Lil Nas X (of "Old Town Road" fame) is refreshingly wholesome and unique, reminding us chart-topping music doesn't need to pander.
Charting for the ninth week in a row, "Old Town Road Remix" ft. Billy Ray Cyrus has been the song of the summer since it hit the charts in January. Instead of releasing new music, Lil Nas X is growing his fan base by releasing new memes and trolling himself and his haters. Better yet, he's giving his followers a glimpse of his life. Having recently moved into his first apartment, 20-year-old Montero Lamar Hill is unveiling enough of himself to seem like he's accessible. Gen Z and Millennials might seem to be glued to their phones, but really they want to be in the know. With his internet and musical success, it's hard to imagine Hill outside of the box he intentionally placed himself into: on our devices, on Twitter.
But the rapper hiding behind his phone has more to say than a joke. Teen Vogue's recent profile of Hill finally offered readers insight to the mind behind the hit song and Twitter account. In the interview, Hill admitted he originally had trouble finding his sound, mainly searching for ways to make his first EP, Nasarati, go viral. Between trap beats, tongue-in-cheek, and trending titles, the intention was clever, but ineffective. The reason? The heart wasn't there, so his voice and personality couldn't shine.
The standout song from Nasarati is "Carry On," which now has over 900k streams on SoundCloud. The lyrics of the overproduced track unveil a perspective most would not expect from the goofy rapper. Bobby Caldwell's '80s track carries us into the song, as Hill raps about his complicated family dynamics: "My grandma died / I shed some tears / my mama lied / she left me here." Being the youngest of six children, finally moving into his own apartment after the success of "Old Town Road" was a big step for Hill. He lived with his father most of his life, then his grandmother. After she passed, he moved in with his sister, who had several of his other siblings living with her as well.
Shifting from a "Carry On" mentality, Hill took a big leap from self-reflection to autonomy. His "can't nobody tell me nothing" persona speaks of a kid who's ready for big things. While the over-saturated music market is filled with try-hards, Hill recognizes that the difference between his failures and success come from his intention to gain attention. Yet, his sudden success seems too easy to some, to the point that people question whether he's an industry plant: a theory he then memed.
Lil Nas X and other successful musicians who grew up with and weaponize social media pose a conundrum for industry staples. What kids connect to today is more relevant than easy-to-swallow pop. Mass consumption in the past meant radio-friendly music. But new artists are going against the grain, digging deeper than catchy and stepping up with role model beliefs, without the squeaky clean image. Not only are they stars who wear designers, they use their platforms for important issues, too. But who Gen Zers listen to now is only a snapshot of what's to come.
The music industry has been able to reinvent itself successfully for the Internet age. Artists embrace streaming nowadays, but that doesn't mean labels aren't attempting to milk each song's worth. For example, Nicki's twenty track Queen was tacked onto her blood curdling single, "FEFE" (ft. 6ix9ine), to increase streams and sway album sales. But Lil Nas X has reversed that narrative, messing with fans and his management by joking about only releasing new remixes of "Old Town Road." So he gets on stage and sings the same song over and over again to the crowd's delight, but how long can that last?
Hill is aware that the juice will, in fact, run out, trolling his haters that he's not actually a one trick pony. If his recent music video tells us anything, it's that he has a vision.
The music video is both plot-driven and fun in ways we rarely get nowadays. Perhaps Hill's spotlight can last based on personality alone. Look at Doja Cat and Cardi B. Internet culture may blow up the music, but their talent keeps them around for a reason. While it's hard to predict where Hill's career will go, early fame tends to widen the net of inspiration and success for new artists. The work ethic involved in maintaining an online personality can come with random outbursts and deleted tweets, but Hill runs to the bank with it. Whether or not he'll be a meme-queen forever is up for debate, but his influences go beyond the bubble of country-trap.
When Billboard decided to remove "Old Town Road" from their country charts, a debate was sparked as to how we define genres and whether content (lyrics) alone can encapsulate the genre. Our culture is ever-shifting and ever-blending between different sound, stories, and ideas. Lil Nas X isn't exactly a pioneer, but his story is a conversation starter and reminder that the younger generations want to hear the unexpected. If Hill is as smart as he seems to be, he'll take his moment in the spotlight and turn it into a rich, genre-bending career.