It’s kind of shocking to witness Lil Nas X’s meteoric rise to stardom in real-time over the course of the past few years. With the release of “Old Town Road” in 2018, Lil Nas X basically became a household name overnight when it gained popularity on Tik Tok. The rest is history: the fastest song ever to be certified diamond, 19 consecutive weeks topping Billboard, and the follow-up 7 EP. Part of his success lies in how well he understands the power of social media, memes, and the Internet. It’s not surprising given his witty retorts on Twitter, undoubtedly something he built up from the old NasMaraj account. Yet for all his Internet-savvy, it seemed that 7 EP never quite measured up to the sheer magic of Old Town Road.

With the release of Montero, Lil Nas X seems far more confident in his position within the music industry. Although he stated he struggles with living in the public eye, Lil Nas X has also said that the goal with Montero was to give a voice to a generation of LGBT kids and open up about his struggles of growing up gay. Although his controversial marketing antics can often make the music feel like an afterthought, Montero has a surprising amount of sentimental honesty and a distinct authenticity to it. Over the 15 tracks, production duo Take A Daytrip help Lil Nas X shift away from his country-rap hit for a more rock-inspired pop-rap sound. It gives more opportunities for Lil Nas X to be introspective on tracks like “Sun Goes Down” where he addresses his younger self to reflect on his struggles growing up while being closeted. On “One of Me”, the subtle piano ballad from Elton John highlights the conflicting emotions of wanting to please someone else despite also needing to be true to yourself.

Montero takes a lot of the foundation laid out in 7 EP but explores them in a lot more detail with vocal effects, a blend of rapping and singing, and a radio-primed sound of explosive pop hits. Where previous rock-inspired songs like “Bring U Down” from 7 EP felt like uninspired attempts at diversifying sound, songs like “Lost in the Citadel” on Montero mark a change in sound while retaining the core elements of what makes Lil Nas X a pop star. The genre-hopping is far less heavy-handed in Montero and there’s more precision in sequencing the album this time around. The newfound confidence results in a more engaging end result but like 7 EP, there are moments that feel disconnected from one another.

Lil Nas X’s songwriting has always been a little weak compared to his other strengths. He understands the importance of an infectious hook and has an innate sensibility for pop melodies but a lot of the radio-friendly hits on Montero feel like revisiting ideas he’s explored plenty of times before. The introspective nature of certain songs has given him more room to experiment with his sound but it always feels like they take a backseat to the natural chart-toppers. This is a natural consequence of the massive amount of ideas that Lil Nas X tries to squeeze into Montero. You can quite literally hear which songs are destined to end up on the charts when compared to the more experimental songs that fizzle out midway. On songs like “Scoop”, Lil Nas X’s repetitive hook never feels like it fully forms into the addictive melodies of “Industry Baby” or “Montero”. Followed by a terrible Doja Cat verse, it feels like a stark contrast to the beautiful ballad, “One of Me”, that comes immediately after. Lil Nas X’s willingness to experiment with a variety of genres and sounds is simultaneously his greatest strength and weakness.

In a lot of ways, Lil Nas X’s ability to create viral moments out of thin air prove that he’s the definitive pop star of 2021. The way he’s able to continually generate attention and market himself since the inception of “Old Town Road” feels like something no other artist can replicate. Yet at the same time, it often feels like Lil Nas X shines brighter as a celebrity figure than the actual music itself. The evolution of his sound has improved vastly on Montero with far more confidence and personality than the cookie-cutter attempts to replicate success on 7 EP. However, there are still moments of uncertainty where Lil Nas X can’t seem to decide on a clear-cut vision for his work that plays up his greatest strengths. Thankfully, Lil Nas X has plenty of time to ease into the artist that he wants to become, and if nothing else, Montero is proof that he’s heading in the right direction.

Must Listens: Industry Baby, Sun Goes Down, Lost in the Citadel


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I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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