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Lil Nas X marks comeback in controversial fashion with ‘J Christ’

Famous musician Lil Nas X is making his “comeback” to music by paying homage to Jesus. The single, “J Christ,” and its music video are saturated with over-the-top, “scandalous” religious images, generating a controversy.

Photo: @lilnasx on Instagram

(Review) Lil Nas X is, without a doubt, a generation-defining superstar. He’s a chart-topping, record-breaking, award-winning rapper. He’s a style icon, committed to glamor in its many forms. He’s genuinely talented and funny. Ultimately, though, he’s as famous as he is because of a knack for going viral — and an unreal willingness to commit to the bit.

In the five years of fame since his first single “Old Town Road” went viral, Lil Nas X has only released one album — “Montero,” in 2021. His last single dropped in 2022, and he was less active both in music and on social media throughout 2023. The announcement of his “comeback” to music is an exciting one.

No one’s seemed more excited than Lil Nas X himself, who’s spent all week promoting his new single and music video “J Christ” with a series of campy posts.

My personal favorite is a letter written on Liberty University letterhead declaring his acceptance to the school to study a Dual Concentration in Christian Leadership and Biblical Studies in the fall semester. It’s almost believable, helped by the fact that the caption reads: “I know some of yall hate me right now but i want yall to know im literally about to go to college for biblical studies in the fall. Not everything is a troll! Anyways IM A STUDENT AGAIN! LETS GOOO.” The letter was signed by none other than Jerry Falwell, President, with no distinction between Jr. and Sr. — not that it would matter, as one is no longer president of the university and the other died in 2007 (not to mention the fact that Lil Nas X is very openly gay, and Liberty University is very openly anti-gay).

Another post, featuring a photo of Lil Nas X being crucified, is captioned: “MY NEW SINGLE IS DEDICATED TO THE MAN WHO HAD THE GREATEST COMEBACK OF ALL TIME!” In another, he’s dressed as an angel and holding a gun in each hand.

The song and music video are even more saturated with these over-the-top, “scandalous” religious images.

The song centers mostly around his personal comeback, referencing his “quiet year” and his frequent virality. Like his other hits, “J Christ” is bold and brassy with catchy and repetitive lyrics. The titular lyrics proclaim, “Back up out the gravesite / Bitch, I’m back like J Christ.”

The video begins with a gospel chorus, featuring iconic lookalikes of figures like Kanye West, Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II ascending the staircase to heaven. There’s a crucifixion scene different from the single’s cover art, and crosses abound both in the setting and the costumes. It’s tongue-in-cheek, for the most part, blending spirituality with sensuality: when the icons arrive in heaven, Lil Nas X awaits in an all-white outfit, sporting a halo and a choker necklace that reads “SEXY” in shiny gold.

He’s also seen shearing a lamb, beating the devil in a game of one-on-one and as Noah, steering the ark through a stormy flood. That isn’t to say that none of it at all is done with a genuine spirituality — and I’d go so far as to say that a lot of the above isn’t just to get conservatives to clutch their pearls.

In the midst of a storm, Lil Nas X and backup dancers dance in front of a billboard that reads “Lord Help Me, For I Am At War.” The video ends as the storm has passed, Noah’s ark sailing peacefully. Bold silver lettering proclaims “DAY ZERO / A NEW BEGINNING,” followed by 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Christian rappers condemned Lil Nas X for the use of religious imagery — even before the song was released — and his Instagram comments are full of people claiming he’s being disrespectful, mocking Christianity and alienating his religious audience.

It’s also not the first time Lil Nas X has faced criticism for his blatant use of religious imagery.

The release of the music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” — the first single from his debut album — featured the now-infamous shot of Lil Nas X pole dancing down to hell. After receiving backlash, he released a collaborative sneaker called Satan Shoes that modified Nike Air Max 97s and contained a drop of human blood each. Nike filed a copyright lawsuit against Lil Nas X, and he received a great deal of backlash for doubling down on the satanic messaging. The whole situation became the subject of a video for “Industry Baby,” another single from the album.

Maybe it’s sacreligious, or it’s hilarious, or it’s ultimately just one big gimmick to divide fans from “haters” and go viral. Either way, there’s no denying that Lil Nas X has a hold on culture, and his work is both impressive and discussion-worthy.

There’s no denying either that no matter how gimmicky it gets, the brash mix of sexuality and religion is equally as personal.

Raised in Georgia by a gospel singer father, Lil Nas X has recalled grappling with his religious belief and sexuality: “I would just, like, you know, pray, pray, and pray. … That it was, like, a phase,” he said in a CBS interview.

He’s referred to himself as “spiritual” in the past, and last November fought back against the idea he was being intentionally disrespectful of Christianity: “y’all see everything i do as a gimmick,” he wrote on X, the platform formally known as Twitter. “when in reality im just an artist expressing myself in different ways. whether im a cowboy, gay, satanic, or now christian y’all find a problem!”

by Jillian Cheney, Religion Unplugged’s Senior Culture Correspondent. She writes about film, TV, music, art, books and more. Find her on Twitter @_jilliancheney.

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