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7 Ways Lil Nas X’s 2021 Is Already Even More Successful Than His ‘Old Town Road’ Year

Yet in a number of ways, 2021 has been an even more successful year for Lil Nas X — now a few years removed from “Old Town Road,” but again one of the biggest forces in popular music. With the release of his proper debut album, Montero, through Columbia Records on Sept. 17, Nas promises to have one of the more talked-about full-lengths of 2021 — and all because of the groundwork laid earlier this year.

On the eve of Montero, here are the seven reasons why Lil Nas X’s 2021 is already more successful than the year he made Hot 100 history:

1. He scored a second No. 1 hit.

Lil Nas X hit the Hot 100 a handful of times following the explosion of “Old Town Road,” with follow-up single “Panini” reaching No. 5 on the chart and “Rodeo” and “Holiday” hitting the top 40. Yet “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” not only returned Nas to the top of the Hot 100 with a No. 1 debut in April, but also grew into a ubiquitous, radio-conquering smash in the weeks that followed.

“Montero” peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Top 40 chart and at No. 2 on Rhythmic Airplay — and while the song only spent one week atop the Hot 100, it spent 18 weeks in the top 10, and remains in the top 40 of the chart 24 weeks into its run, a testament to its endurance as a streaming and radio hit. With “Montero,” Lil Nas X effectively put any lingering one-hit wonder claims to bed: even if his 2019 follow-ups to “Old Town Road” couldn’t replicate that song’s chart-topping success, his first single of 2021 proved to be an undeniable smash, and a springboard into his next era.

2. He then scored another hit — that sounded nothing like the previous one.

Impressively, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” represented a complete departure from the sound of “Old Town Road,” with Lil Nas X trading in country-infused trap for a mid-tempo shuffle with flamenco flair, whiffs of handclaps, Auto-Tune, Spanish guitar and a synth-pop hook. As the first single from his proper debut album, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” was assumed to preview the sonic palette of Montero. And while that still may prove to be the case, its follow-up hit, “Industry Baby” featuring Jack Harlow, made for another abrupt and thrilling departure.

“Industry Baby” is a boisterous hip-hop track, a defiant boom of a single meant to be played on car stereos at maximum volume, or in clubs where everyone can triumphantly raise their glasses. And while it doesn’t resemble “Montero” in the slightest (or “Old Town Road,” for that matter), “Industry Baby” has become another smash for Lil Nas X, peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100 following its late July release and spending its entire run thus far in the chart’s top 20. If “Montero” gave Nas a much-desired second chart-topper ahead of his proper debut, “Industry Baby” has demonstrated his range as a mainstream star, while also continuing his upward momentum in the weeks preceding Montero’s release.

3. He dropped must-see music videos.

In a pop era where superstars can more or less mail in music videos without suffering much commercial consequence, Lil Nas X has treated his visuals as opportunities to augment his artistry, generate excitement online and expand his fan base. His 2019 clips for “Old Town Road” and “Panini” were big-budget spectacles, but the video for “Montero” represented a breakthrough for his ambitions as a visual creator: co-directing with Tanu Muino, Nas concocted a world brimming with mythology, nodding to biblical passages and Dante while also including a Satanic laptop sequence successfully designed to raise eyebrows.

“He had this concept — because it was his own story, and he wanted to open [himself] up in this video and song — so it was very clear,” Muino told Billboard following the “Montero” video release. Months later, Lil Nas X returned with another video with an equally uncompromising vision: set in ‘Montero State Prison,’ the clip for “Industry Baby” combines dancing prisoners with homophobe dunking in a neon-colored, highly entertaining presentation.

Nas’ ability to create buzzworthy music videos helps him commercially: the “Montero” video has 349 million YouTube views to date, while “Industry Baby” has 118 million to date, and both have been big boosts to his overall streaming numbers. It also helps him earn more acclaim — earlier this week, “Montero” took home video of the year at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards, where Lil Nas X was one of the brightest stars and biggest winners. Don’t be surprised if “Industry Baby” factors into the 2022 VMAs race, either.

4. He delivered must-watch performances.

Speaking of the VMAs, Lil Nas X starred in the best performance of the night, with a rendition of “Industry Baby” that was assisted by Harlow and a marching band, as well as a “Montero” outro that displayed Nas’ dance moves. The showcase was par for the course for Lil Nas X, who has spent 2021 dominating every stage he steps upon in lieu of a proper tour. He survived a wardrobe malfunction while performing “Montero” on Saturday Night Live in May, and then at the BET Awards in June, he re-created elements from Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video — and made a lot of prejudiced folks shake their fists at the sky when he kissed a male backup dancer as the performance concluded.

The young star was a strong primetime performance presence during his “Old Town Road” run — particularly at the 2020 Grammys, when he delivered a medley of the song’s many iterations. But he’s stepped up a level in 2021, turning each TV platform into a charismatic and lavishly rendered spectacle that casual fans and diehard supporters will be sharing on social media the following morning. Whenever he embarks on his first proper tour, there will be a lot of paying customers eager to see that spectacle in person.

5. He knows how to court controversy.

The BET Awards lip lock wasn’t the only time this year that Lil Nas X has caused the most sensitive of music fans to become irate: giving the devil a lap dance in the “Montero” music video certainly conjured some online anger upon its release in late March, as did the 666 “Satan Shoes,” complete with pentagrams and design ink mixed with a drop of human blood, that were produced as a tie-in. The fact that the latter move resulted in a Nike lawsuit and voluntary product recall is largely irrelevant — Lil Nas X accomplished his task of provoking heightened conversation and interest, with the pop world talking about “Montero” during its first week of release as the song strode to a No. 1 Hot 100 debut.


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