Op-Ed: Lil Nas X is Making Black History
* Photography in featured image by Camila Falquez
Black History Month was established to honor the achievements Black people have made in the past. These achievements helped shape today for the better. While it’s absolutely necessary to celebrate these Black people and educate those who are unaware of them and their achievements, Black History Month also looks to the future and how Black people are shaping it today. Lil Nas X is making Black history right now.
At only 20 years old, Lil Nas X has achieved overwhelming success and recognition. The rapper from Atlanta, Georgia only has the EP 7 under his belt, but he’s managed to play it out the last two years to get every piece of success he deserves.
I think everybody has heard “Old Town Road” at least once. Kids sing it on the bus, teenagers sing it at parties, and adults probably sing along to it on the radio. The iconic country-trap single came out December 3 of 2018, innovatively blending hip-hop elements with country to make for a smash hit. Three months and at least 12 remixes later, the single hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in March. In July, the remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus broke Billboard’s all-time record for the longest streak at #1 with 19 weeks, surpassing Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber.
Since 7’s release last June, the EP and all of its singles so far — “Old Town Road,” “Panini,” and “Rodeo”— have been certified platinum by the RIAA for a total of 17 million units sold (16 million if you disregard the EP itself), and counting. Lil Nas X doesn’t just stop at the popular vote; the Grammys even tipped their cowboy hat to him, giving six nominations and two wins.
Lil Nas X makes history beyond his music, though. TIME magazine named him one of the top 25 most influential people on the internet for a reason. He brilliantly takes social media to new levels to connect with young people, his target demographic. His accounts (@LilNasX) are flooded with nonsensical memes and cowboy emojis to create a sense of humor that shouldn’t be funny, but is. Even better, his accounts are different based on the platform. He knows what works for Instagram doesn’t always work for Twitter, so he adjusts accordingly. This might seem like a no-brainer, but when you look at other artists’ social media, you can tell he’s ahead of the game. He’s consistently funny and quick to interact with his followers, whether it’s through sharing fanart or bashing haters. In a Rolling Stone interview about the success of “Old Town Road” through social media, he said, “the plan was to put in in as many memes as possible until it catches on.” Needless to say, the plan worked. Social media doesn’t make an artist, but it certainly helps in today’s world.
Perhaps the most impactful aspect of Lil Nas X is his identity. He publicly came out as gay last June on Twitter. I can only imagine how much bravery that took, especially when a career that young seems to be on the line. Beyond that, both hip-hop and country music are notoriously heteronormative, leaving little to no room for queer artists to express themselves in the genres. It’s a shame that anybody has to face hate and discrimination for their identity, but Lil Nas X doesn’t seem to back down.
Lil Nas X started breaking records when “Old Town Road” came out, but he broke even more records when he opened up about his sexuality. He is now the only openly gay artist to have a song last longer than fifteen weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Top 100, beating Sir Elton John’s record. He is also the only openly gay artist to win a Country Music Award.
All these awards and records are important in their own right, but the representation of it all is really key. A publicly gay Black man is living his best life in today’s society. The significance of positive representation of marginalized groups like this cannot be taken for granted.
I hope to see more LGBTQ+ people of color thrive on the charts like he is. I want them to know their art is important and has the potential to be something big. Lil Nas X is showing no signs of stopping, so I’m rooting for him and every other queer artist of color.
Happy Black History Month!
Nothing but love.