What’s Worth Risking Eternal Damnation For? The Symbolic Impact Of Lil Nas’ Video For Montero.

As Nas’ soul ascends towards the sky, the clouds above part to reveal a bright light and an angel. However, Nas chooses to hold onto a pole emerging from below, poledancing through their descent into Hell.

The first act happens in what seems like Biblical Eden. A Lil Nas, undefined by notions of binary gender, sits under the tree, strumming at an instrument, only to be pried upon by the Edenic snake slithering down the trunk towards them. Petrified, the strummer runs away, only to encounter the image of the snake everywhere they look – for instance in a blooming flower, in a passing cloud. It suggests an inexplicable captivation that one may consciously avoid, only to have it take over the subconscious, plastering itself all over one’s dreams. Eventually the serpent catches up with the strummer and seems to go into a trance. As the strummer’s eyes turn blue and glaze over, they seem to be remembering who the snake is and allow themself to be overpowered by their captivation, using their own hands to pull the snake towards them for a passionate kiss.

The initial position of the snake as being coiled around the tree and its anthromorphic head (once again free from markers of gender) bears a striking similarity to the Medieval representations of Lilith: a seductress par excellence, a feminist demoness whose mystical powers are feared by the mongers of patriarchy, the ‘patron of abortions’ (as referred to by James Joyce), and the archetype representing the woman who refused the missionary position and rode Adam, prioritizing her own sexual pleasure over submitting to traditions and likability.

To bring the scene to a close, the camera cuts to a Greek inscription on the tree of wisdom that is a reference to the idea of soulmates in Plato’s symposium, wherein they are 2 halves of the same body (which brings us to the question, how many genders could one body hold?), torn up by the King of Gods fearing their combined power. This passage has long fascinated Western queer imaginations with the most famous representation in recent decades being Hedwig & The Angry Inch’s rendition of The Origin of Love.

So, in a sense, the strummer is being reunited with their own dark side, the part of themselves that they have been actively denying, in the form of the serpent.

I noticed that in the 1st and 2nd acts, the video consistently uses blue and pink motifs.

In the 2nd act, a pink Nas is being forcefully led down a hallway by 2 blue Nas-es, at the end of which they are bound by huge chains and judged by a court of other blue Nas-es. As the camera zooms out of the room, we see that pink Nas is actually standing at the centre of an arena. The seating area is occupied by animated stone sculptures of human beings, who stone pink Nas to death for what is implied to be blasphemy.

As Nas’ soul ascends towards the sky, the clouds above part to reveal a bright light and an angel. However, Nas chooses to hold onto a pole emerging from below, poledancing through their descent into Hell. Once there, they leisurely walk into the altar of the Devil, they cross another inscription, this time in Latin, which translates to: ‘They condemn that which they do not understand’. Nas reaches the seat of Satan himself and gives him a lap dance, at the end of which Nas breaks Satan’s neck and assumes his crown of horns as their own, finally embracing their dark side completely.

Which begs the question, what’s worth risking eternal damnation for? Love? Showing up as our whole selves, warts and all? Allowing ourselves to be led by our inexplicable, primal attractions to wherever we imagine Nirvana lies? Our lovers in their human form may abandon us time and again, revealing their fallibility and limitations of the corporeal, but our journey culminates when we don’t kick ourselves for prioritizing those parts of ourselves that society casts out, even as we constantly feel it rising within our mind’s eye.  

With the release of this music video, Lil Nas has risked a heavy, worldwide pushback from institutionalized Christianity (which today stands in stark contrast to many stances of its Medieval school of thought), in the face of which brands like Nike have abandoned his side. 

About the author

Tejaswi Subramanian

Tejaswi is journalist and researcher whose attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. She can't wait to become a full-time potter soon, though!