On Sunday, Greg Locke, the ultra right-wing pastor of the Global Vision Bible Church in a Nashville suburb, dedicated a few sentences of yesterday’s sermon to Lil Nas X. “I didn’t even know who Lil Nas X was, Lil Thug, whoever,” he said. “I was writing this morning and [my son] Hudson said ‘You know what made him famous, it was that horsey song, Got my horses in the… whatever, that song.’ I was like ‘Man, that song got a cool beat.’ I’ll never be able to listen to it again. Bunch of devil worshipping wicked nonsense, pentagram-wearing on your Nike tennis shoes, 666, you think I’m gonna stand for that, you’ve lost your mind. You tell Lil Nas X I said so.”
Lil Nas X is aware, Greg.
When a video of that church service was shared on Twitter, Lil Nas listened to Locke’s sped-up ‘Wonder Bible that’s been thrown in a bathtub’ speech cadence and tweeted “I’m sampling this.” But then Lil Nas seems to have spent most of his weekend alternately celebrating the release of his brilliant new song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and its ambitiously sexy video, and responding to conservatives who have decided that, despite the ongoing pandemic, widespread unemployment, and other real-life challenges, the biggest danger we’re all facing is watching a 21-year-old in a flame-retardant wig sliding down a CGI stripper pole.
In addition to that provocative 189 second video—the kind of devil-themed fan-fic that could give John Milton a posthumous erection—Lil Nas has partnered with next-gen street art brand MSCHF on a limited-edition run of ‘Satan’ Nikes. The kicks, which dropped on Monday morning, have already gotten the attention of everyone from South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, to NFL-bound former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, to that woman who got red-state famous for carrying a gun around her college campus.
The “Satan” shoes, which retail for $1,018—or they did, before they sold out in under a minute—are modified black Nike Air Max 97s with a silver pentagram pendant attached to the laces, MSCHF and LIL NAS Z stitched in red on the heels, and LUKE 10:18 printed on the leather. (If you haven’t thumbed through a hotel room Bible lately, that verse says “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fell from heaven,” which is thematically on point.) The run is limited to 666 pairs, and each one also has a single drop of human blood injected into the soles.
“The MSCHF team and the Nas team have always been friends, and when we heard about the music video it all just made sense,” Daniel Greenberg, MSCHF's head of commerce, told VICE in an email. Greenberg added that he and other members of the MSCHF team donated the blood that was used in the shoes—“it was just a lot of pricking”—but declined to explain how they infused it into the Nikes. “That is our little trade secret,” he said.
The shoes serve as a counterpoint to a previous MSCHF release, the so-called “Jesus Shoes.” Those white Nike Air Max 97s contained a few drops of “Holy Water from the River Jordan,” had a small crucifix dangling from the laces, and were embroidered with a reference to Matthew 14:25. (“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.”)
And, for what it’s worth, a lot of church people were all about those $1,425 shoes. “There are several youth pastors that have bought a pair, and even more who are asking, like, ‘I love sneakers, and I love God. I would love a pair of these,’ and that wasn’t the point,” MSCHF founder Gabriel Whaley told the New York Times last year. “The Jesus shoes were a platform to broach the idea while also making fun of it: that everybody’s just doing a collaboration now.”
Today, we’re at the stage where assorted ministers are trying for righteous retweets as they warn people about the shoes, your mom’s friend Debbie is using two-dozen emojis to express her outrage on Facebook, and Nike is desperately trying to convey the message that this wasn’t their idea. “We do not have a relationship with Lil Nas X or MSCHF,” the company told VICE in a statement. “Nike did not design or release these shoes and we do not endorse them.”
MSCHF bought the Nikes online, and then modified them with pentagram charms, Bible verses, and human blood before re-launching and re-selling them on their own site. And as far as the blood goes, Greenberg added that “there’s so little in [each shoe]” that it’s not as risky as some parts of the Internet have suggested.
The company hasn’t been contacted directly by Nike—at least not yet. “But we know from the media that they aren’t fans,” Greenberg said. “We were indeed expecting backlash.” Lil Nas X is internet savvy enough to have anticipated it too. On Sunday, he tweeted a link to a video called “Lil Nas X Apologizes for Satan Shoe,” but that’s very much not what the YouTube clip is.
Your personal opinion about the shoes and the videos may be influenced by your feelings about Lil Nas X himself, or whether or not you’re more likely to stream new music or an internet preacher’s most recent livestream. And as iconic as the “Montero” video has already become, this isn’t even a new kind of controversy; more than 30 years ago, some of these same critics tried to cancel Madonna for kissing a Black saint in a church and dancing in front of burning crosses in her “Like a Prayer” video. She ultimately lost an endorsement deal with Pepsi, and was personally called out by the then-pope.
So far, all Lil Nas X has gotten is a sold-out sneaker launch, more than 32 million views on YouTube, and the satisfaction of irritating people like Greg Locke. “Bunch of Satanism, bunch of wickedness, bunch of devilism, bunch of demonism, bunch of psychotic wickedness,” Locke ranted on Sunday—and for $1,018, you could score some of that for yourself too.