Lil Nas X went full galaxy brain with the marketing for his new single “Montero (Call me by your name)”.
He’s already cemented himself as one of the best marketers in the music industry with “Old Town Road”. He took advantage of TikTok’s rising popularity create an unstoppable buzz and catapult him from Soundcloud rapper to international star.
The 200 remixes to the song were hilarious but also really fucking smart. It increased the streams and skyrocketed it to #1 where it reigned supreme for 17 weeks. The song is catchy, but you don’t become the #1 song in the history of the billboard charts without a genius marketing strategy.
TikTok was the cool app all the kids were using at the time featuring an all-teenage audience AKA the exact demographic you need to have a #1 song. Teenagers determine what music is popular. They buy concert tickets, stream the song millions of times, and post about it on social media. They have the free time and passion to obsess over these things while we older people get it second hand and try to pretend we’re cool.
Nas X realized this and leveraged the platform so effectively with the “Yee Haw Challenge” that he created the playbook for both independent artists and record labels. Even Drake tried to copy it with his quarantine dance anthem “Toosie Slide”. It was more than a brilliant idea, it was a game-changer for the industry.
Right after “Old Town Road” took off, he stayed relevant by posting 30-second clips of “Panini” and teasing the Cardi B collab on “Rodeo” before the songs were anywhere near finished. Where most artists would have pulled a Desiigner and crumbled under the pressure for a follow-up, Nas X kept us engaged throughout the process.
Take A Daytrip’s Denzel Baptiste and David Biral spoke to Complex on Lil Nas X’s marketing prowess, “When he posted [the ‘Panini’ snippet], it was before we even had the second verse done,” Biral says.
“Me and Denzel laugh all the time about how that song went viral before the second verse was even completed.” Baptiste adds. “It was the same thing with ‘Rodeo,’ too, where we did the chorus, and then he just uploaded the chorus to his Instagram. We still didn’t have the first verse done or the rest of the song done. But within two days, the video had, like, 3 million views on Twitter alone.”
Last year’s”Holiday” was impeccably timed for Christmas TikToks but didn’t resonate as much as I would have anticipated. But “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, the way it seamlessly takes advantage of the current social media climate while bringing all of the intolerant critics out of the woodwork to embarrass themselves, is quite an achievement.
I have no doubt that the inspiration behind “Montero (call me by your name)” is sincere. Kudos to Lil Nas X for putting himself out there like this, it takes a lot of guts to express yourself in this way and open yourself up to this much backlash and criticism. However, you’d have to be naive to think Lil Nas didn’t know exactly what would happen.
Not only did he know what would happen, he planned for it. And when his critics took the bait, he capitalized.
Inviting the Backlash
Let’s look at the video. Is it appropriate for the song? Sure. Is Satan off-limits in pop culture? Hell no, just look at South Park. But he could’ve taken this video in any direction and he chose to rustle some jimmies. In the penultimate scene, Lil Nas X gives the devil a lap dance and puts his balls and ass cheeks in his face.
It’s one hell of a confident, provocative, lusty gay anthem. He’s genuinely expressing himself and doesn’t owe us anything but that.
In his explanation to Genius on the most controversial line “shoot a child in your mouth while I’m riding”, he said “It’s about time I said something out of pocket in a song. It’s like the exact same way when I put ‘I might bottom on the low but I top shit.’ y’know? It’s kinda like OK, let’s normalize having these fucking lines in songs…the same way somebody might talk about fuckin a girl or fuckin a guy, y’know with opposite genders y’know? I feel like that’s kinda important for representation in general.”
Here’s where the genius comes into play. Not only did he use the controversy to sell his record, he pointed out the hypocrisy and biases of everybody who was hating on it. He used the content took the concept of “Baiting” somebody on Twitter but instead of 1 person, he baited millions.
Harnessing the Power of Outrage
You know how morons like Donald Trump and his minions Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro always claim they’re playing “4D Chess” because they say something awful and the news keeps talking about it? It’s an annoying, bullshit strategy but it works. Social media algorithms are built to make people argue. The more you comment on a post, the more popular it becomes and the more you see it. They’re dipshits but they know how to capitalize on social media’s worst tendencies.
The 4D chess players have been giving “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” attention non-stop. They couldn’t wait to scare the shit out of their southern and midwestern audiences by claiming Lil Nas was indoctrinating their children with Satan worship and that mythical, rainbow sprinkled gay agenda.
He’s been clapping back masterfully at homophobes, conservatives, and anybody else who tries to drag him for his sexual preferences on Twitter for years. People thought they could bully him into apologizing not realizing this is exactly what he wanted.
But anybody can piss off critics, the important part is how you respond. Nas X put up the bat signal for intolerant assholes and they came flying out of the woodwork. They took the bait and started lobbing up softballs for him on social media.
Springing the Trap
Pants Shitter Kaitlin Bennett went with a gay joke after he reminded her that she publicly shit her pants at a frat party, when that didn’t work she went for a racist jab but Nas came back with the best reply possible. Poopy pants then claimed he “threatened to rape her dad” because there isn’t a single situation these days where conservatives won’t play the victim.
Trump boot licker and “author” Nick Adams shot his shot off a little early and paid for it.
The GOVERNOR OF NORTH DAKOTA had to prove her loyalty to sky daddy and got slammed even harder.
The constant hate and tweets that gave his song way more attention than it would’ve gotten otherwise. It made him a trending topic for 5 days straight and got his music video to 2 million likes on YouTube in under 48 hours. But he was just getting warmed up.
Keep on Stirring the Pot
Little did we know this was only the beginning. In addition to the music video, he partnered with the brand MSCHF to release custom Satan Nike Air Max 97s. Complete with bible verse Luke 10:18 (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,”) and a literal drop of human blood in each air bubble. There’s also a pentagram charm on the front and there are only 666 pairs available (of course).
The entire point of the shoes was to have some fun with the idiots who take this shit too seriously. Considering the media landscape and how everything is built to make us hate each other, doing anything controversial these days is taken literally. There’s no context anymore. Even when a known troll has a marketing campaign this ridiculous, the media will assume he’s actually trying to convert kids to satanism just so everybody gets pissed off.
Nike sued shoemakers MSCHF and gave Nas even more ammo that he didn’t need to keep meme-ing his way to #1.
The term “Lil Nas X Shoe” was trending #4 globally the day after. He reached #1 on Twitter trends for 2 days straight as well. The song amassed nearly 6 million streams in under a week and currently sits at #2 on the Spotify charts right behind the Justin Bieber banger “Peaches”.
The numbers are only half the story. The release also started some important conversations on the role of artists and their responsibility to their young fans as well as the normalization of gay sexuality in music.
Lil Nas X Makes Marketing Beautiful
Most of the time, marketing is a soulless science. You test things, you see what people like based on analytics and you do more of that, repeat ad infinitum. It rarely, if ever, could be described as art. This rollout is the exception. It was tailor-made to turn a mirror on and take advantage of the worst parts of our pop culture, news media, and social media. It turned the unrelenting negativity into something positive.
This wasn’t a new idea. Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B walked with “WAP” so that Lil Nas X could run with “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. They empowered female sexuality and Lil Nas empowered gay sexuality. But where WAP only took advantage of the controversy after the fact, Montero leaned into it from the beginning.
Nobody batted an eye when Brittney Spears or Katy Perry made sexually charged songs and music videos for kids. But god forbid a black woman or a black gay dude express their sexuality. Lil Nas X highlighted that hypocrisy by putting it in our faces and saying, “If you have a problem with it, that’s on you.”
And he’s right. The only way to expose biases and normalize things is by pushing the limits of what’s acceptable. The song, music video, and the shoes shouldn’t have been that big of a deal if the world were more tolerant. But Lil Nas X knew a lot of people aren’t, and he used their intolerance to skyrocket his song to the top, teach some valuable lessons, and tell some jokes along the way.