Love him or hate him, the one thing you can’t say about Lil Nas X — or his music — is that he’s boring.
That’s because the 22-year-old rapper’s music perpetually challenges the genres it inhabits. His early 2019 smash-hit Old Town Road broke down barriers on what constitutes country music, its intersection with rap, and what kind of voices are heard.
And as the song steadily rose up the Billboard country charts (before being disqualified for not fitting the genre), it prompted a re-evaluation of the industry
Now Lil Nas X is grappling with even more challenging — and insidious — issues.
Performing openly and proudly gay music as a male pop star is a rarity in the industry, and Lil Nas X is leading it through a reckoning with open displays of queer sexuality, kicking up controversy not unlike what female pop stars — from Britney Spears to Nicki Minaj — have faced in the past for their videos.
At the same time, some LGBT musicians argue that solely focusing on Lil Nas X as making hip hop more inclusive is both unfair to him and ignores the work that a litany of other queer artists have done in the genre for years — in the face of serious adversity.
Hip hop, like a lot of Western popular culture, is steeped in traditional ideas of gender and sexuality,” said Spencer Kornhaber, a pop culture and music writer for The Atlantic. “And so it’s not traditionally been a super-friendly place for queer expression and for queer people.”
While these issues are not new, they’ve come to a head in recent weeks. Just two days after Lil Nas X released the music video for his provocative and defiantly open track Industry Baby, fellow rapper DaBaby made homophobic comments on stage at a Miami music festival, igniting a firestorm of criticism.