6 major Lil Nas X revelations from HBO’s documentary “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero”

The intimate feature opens the curtains on the openly queer rapper's personal journey, both on and off the stage

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published February 3, 2024 12:30PM (EST)

Lil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)
Lil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Lil Nas X is a jack of all trades. The acclaimed rapper continues to deliver hit song after hit song following the release of his debut single “Old Town Road,” which went viral. He’s also quite the celebrity on social media, where he invites fans and haters alike to indulge in his brash yet comical online shenanigans. And, he's a queer icon who became the first openly LGBTQ+ Black artist to win a Country Music Association award — and the first openly LGBTQ person to win an MTV Video Music Award for song of the year.

Lil Nas X has enjoyed many successes since he made it big back in 2018. But he’s making it clear that he’s only just getting started. 

The 24-year-old rapper’s world, both on and off the big stage, is showcased in the verité-style HBO documentary “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero.” The film spans 60 days of Lil Nas X’s debut concert tour “Long Live Montero,” which began in Detroit, Michigan, on Sept. 6, 2022 and concluded with an exclusive show at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, on Jan. 4, 2023. The film is also divided into three acts — Rebirth, Transformation, and Becoming — which highlights key moments in Lil Nas X’s own tale of identity and liberation.

Co-directed by Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel, the documentary features Lil Nas X along with his closest acquaintances — choreographers, dancers, stage directors and more — family members and Madonna.

Here are six major revelations from the documentary:

Lil Nas X “found music” after his grandmother had passed
Lil Nas X: Long Live MonteroLil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

In the documentary, Lil Nas X said he initially wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon because many of his family members — including his grandmother — suffered from heart problems. 


Once he began college, however, his career aspirations changed. “I got, like, so immediately bored," he said. "I made a song for fun and immediately posted it onto Twitter. I told my parents, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just gonna take a semester off.’” He ultimately decided to pursue a career in music after his great-grandmother passed away that same year.


“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**t like that, and then I found music,” Lil Nas X said. “I feel like music was also great for escaping that. I felt a f**king spiritual presence over me, that [said], ‘OK, this was not a mistake. This is what I’m supposed to be doing in life.”

Coming out was "very important" in Lil Nas X's spiritual journey
Lil Nas X: Long Live MonteroLil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)
“Around 2019, I became way more spiritual, and I started to trust what I would see as spiritual signs and guides and whatnot, and I feel like coming out was very important if I wanted to continue to progress,” Lil Nas X revealed. “Burying parts of yourself will keep you further away from finding the truest version of you as you go.”
Lil Nas X knew “Old Town Road” would make him “blow up”
Lil Nas X: Long Live MonteroLil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Lil Nas X confessed that he knew in his heart that his debut mainstream single “Old Town Road” would help him “blow up” to stardom. But prior to its release, the rapper said he felt “doomed” when he realized that the song’s guitar-heavy instrumental —  which he purchased online for $30 — is 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**king God, I am doomed,’” Lil Nas X said. 


Trent Reznor, the principal songwriter of Nine Inch Nails, later told Rolling Stone that he was fine with the sample and was completely blown away when he first heard the song a few weeks after its release. Reznor was also asked to make a cameo in Lil Nas X’s music video but turned down the opportunity. “I don’t feel like it’s my place to shine a light on me for that," he said.


Reznor and fellow Nine Inch Nails member Atticus Ross are both listed as producers and songwriters for the track.


Lil Nas X got emotional after listening to the “Old Town Road” instrumental. “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," he said. "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.’”

Lil Nas X once bought pizza for his haters
Lil Nas X: Long Live MonteroLil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Following his breakout moment, Lil Nas X became the target of several far-fetched allegations. Many conservative critics claimed he made kid-friendly music to brainwash the youth into a “gay agenda.” Others claimed he was at the forefront of an evil, gay Satanic agenda.


Even when he’s met with hate, Lil Nas X has always responded with love. In one instance, he even bought pizza for homophobic protesters who gathered outside the Boston concert of his inaugural tour. 


“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,” Lil Nas X said of his haters in the documentary. “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?


“I guess I actually paid attention to one of the videos. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of f**ked up, what they were saying,’” he continued. “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.’”

Lil Nas X still isn't “100%” around his family members
Lil Nas X and father Robert StaffordLil Nas X and father Robert Stafford attend the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

In early June 2019, Lil Nas X came out to his father Robert Stafford, who he said was initially skeptical of 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 explained. “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.”


Lil Nas X has since grown closer to his father and his family. Speaking about his relationship with his stepmother Mia Stafford, Lil Nas X said they are close but he still finds it difficult to truly be himself with her. “It still feels really weird being flamboyant or closer to myself that I show most people around her.”


He also claimed that he felt like a “stepchild” in his family. His sexuality still remains “the elephant in the room.”


“I feel like even now though, I guess, it’s still kind of hard to be open when I’m dating someone,” Lil Nas X said. “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. But we’re getting closer.”


Lil Nas X’s own unapologetic pride in his sexuality ultimately encouraged his older brother Tramon Hill to come out as bisexual.

Lil Nas X is desperate to find the next phase of himself that feels “new”
Lil Nas X: Long Live MonteroLil Nas X from “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Lil Nas X said his 2021 single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” was his most liberating track yet, even though it elicited negative reactions from countless conservative commentators.  


“I feel like I’ve been the same me for like two years,” Lil Nas X said. “Through, like, the Montero era, you know? And I wanna be a new me now.” He added, saying that in order to find this new version of himself (that’s both new to him and his countless fans), he has to “get lost.”


“I feel like there’s something brewing that’s gonna be so amazing for me. And I trust that feeling. I can’t explain it,” Lil Nas X continued. “It’s, like, this anxious excitement . . . Right now, it’s glowing all over me. I can’t explain that. I cannot explain that.


“Maybe it’s not, like, escapism as in ‘I don’t wanna be alive,’ but ‘I wanna be more alive.’”

"Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero" is currently available for streaming on Max. Watch the trailer, via YouTube:


By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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