Lil Nas X: the photo shoot and interview for L’Uomo
In an era of vanilla dance stars on TikTok and performative celebrity activism, Lil Nas X has emerged as a chart-topping, jaw-dropping, pop trailblazer who gleefully abstains from one-dimensionality in favour of the poignant and provocative. What other artist could possibly craft an earworm like Montero (Call Me By Your Name), the most wonderfully weird worldwide No. 1 hit in recent memory? First, there is the track’s title itself, which references both his civilian name and the Oscar-winning queer film by Luca Guadagnino, which in turn was adapted from the novel of the same name by André Aciman. Lyrics about gay oral sex and personal identity ricochet across a beat that lifts from hip-hop, pop, industrial club sounds and even flamenco. And then there is the accompanying music video, which caused shock waves on Twitter for its imagery that managed to spin allusions to Christian puritanism and satanic lap dancing into the singer’s own autobiographical coming-out story. Not to mention the pole-dancing performance of the song on Saturday Night Live. Montero, like so much of his young oeuvre, is an effortless combination of humour and horniness and sentimentality and sexuality. Only a handful of years into his career, Lil Nas X already feels like an heir apparent to the genre-defying throne left by Prince, whose seminal 1987 album is evoked by the lyrics “a sign o’ the times every time that I speak.” All hail today’s young prince of pop.
Wool and silk brocade jacket, Ermenegildo Zegna XXX; flocked lace shirt and trousers, 3.1 Phillip Lim. Black and gold diamond rosary, Sheryl Lowe; long silver cross chain, The Great Frog; rings, David Yurman, Alligator Jesus, The Great Frog.
Ethan James Green
When I look at your career, I see multiple definitions of excellence. On one hand, you’ve won awards and had No. 1 singles. But at the same time, your artistry has moved the needle on the boundaries of country music, rap, queer sexuality and even religious taboos.
Honestly, I feel like you’ve made it once you’ve decided for yourself, “This is what you want to do.” But I don’t feel like there’s ever an actual ending point. I feel like the goal of excellence is a lifelong thing, at least it is for me. For some people, maybe they get to a certain point and they’re satisfied there. That’s cool, too, but that’s not for me.
You recently performed two songs – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Sun Goes Down” – on “Saturday Night Live”. Does the “SNL” stage feel like a career benchmark for you?
SNL absolutely feels like one more step – one large step – for me as an artist. It definitely feels like it’s a whole new level to be embraced by such an iconic show. I saw the two performances as polar opposites of each other. I wanted to give completely different sides of myself, while at the same time also still being honest about each song. I feel like artists typically have to be in some sort of box, like, “Okay, oh, this is a sad song,” or, “This is a really hype song.” But as an artist, I’m all of that. So, I wanted to give that to the people.
For “Sun Goes Down”, you wore a white monochromatic suit with faux gunshot wound de- tailing.
The bullet holes were meant to reflect the fact that I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, but I’m still standing, you know? I chose this all-white suit because white usually resembles purity, but this time there are bloodstains on it. So it’s kind of like a contrast there, too.
Panama wool mohair Gainsbourg jacket, panama wool mohair tailored pants, Gucci; custom silk blouse, Harris Reed. Black and gold diamond rosary, Sheryl Lowe; silver long cross chain, The Great Frog; rings, David Yurman, Alligator Jesus, The Great Frog.
Ethan James Green
What life experiences are you referring to?
Oh, well, from self-hatred to depression – these common things that so many people go through. But I think that a lot of people, I guess, don’t expect celebrities to be open about those topics as often. But I think it’s important to think about those issues, especially during these times.
People don’t always expect those in the public eye to be open about those topics, you mean?
Yeah, I mean, especially when it comes to myself. In the past three years of me being in the public eye, I’ve given the public a lot of different characters. Now, it feels like the first time I’ve been super open about what I am going through. I mean, I haven’t even talked to family members about growing up with these feelings and whatnot. I know that a lot of other people could relate. And I know there are a lot of people that are still growing up that will have to relate to this one day, too.
The title of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” references the 2017 film directed by Luca Guadagnino. A couple of years ago, I interviewed James Ivory, who wrote the film’s screenplay. He’s 92, gay and a Hollywood icon. He told me, “I think as you write about something, and it’s sort of psychologically complex, you do begin to understand it better. I mean, in some cases, you realise, ‘Oh, that’s what it’s all about.’” I was curious if detailing your emotional, personal and sexual life in your song lyrics has helped you understand yourself better?
Definitely. Writing this album, I’ve absolutely learnt a lot more about myself. There were some things that I wasn’t willing to admit that I’m at fault with. It’s definitely been therapeutic though. At first, even writing those thoughts down and saying those lyrics in front of producers while in the studio, or showing them to friends or [record label] CEOs, is kind of terrifying. But once you remember that we all go through these experiences, whether we talk about them or not, it becomes beautiful, right?
Photographs by Ethan James Green
Styling by Carlos Nazario
Stylist’s assistants: Sean Nguyen, Christine Nicholson, Ella Mulligan, Alexa Levine, Claudia Chick. Hair Vernon François @ The Visionaries
Make-up Yadim @ Art Partner
Manicure Betina Goldstein
On set Holly Gore
Opening picture: custom corset, stylist’s studio. Latex gloves, Atsuko Kudo; trousers in cotton and silk, The Row.
Read the full interview by Alex Hawgood and see the photo shoot by Ethan James Green in the July issue of L’Uomo, on newsstands from June 29th