It has been over a year since musician (and former stan Twitter user) Lil Nas X took the world by storm with his hit single Old Town Road. To the surprise of many who expected him to be a one-hit wonder, the singer’s following music releases, including Panini and Call Me By Your Name (Montero), were met with similar commercial success.
It was sometime during the peak of Old Town Road’s success that Lil Nas X came out as gay. With this, his music became visibly more free, unrestrained, and unapologetic. His newest single Industry Baby follows a similar route: the song is fierce and bold, a response to the singer’s critics, and the homophobic comments that seem to follow him everywhere he goes. With “Funny how you said it was the end, then I went did it again”, Lil Nas X makes a reference to how people believed that he was unlikely to revisit the success of Old Town Road, especially after his decision to come out.
In true Lil Nas X fashion, the music video for Industry Baby is as brazen and monumental as the song itself. In the video, having been sentenced to three months in Montero Prison, the singer dances and fights his way to freedom. Expectedly, the video also received backlash for its moments of full nudity, with someone on Twitter claiming that the black musician is “doing too much now.” Lil Nas X responded with his classic wit, wondering if “going to hell and twerking on satan” — as he did in the video for Call Me By Your Name — was not too much.
Symbolically, there is a lot that the video for Industry Baby could be implying. The first, and most obvious, is that Lil Nas X feels trapped by homophobia and racial oppression as a gay, black man in the USA. As a public figure, it cannot be easy to deal with the onslaught of hatred that is targeted at the musician, especially for a part of his identity that likely took him years to come to terms with. The musician’s ultimate escape from prison seems to symbolise his breaking free from the intolerance and words of others, while being out and proud.
As a queer girl in India, not knowing if I can come out to someone has often made me feel unsure and trapped. Holding back a part of my identity that feels so important to me has left me feeling ashamed, like I’m hiding a dirty secret. To me, it is this feeling that the music video of Industry Baby captures, along with the eventual euphoria that comes with being true to oneself.
As a music journalist, there is another explanation that I could not help but think of. Musicians such as Troye Sivan, girl in red, and George Michael have often been pigeonholed into the category of “queer singers”, despite speaking up against this subtle grouping. This can be limiting and tokenistic, restricting an artist’s audience, reach, and exposure, while also reducing their art to representation for the LGBTQ+ community. Lil Nas X’s music video could symbolise him breaking free of this tokenism and creating music that transcends the usual ‘LGBTQ+ artist’ label — something that he has largely already succeeded in doing.
The video may be playful, but Lil Nas X knows that prison is no joke. In a brilliant move, the singer joined forces with The Bail Project to end cash bail following the video release. “Music is the way I fight for liberation. It’s my act of resistance. But I also know that true freedom requires real change in how the criminal justice system works,” the singer states. He adds that the matter is one that is personal and important to him.
There are plenty of things that the music video for Industry Baby could signify, but ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that Lil Nas X is one of the first black, openly gay men to make such a huge impact on the mainstream music industry. With every music video, he is reaching out to thousands, and refusing to settle for anything less than the appreciation he deserves. Maybe the Industry Baby video is just a fun dance video in gay prison — it would still make no difference. Just by living and creating freely, the difference has already been made.