The film, co-directed by Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel, premiered Saturday
Lil Nas X is letting fans into his world.
The musician's new HBO documentary Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero was released Saturday, and the film offers a fly-on-the-wall look into his first-ever concert tour as well as insights about his upbringing, family dynamics, views on religion and more.
Co-directed by Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel, the documentary features interviews with Lil Nas X, 24, as well as footage of family members including his father, stepmother and brothers, all of whom speak about watching the performer (born Montero Hill) go from young child to massive superstar.
Below, here are five major revelations from HBO's Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero.
Lil Nas X wanted to be a surgeon before he started making music in college
Reflecting on his pre-fame ambitions, Lil Nas X revealed he thought about going into healthcare before launching into music. “When I was a kid, I was like, ‘I want to be a surgeon.’ I wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon ‘cause my grandmother and a lot of family members had heart problems,” he said in the film.
Once he began attending college, however, his thoughts changed. “I got, like, so immediately bored, I made a song for fun and immediately posted it onto Twitter,” recalled the Grammy winner. “I told my parents, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just gonna take a semester off.’”
The same year, Lil Nas X’s grandmother died, which led him further into music. “I’d never had somebody close to me pass, and my grandmother had passed. That’s when I started getting bad anxiety attacks and s--- like that, and then I found music,” he explained. “I feel like music was also great for escaping that. I felt a f---ing spiritual presence over me, that [said], ‘OK, this was not a mistake. This is what I’m supposed to be doing in life.”
He’s welcomed spirituality into his life despite allegations he’s a satanist
Following the release of the music video for Lil Nas X’s 2021 hit single “MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name),” in which he descends into hell and gives the devil a lap dance, the performer was accused of being a satanist — but that’s far from the truth.
“Around 2019, I became way more spiritual, and I started to trust what I would see as spiritual-like signs and guides and whatnot, and I feel like coming out was very important if I wanted to continue to progress,” said Lil Nas X in the documentary.
According to the star, music further helped him find a way back into believing in a higher power. “Starting when I turned 16 or something, I kind of abandoned religion altogether at first, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God. I don’t believe this. None of this is real,’” he recalled. “But when I started to do music, I can’t explain it, but I felt a presence bigger than me, and I was like, ‘I know for a fact that this is going to work.’”
He didn’t realize “Old Town Road” sampled Nine Inch Nails’ “34 Ghosts IV” before recording the hit
The beat for Lil Nas X’s breakthrough hit “Old Town Road” had already been created by producer YoungMio by the time it reached his ears. Little did he know, the southern hip-hop instrumental — which he purchased online for $30 — featured a sample of Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 track “34 Ghosts IV.”
“I didn’t even know it was a sample at first, so when I did figure out it was a sample, I was like, ‘Oh my f---ing God, I am doomed.’ Luckily Nine Inch Nails didn’t know the song had blown up yet, but they probably would’ve took 99%,” said Lil Nas X, who later got Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to clear the sample.
Despite being unaware that the “Old Town Road” instrumental sampled the band, he clearly connected with the sound. “I think the moment that I heard the loop, the original instrumental of that song, that feeling I always talk about, it was on an astronomical level,” explained Lil Nas X. “That’s why I guess I’m so spiritual now — you can’t mistake a feeling that… When I heard that, I got emotional, and it’s just a loop and drums. I’m just like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be something great.’”
He had mixed feelings toward anti-LGBTQ+ protestors outside his concerts
At the Boston date of Lil Nas X’s Long Live Montero Tour, a group of anti-LGBTQ+ protestors stood outside the concert venue and preached against the musician’s art and sexuality. He and fans alike poked fun at the protestors both in-person and online at the time, but privately, he tried to understand them.
“I think it’s really great when people have a sense of belonging to something or feel like they’re part of something bigger, and I feel like that’s what those people feel like they are doing,” he explained in the film. “So, part of me is like, ‘Oh, I wish they weren’t hateful toward this,’ but another part is like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of dope. These people have their own group where they feel like they’re doing something to change the world. That’s really nice for them,’ you know?”
Ultimately, however, Lil Nas X disagreed with their messaging. “I guess I actually paid attention to one of the videos. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of f---ed up, what they were saying,’” he said. “It was like, ‘You see what he did? He comes out with a kid-friendly song, and then he goes and becomes super sexual and tries to convert’ — I don’t know, and I was like, ‘That’s not exactly what happened.’”
His family dynamics remain complicated to this day
Lil Nas X’s brothers Lamarco Hill, Tramon Hill and Robert Sleepy as well as his father Robert Stafford and stepmother Mia Stafford appear in the documentary, hanging out with the musician throughout his tour. But his thoughts toward their relationships are complex.
“My brothers, I feel like our relationship is super tight where I can do almost anything around them now,” he said at one point in the film.
Lamarco offered more insight into how their bond has developed. “We used to have a love-hate relationship, but as we grow, we started liking each other more, and then boom — he got rich. There you go,” he said.
Lil Nas X is close with his stepmom, though he finds it difficult to be fully himself with her. “It still feels really weird being flamboyant or closer to myself that I show most people around her,” he admitted.
Since his career’s taken off, he also feels they’re not always themselves around him. “I’ve seen my family become much more accepting of what I am and people like me, and I think that’s super dope and beautiful,” said Lil Nas X. “But I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of things that people might want to say but don’t. They don’t want to lose me as an asset of a person, you know?”
He also spoke about how such pressures inspired the song “Dead Right Now” from his debut album, Montero. “This song is, like, I guess mainly a response to a lot of family,” he explained. “When someone who gets famous and rich and whatnot, everyone wants to hit them up, and basically if you don’t call them and talk to them and respond to all their needs, then, to them it’s like, ‘You’re fake. You’re a terrible person. You’ve gone Hollywood. You’re selfish.’”
Robert was the first person Lil Nas X ever spoke about his gay identity with, and his father initially questioned his son’s sexuality. “It was just kind of awkward, and you know, he was kind of like, ‘It could be the devil tempting you’ and whatnot, which I understood to a degree,” he said of his father, noting that his side of the family is more “conservative.” “I mean, you gotta think about it, your son gets rich and famous, and suddenly he’s gay. It just sounds like everything the YouTube things warn you about.”
Later in the film, the “Industry Baby” singer got vulnerable about his feelings toward his comfort level around his father and stepmother. “I love my mom and dad to death, but I feel disconnected [from] them. Even when I first came out, I still never talked about boys and stuff in front of family, or just any of the experience at all. It was just like the elephant in the room,” he said.
Looking to the past as well as the present, Lil Nas X also expressed appreciation for his parents’ growth. “I feel like even now though, I guess, it’s still kind of hard to be open when I’m dating someone or something. My dad actually talked to me about it. He was like, ‘You know you can let me know what’s happening on that side’ and stuff like that, so that was really great, but it’s still a fight to get that out there,” he said. “But we’re getting closer.”
Not only has Lil Nas X’s unabashed embracing of his gay identity in his music inspired many fans, it’s also helped his brother Tramon come to terms with his own identity. “My brother’s really opening doors for a lot of people. Yeah, he opened doors for me,” Tramon said in the film. “What I mean by that, like, I’m not gay. You feel me? I’m bisexual. He helped me be real with myself. My brother made me more open to it, you feel what I’m sayin’?”
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