Chaos For Good 😈

Why Lil Nas X, in all his Satan-sneaker glory, represents a positive form of chaos in modern internet culture.

If steam is coming out of your ears, Lil Nas X has done his job.

(Editor’s note: Just a heads-up that the music video in this issue is probably R-rated.)

In another time, the rapper Lil Nas X, best known for the surprisingly dominant “Old Town Road,” might have faded from the public view almost as immediately as he appeared.

Observers might have pegged his country-rap routine as a (quite successful) gimmick intended to game the pop charts.

But Lil Nas X, who turns 22 in less than two weeks, appears to be primed to have something along the lines of staying power, having proven himself as extremely adept at gaming the internet—after all, he gained his digital superpowers thanks to pre-fame experience with being a Tweetdecker.

And he proved it over the weekend with a clever promotion that got the right people mad. After appearing in a music video in which he pole-dances down a seemingly endless stripper pole to hell before giving Satan a lap dance, because why not, he worked out a co-branding deal with a culture-hacking manufacturer named MSCHF that started selling Satan-themed Nikes with a drop of human blood inside.

Lil nas x satan shoes

A bloody good time if you ask me.

Nike quickly denied involvement with the shoes, ensuring that they would get even more attention.

The combination of the unusual Satan theme and the absurd music video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” drew the ire of prominent conservative voices like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and perennial bomb-thrower Candace Owens. Nas X, birth name Montero Lamar Hill, responded by righteously pointing out the hypocrisy of these critics (Noem, who did little to rein in the pandemic in her state, was a particularly easy target) and using his music video to further troll them.

Like or dislike his music, if you are at all a heavy internet user, you will find something to admire about how Lil Nas X has used his fame to become a chaos agent of sorts—but the good kind. Part of a long line of chaotic music industry figures that effectively show staying power by leaning into edginess, he has proven himself to be incredibly savvy about the ways of digital culture.

Which means that, unlike other musicians that found memetic success, like Soulja Boy and Baauer, he is in a position where he might continue to capitalize on his notoriety repeatedly. He has millions of followers, and he knows how to use them.

(And to be clear, this is not all cheap gimmickry: The song, as absurd as its music video is, highlights Lil Nas X’s increased comfort about being openly gay, which I can imagine a lot of folks finding an important lesson in.)

But the more important thing is that he’s doing so in a way that feels productive, like it adds something to the current culture and uses the kinds of tactics most closely associated with political information jammers—think James O’Keefe—to grab our attention. In this way, he reminds me of The KLF, a musical act from three decades ago that was similarly effective at grabbing people’s attention through over-the-top stunts—most notably, shooting off blanks at an awards show. Folks like O’Keefe stole The KLF’s playbook years ago—Lil Nas X is simply taking it back.

He knows he’s pissing off these people. It was probably part of the plan. That’s what makes him effective as a public figure. And because those people are dangerous to our culture, we need more like him.

Long story short, I’d wear the Satan shoes if given the option.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 3 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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