If you didn’t live under a rock during the summer of 2019, then you’ve almost certainly heard the hit song “Old Town Road”. The single was at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 19 consecutive weeks, making it the longest-running #1 song in the chart’s history and smashing the previous record of 16 weeks at #1 held by the song “Despacito”.
The man behind the song is Montero Lamar Hill, more widely known as Lil Nas X. At only 21 years old, he’s become one of the most influential artists on the music scene today, and has received massive public recognition. Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential people on the Internet for his global impact on social media, and he’s been nominated for dozens of awards, including five fan-chosen 2019 Teen Choice Awards, two People’s Choice Awards, six Grammy awards, and five American Music Awards.
Lil Nas X is a true American success story; down on his luck, in the process of dropping out of college, and sleeping on his sister’s floor, he turned to music in an effort to improve his situation. He began to write and record songs in his closet, eventually stumbling upon a catchy beat by Dutch producer YoungKio, which he bought for $30 and which went on to become the beat for his hit song Old Town Road. After posting and promoting the song online, he went from relative obscurity to explosive fame nearly overnight, launching his musical career like a rocket.
Successfully combining two opposite music genres—in this case, hip-hop and country—is a difficult feat to pull off, but Lil Nas approached the challenge with a unique perspective. He’d spent years as a teenager cultivating a following on Twitter and Instagram by creating memes and comedy videos, and his flawless grasp of Millenial/Gen Z internet humor is hard to rival. Old Town Road reflects this; as Lil Nas X stated in a 2019 Time interview, “Because it’s two polar opposites coming together, it’s funny no matter what it is.”
The song’s fun, catchy beat and self-referential lyrics make it a prime candidate for short-form meme videos like the ones that dominate TikTok, where Nas X spent a significant amount of time promoting it. By tapping into the power of viral memes, Nas X pushed his music into the mainstream, where it caught on in a big way.
Nas X came publicly came out as gay on the last day of pride month, June 30th, 2019. Despite some homophobic backlash, responses to his coming out were mostly positive. Fans across the country and worldwide expressed their support for him, and his humorous, nonchalant way of addressing homophobic remarks resulted in more than a few viral screenshots. [img 1] [img 2]
There are very few Black queer success stories in the mainstream media, making Lil Nas X something of an icon for many young queer artists, especially young Black queer artists. With his vibrant “cowboy glam” aesthetic, quick wit, and meme-savvy internet presence, Lil Nas X’s fame proved that it is possible to be proudly, unapologetically yourself and still achieve success in a career that has been historically hostile to LGBTQ individuals.