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Lil Nas X's Satan imagery angers parents. But advocates say critics are missing the point.

David Oliver
USA TODAY

Lil Nas X's latest music video and song "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" fully embrace his gay identity – though not everyone is fully embracing the Grammy-winning artist's imagery choice.  

Social media erupted following the video's premiere Friday, which included sexually explicit biblical and Satanic imagery (he kills the devil, among other things). Fans celebrated the queerness in the video but others felt he went too far. Lil Nas X then took it a step further when he released "Satan Shoes" with streetwear company MSCHF. Nike is now suing MSCHF (but not the singer himself) over trademark infringement.

Lil Nas X enamored the world with his hit "Old Town Road" but has generated intense backlash with "Montero," particularly from parents and religious people. He played into his kid-friendly image following the release of "Old Town Road," releasing a children's picture book called "C is for Country" and joking on Twitter he was putting his Grammys in the basement to make room for his Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards trophy.

In case you didn't see:Lil Nas X song, video speak to larger issue of acceptance in religion, church

But advocates say his critics are missing the bigger picture. They argue that in the video, Lil Nas X's brave statement for Black queerness takes center stage – and it could change lives for the better.

"What Lil Nas X did was so significant, because not only do queer kids get to say, 'Hey, there's someone who looks like me out there.' Black queer kids, and specifically Black queer boys and young men get to say 'There is someone who looks like me,'" explains Alicia T. Crosby, a Black queer minister from Durham, North Carolina.

People are overlooking that he defeated the devil in the video, and "they're too focused on him being a young queer man," she says. 

Lil Nas X shows off the Satan Shoes which went on sale Monday.

About all that backlash:Nike sues Satan Shoes maker MSCHF over trademark infringement; Lil Nas X responds on Twitter

Crosby, 34, felt fascinated and excited by the video. "I felt hopeful thinking about what his video meant, in different ways for different communities."

The video comes following a study from GLAAD that the percentage of LGBTQ people of color on TV, a key pillar of media representation, has ticked up across broadcast cable and streaming since last year.

Religious people are divided on the video.

"God will have the last word when it comes to @LilNasX," CJ Pearson, president of The Free Thinker Project, wrote on Twitter. "And that is all I have to say about this."

Kaitlyn Joshua, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says she was offended by his use of Christian imagery when there are allies like herself in the religious community. She is an organizer for a group that advocates for the LGBTQ community, women's rights and Black people's rights.

"I don't feel like that we have to go that far to prove a point," Joshua, 28, says of the video. "And even more so I feel like he's losing allies as a result of choosing that approach."

Not everyone feels that way. "There are plenty of Christians who are celebrating what's happening right now," Crosby says. 

Lil Nas X is hardly the first artist to subvert religious imagery – think everyone from Nicki Minaj to Madonna to DMX – but he's unapologetically gay, and is challenging the church.

"I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the (expletive) y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay," he wrote on Twitter. "So i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves."

Joshua contends Lil Nas X did take back the narrative from the church and gave them a taste of their own medicine.

The video also showed his development as an artist and a person (and he even wrote an appreciation post for FKA twigs after similarities were pointed out between his video and hers for "Cellophane." She posted as well.)

"I just really like to see queer, Black creatives expressing themselves and succeeding," Madalyn Williams, 22, of Phoenix, says. Williams, who is non-binary, was raised Christian and felt stressed when told how they exist and who they are is wrong. It's "something that I'm still processing."

While this song and video could be beneficial for queer youth seeing themselves represented, some parents are confused by his apparent move away from being a kid-friendly artist. Though, in a January interview with NPR about his children's book, Lil Nas X alluded to phases of his art and fandom, saying "I'm well aware that life and careers and everything goes in chapters."

His supporters point out artists should be allowed to evolve.  

"Parents really saw lil nas x in a sequined cowboy fit that one time and assumed he was gonna be the Wiggles his whole career," Twitter user @jawndissimo wrote.

Lil Nas X made the point himself: "I am not gonna spend my entire career trying to cater to your children," he wrote in response to a critic on Twitter. "That is your job."

He also pointed out in another tweet in response to rapper Joyner Lucas that "Old Town Road" wasn't exactly family-friendly in the first place.

What the day of release was like:Fans praise Lil Nas X's 'Montero' music video for being unapologetically queer

For all the outraged parents out there, Lil Nas X's father wasn't one of them. 

"Very creative video. I got through it," he wrote in a text message that his son shared on Twitter. "Congratulations. Live life on your terms. Very PROUD of you."  

And Lil Nas X's original statement accompanying "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)", seemingly dedicated to his 14-year-old self, acknowledged the video would make some angry but that his "agenda" is to empower people to live authentically.