In 2017, Lil Nas X was just a Georgia teenager working at a Taco Bell (who, um, sometimes left the cash register unguarded to take photos in the bathroom mirror). Five years later, he’s got three No. 1 hits, two Grammy Awards and a music video that’s been viewed over 1 billion times. Oh, Taco Bell has officially named him chief impact officer.
It’s a glow-up of epic proportions, and one that can be largely attributed to Lil Nas X’s relentless creativity and commitment to his career.
Simply put: Nobody is doing it like 23-year-old Montero Lamar Hill. He’s a gay rapper who rose to fame thanks to his 2019 single “Old Town Road,” a country song that broke the record for the longest-running No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. But George Jones he is not — Lil Nas X is a Twitter mastermind effortlessly popular with Gen Z.
Every move he makes is more outrageous than the last: He’s twerked on Satan in a music video, performed a concert in the metaverse, promoted sneakers containing human blood, mobilized the furry community to come to his concerts and filmed himself going into “labor” before “giving birth” to his debut album.
He never leaves the headlines, and that’s not due to chance. “A lot of people like to say it’s like a kid accidentally got it,” he told the New York Times in 2019. “No, this is no accident. I’ve been pushing this hard.”
Despite his humble beginnings, Lil Nas X is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, thanks largely to his own marketing strategy. Legend has it Lil Nas X created 100 memes to generate buzz for “Old Town Road” — which he produced with -$5.62 in the bank — and hasn’t slowed down since. He’s hilarious online, leveraging the years he spent running a Nicki Minaj stan account to post constant hot takes (“being a good person has become so boring. i’ve decided to be mean, hot, and cool”) and, of course, bathroom-mirror selfies. Often, he responds to haters for fun with a request to stream his songs.
He also has a unique relationship with mobile payment service Cash App. In March 2020, as COVID-19 lockdowns were starting in the U.S., Lil Nas X told his followers to "drop ur cashapp," pledging to "send some of u some money to go get some food then stay inside." The following year, he sent money through Cash App to fans who could prove they were listening to his debut album, Montero, and teamed up with Cash App to give away $1 million when it formally expanded to users 13 and up. Cash App cardholders got first dibs on tickets for his first tour, too.
“I don't want to do what has been done. I want to have a lifelong career," he told Paper in 2020. "Unless I decide to do something else."
Lil Nas X’s authenticity is inspiring. So is his impact: As fantastic as his outfits and music videos might be, he regularly uses them to address serious social causes. Last year, the “baby registry” he threw for Montero raised roughly $500,000 for HIV prevention. When he released “Industry Baby,” set in a fictional prison, he started a fund with The Bail Project, a nonprofit that works to eliminate the cash bail system.
Lil Nas X is changing what it looks like to be hard-working and setting an example for millions of young people — many of them LGBTQ+ — by being unapologetically himself.
In an acceptance speech he gave earlier this year, he acknowledged as much. Lil Nas X admitted that believing he could drop out of college and become an international success, or “come out of the closet in the height of my career,” or make a song about one man lusting after another and watch it climb the charts might have been “delusional.” But then again, he said, “it’s OK to be delusional when you’re chasing your dreams.”