hell to give Satan the baddest lap dance, all to kill him and take the horns for himself. I see that as him coming to terms with who he is and fully embracing it — making his identity work for him instead of seeing it as something that would hold him back even when people would demonize him for it.
As a queer Black person, this video meant so much to me on a personal level. Seeing family members watch and critique the video for “worshiping Satan” was comedic to me because that wasn’t at all what this felt like. “Montero” is an homage to parts of ourselves that go unrecognized because they would be demonized if we ever chose to embrace them publicly. It’s a love letter to the versions of ourselves that have had to live in fear because, like the Greek writing in the pentagram in the video’s closing scenes, “they condemn what they do not understand.”
This is a takeaway not many people who are on the delivering end of the backlash for this video are prepared to accept.