Fans of Lil Nas X bristle at NBC’s reductive Grammy ‘gay sex’ headline

Lil Nas X, the 22-year-old rapper, singer, and songwriter, saw his massive hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” recognized to the tune of three Grammy nominations yesterday. The song garnered the artist song of the year, record of the year and best music video nominations — with an additional two nods for Album of the Year (Montero) and Best Melodic Rap Performance (“Industry Baby,” a collaboration with Jack Harlow.)

Lil Nas X is doing something radical — and at least one mainstream media outlet doesn’t appear to know how to talk about it, as evinced by an NBC headline that reductively and even homophobically characterized the recognition the groundbreaking artist received.

NBC’s headline about the artist’s haul of music industry honors in its Tuesday article opined, “Lil Nas X’s song about gay sex earns 3 Grammy nominations.” 

The news outlet also doubled down on social media, tweeting the story out on its @nbcnews Twitter account with the explainer, “Lil Nas X’s hit song about gay sex nominated for three Grammy Awards, catapulting LGBTQ narratives to the highest echelon of achievement in the music industry.”

That prompted a range of viral reactions from fans and onlookers, starting with fans sarcastically entertaining the angle by quipping variations on “Which song?”

As one person responded, “There are like five of them.”

While the argument can be made for different songs in the growing Lil Nas X catalog, the headline seems to downplay the significance of “Montero.” Earlier this year, the accompanying music video took the internet by storm for its portrayal of Black queerness, catapulting the already successful young artist to icon status.

Shortly after its release, WGTC editor Oluwatayo Adewole wrote about the subversive qualities of the music video and the artist’s discography — in the context of a music industry that is largely white and straight:

Lil Nas X also uses his hypervisibility to troll, but fights entirely on his own terms in the language of the internet – a language which has been defined by the contributions of Black queer and Trans people. Following in the footsteps of figures like Prince and Little Richard, he crafts a manhood which is his own. He wears thigh high boots. He slides down a pole. He dyes his hair and wears glamorous wigs.

As one commenter pointed out, the headline is strange at best (and homophobic at worst) because of the prevalence of songs about sex written by straight people throughout the history of music awards shows and, indeed, pop music.

As one tweeter noted, “I’ve never seen a headline referring to a pop/rap/basically any genre song as ‘about straight sex.'”

Others saw the headline as implicitly rooted in homophobia, while more still thought it was just a weird turn of phrase that obviously belies some discomfort.

Bitch Media editor Andi Zeisler asked, “Are you guys okay? You seem not okay.”

Writer Niko Stratis added, “Tell me your [sic] homophobic while strongly hinting that you’re homophobic.”

Still, fans are excited to see the musician continue to break industry barriers held against Black and queer artist. One took to Twitter with the manifesting circle meme for Montero winning Album of the Year.

Lil Nas X shared his delight at the nominations on Twitter, writing, “Don’t have to win a single award, truly thankful for all the insight this year has brought me.”

And he then registered a much more visceral reaction for the Album of the Year nomination — along the lines of what his fans have come to expect of him on social media platforms.