How Lil Nas X Flipped Conservatives’ Culture-War Playbook

His new song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week; it is bright, baroque video has already reached more than 110 million views on YouTube, and at the time of writing the song has nearly 105 million streams on Spotify. Musically, it’s pretty normal for today’s top singles – short, repetitive, vaguely moody. Far more interesting than the song is its video, especially how Nas used it one of America’s most trusted engines of cultural outrage to its advantage: the conservative media ecosystem.

The video presses sacrilegious buttons by showing the aforementioned sexual encounter with Satan, which, if it sounds a little old-fashioned as a cultural provocation, What followed was the announcement of a fake, custom line from Nikes that contained real human blood. (Unsurprisingly, Nike was quick to file suit prevent their release.) Among rap fans and especially Nas “stans”, as the die-hard, iconic supporters of the artists are called, it caused a sensation in a decent size, its outre visuals and the crazy premise generated the expected hype for the artist’s upcoming full -Length debut. But in conservative media, always wanting to talk about something other than the pandemic and Matt Gaetz, it was like touching a matchstick with dry leaves.

Since the video was released and the sneaker was announced, Ben Shapiro Daily wire has published no fewer than nine (!) articles on the video and sneaker controversy, and Christian journalist Raymond Arroyo has teamed up with Laura Ingraham of Fox News to condemn the video about her Weekday program (“Rapper hugs Satan just in time for Holy Week,” read the Chyron). Sneakers Kristi Noem, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, received an official slapdown from South Dakota Gov. helpful contain the product images.

When the conservative media went into a frenzy, Nas was all too happy himself to start the flames, post a fake trolling apology video, and joke about the evening with a range of Chick-Fil-A-themed sneakers.

With the video “Montero”, Nas confirmed his personal identity as one of the few gay rappers by expressing himself as extravagantly and brazenly as possible. He active courted the controversy, which measures his success by the indignation and the gnashing of teeth of his opponents – an approach that emerges directly from the conservative Kulturkriegs Spielbuch.

But Nas’ success is more than just a reverse-polarity Promethean moment in which he “owns the conservatives” (although he certainly did). It’s also a clear and triumphant indicator of how much has changed in the culture. Former cultural provocateurs such as Marilyn Manson and Andres Serrano, artists of “Piss Christ”, built their reputation by deliberately violating a hazy, shared notion of “good taste” while positioning themselves firmly outside the American mainstream. Nas’ provocations, on the other hand, did nothing to undermine his mainstream status. The enthusiastic response to his new single ensures that he remains an extremely popular artist who is reducing brand sponsorships and transferring numbers en masse.

If you think it’s not a deliberate, deft manipulation of online culture, think again: As Brian Feldman reported to the new York In 2019, when “Old Town Road” rose to the charts, Nas ran a popular Twitter account for years as a teenager, republished and repurposed viral content and campaigned for his favorite rapper and pop star Nicki Minaj. Nas is not just a “digital native”, he is a social media native and at a deep level clearly understands the cultural and algorithmic incentives that drive things to virality. He understands all too well that there is no faster way to pump oxygen into a brand in 2021 than letting partisan politics do it for you.

In contrast to the controversy of the past few decades, when clear boundaries between “us” and “them” made it easy for cultural conservatives to denounce hip-hop artists, it is possible that much of the crimes the law committed at Nas’ provocation , from a sense of betrayal. His debut hit was a viral sucker on a cowboy anthem that re-established ownership of the hip-hop beats White. “Brother country“Artists have appropriated for more than a decade now. He won a Country Music Association award, rarely for a black artist, much less an openly gay one. He achieved a collaboration with Wrangler, a brand whose most prominent celebrity partnership to date has been with the anti-charismatic over-square quarterback Drew Brees. In the middle of the Trump era, Nas was a young, brazen rapper who was hugged by fans of the red state.

And then he burned her. Or at least he had the gall to optimize her religious sentiments. That too speaks for the changing tectonic plates of American pop culture. When Nas was born in 1999, around 70 percent of American adults said they belonged to a church Gallup. Today it’s 47 percent. Marilyn Manson’s Da Vinci Code was an affront to the mainstream; it puts Lil Nas X right in the majority. In that sense, the heated reaction from the right is only an affirmation of Trump’s instinct for religion in America: although he apparently had no interest in religion himself, he realized that millions of evangelical Christians were being recruited for the culture wars as a minority that felt increasingly competitive could become .

Like a number of passed out “Go woke up, go broke“Boycott attempts have repeatedly deterred companies from adopting liberal political positions. There is no significant pressure threatening Nas’ various.” Corporate partnerships. After four years of Trump’s presidency, it’s easy to understand that Nas provocation is a turn of the tables.stay angry“In the midst of the initial turmoil over” Montero “and sitting with the fact that many, probably most, Americans are left completely untouched by a campy satanic lap dance.

At the same time, it is precisely this fact that gives the entire episode a kind of spiking-the-football quality. Nas, his fans and his critical allies have already won the culture wars, at least nationally. Some liberal responses to the controversy appeared intentionally dull ignoring the extent to which many Christians view Satan as a literal and active force for evil, with a lack of charity that is unlikely to be expressed to any other faith. The personally cathartic qualities of the song and the video as portrayed in one movement Note von Nas accompanying her release are undeniable, but their company-approved gloss and lack of any real transgression make them indolent for anyone except those who share his catharsis or who are most easily offended.

That doesn’t mean Lil Nas X is a sad pop star – he’s a standout pop star by the standards of the genre, displaying the same simple charm, keen aesthetic eye, and knowledge of the cultural moment, icons from Jimi Hendrix to Madonna fired Beyoncé. The rap world has historically not been kind to LGBTQ people, to say the least, which makes it even more impressive that he somehow managed to push the boundaries of acceptance both there and in the world of country music. Pop needs figures like him as catalysts, if only to prevent his world from becoming stale, self-reflective and decadent.

But the times of the culture-defining, tone-defining pop star are over, at least for the time being. With “Montero”, Nas has proven himself to be a master at using our current cultural landscape and the incentives it contains for cheap and manufactured outrage – reacting to the reaction and drawing energy from it.

He took the playbook that conservatives had used during the Trump era to reliably “own the libraries,” gratuitously disregarding their cultural norms for fun and profit, and turning it against them. That is all in the daily work of a political or ideological actor. But in the world of pop culture, that same instinct is also a weakness – which shows how hopelessly we are trapped in the cycle of outrage sparked by the Trump and post-Trump eras.

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