Why Lil Nas X’s Evolution From Dolly Parton To Madonna Is Important
Lil Nas X “pleased (instead of teased) the Black demon” and evolved mainstream pop’s relationship to race and sexuality.
On Friday morning, Lil Nas X’s groundbreaking spectacle-as-music career took another astounding turn as a Black musician evolved from Dolly Parton into Madonna. The trap-rapping cowboy interloper behind double-diamond selling “Old Town Road” has now become the wildly subversive pop crooner behind the hyper-sexualized “official coming-out party”-as-single, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” Never before, or likely again, will we ever see the internalization, reclamation, and simultaneous evolution and retrofitting of the African-borne and white-embraced whore stereotype in American culture.
In 2013, we almost lost the three-century-old — and in need of permanent recontextualization — Black-to-whore analog forever.
The line from Sarah “Hottentot Venus” Baartman (a South African Khoikhoi woman who, as a dancer, had her buttocks objectified as a freak show attraction in 19th-century Europe) to female African-American house slaves as kept women providing sexual favors is obvious. However, the line from Baartman to say, Dolly Parton (African slave trade to Appalachia leads to Blacks and white swapping cultures and roles during Reconstruction), is much less so, but still prevalent. The line from Parton to Madonna to Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO” video involves a key stop along the way where one white woman came through like a “Wrecking Ball,” and nothing’s been the same since.
In a weird, unprecedented form of triple-absorption, Miley Cyrus used her father, Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky” roots alongside her own heartwarming voice to sidle up next to Dolly Parton’s living legacy and absorb some of her countrified soul and universal appeal as a fanciful — and mainstream accepted — “good-time girl.” Then, in the midst of the universe’s initial adoration of trap music, she pushed the envelope of her absorbed whorishness and plunged into stereotypes that Black America has of blonde white women who love aggressive Black misogyny in a style and manner similar to Madonna two decades before.
By the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, Cyrus had evolved from Disney's Hannah Montana into a full-scale harlot in Air Jordans smoking potent marijuana strains while sipping promethazine and cough syrup, and yes, literally straddling a giant ball in a music video. The American public — and the world at-large — cannot undersell the impact of this moment upon pop music and popular culture.
From Lana del Rey to Dua Lipa, and from Camilla Cabello to Billie Eilish, sonic to stylistic trappings of the Black whore stereotype remains prevalent. This essence from which Dolly Parton and Madonna both borrowed the fringe edges is being held to less faithfully by today’s stars, though. Thus, its impact is more benign than ever before.
This conversation must also consider rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion whose over-the-top presentations of their sexual truths have certainly started the work that Lil Nas X completed on Friday morning. However, never before in rap has there ever been a sex worker whose sex work roots overwhelm their rap skill. Nor has there ever been a rapper who raps so well that their sexualized femininity is par with their lyrical dexterity. Thus, their hyper-legitimacy makes fetishization of their skill almost impossible. Attempting to mimic or borrow their personas makes one appear immediately second-rate.
Popular music’s five-decade-long love affair with mainstreaming commodified Black sexuality as pop culture adored white feminism has ended. This notion meeting its end at the twerking ass of an unassuming gay Black man is the wildest turn.
If we look deep and long into this situation, the most potent Blackness at play here is the virulently cocksure misogyny oftentimes exhibited by Black men. Intriguingly, this swagger comes as the result of Black American men being demonized into having no other option than to aggressively fend for themselves to survive a system controlled by white American men. Fascinatingly enough, when these white American men procreate, their white daughters, funnily enough, have chosen to metaphorically idolize the desires of the slave than those of the slave master.
Into this already wild stew, insert Lil Nas X. The performer was six months into unlikely fame, a number-one Billboard single, and having achieved a ubiquitous level of pop-country appeal not seen since Dolly Parton’s rise via 9 to 5 with “Old Town Road” when he announced to the world that he was gay. Connection to a genre as stereotypically racist and sexist as country music has assuredly not led to Lil Nas X having another chart hit. However, it’s certainly allowed him to, like Dolly Parton as a whore aesthetic borrower, be seen as a rare ostracized other-to-practitioner of global joy.
Even deeper, in a manner consistent with Miley Cyrus in 2013 and Madonna forever, Lil Nas X is now diving into a more explicitly sexual direction. However, something is amazing in a gay Black man, also known as a New York Times best-selling children’s book author and cause of blithe viral happiness worldwide advancing twerking as now universal (Miley to Cardi) behavior. In succeeding at not twerking on Robin Thicke during his ersatz pop-stat moment or while encased in a 25-foot tall Pleaser heel at the Grammys — but instead twerking the essence of evil out of Satan and reclaiming the Dark Lord’s seat as one of God’s angels — Lil Nas X achieves something incredible and reparational, too.
Moreover, in a Black man sexualizing another Black man to an orgasmic degree at the pinnacle of popular culture, “MONTERO” achieves something that shakes white America’s gentrification of Black American’s humanity at its core.
Dolly Parton, Madonna, and Miley Cyrus have approached but never fully owned the Blackness and now Black male demonization that lies at the core of the lineage from which their professional identities are defined. The fallout from this part-to-whole appropriation has unquestionably impacted both race relations and a continued ability for white and non-Black pop stars to still carelessly assume these commercially successful reigns. However, in Lil Nas X fully taking, owning, and “pleasing (instead of teasing) the Black demon,” so to speak, he’s achieved something no white woman daring the same notion for appropriated pop stardom ever has.
As a Georgia native who is a former singing cowboy (wearing suits aped from the types worn by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers), Lil Nas X is as American as apple pie. Also, because they’ve sold nearly a half-billion albums in over a combined century as pop stars, Dolly Parton, Madonna, and Miley Cyrus are equally as essentially American. However, one of these four people repaired an American life issue that also lies at the core of racism, sexism, and misogyny’s demonic grip over life in this nation.
Call him if you want, call him if you need, call him in the morning, call him on the way. But more than anything, call Lil Nas X — the heroic Black man who pleased the Black demon and evolved American society — by his name when the moment comes to name the great modern heroes of our land and times.