There’s not much that can keep Lil Nas X down. Not the industry’s attempt to exclude “Old Town Road” from the country charts, nor the backlash from his hellish music video for “MONTERO.” And even his performance at this year’s BET Awards, which ended with a sensual liplock with a male dancer, couldn’t make the newly-minted pop star any less relevant. In March, when Nike filed a lawsuit against MSCHF for the Satan shoe it seemed like the first situation where he couldn’t control the outcome. But like any good internet troll, the lawsuit just became a springboard for more content. And because it’s Lil Nas X we’re talking about, he’s used all this content to deftly—and hilariously—promote his next move.
Last week, Lil Nas X was pretty busy on TikTok, reminding people about the Nike court case. “When you have court on monday over satan shoes and might go to jail but your label tells you to keep making tiktoks” he captioned a video where he’s pretending to sob while hitting the Whoa. It was the first of many clips where he referenced the prospect of a court date and possible jail time. His fans didn’t seem to care (as shown in this TikTok) about whatever stunt he was pulling, they just wanted to finally be able to hear “Industry Baby,” a song he’d been teasing since last October, in full. Still, the skits kept coming, alluding that we’d definitely hear about Lil Nas X on Monday—and we did, just not the way anyone imagined.
Some people, like Alexandra Roberts, a law professor who spoke with us about the case back in March, weren’t fooled. “Not sure what lil nas x is talking about since the #satanshoes case appears to be closed,” she tweeted, including a screenshot noting the “voluntary dismissal by Nike Inc with prejudice” happened in April. Given that people don’t typically read legal briefs in their spare time, many were unaware that Lil Nas X wasn’t actually named in Nike’s lawsuit against MSCHF, which made the storyline perfect fodder for a marketing ploy.
“Industry Baby,” a DayTrip and Kanye West-produced track featuring Jack Harlow, is out Friday, and by creating a rollout that mirrors his personal life, Lil Nas has made sure that his fans are just as interested in the music as they are in him. As Lil Nas tells it, he was in the Supreme Court on Monday. Or that’s the story he’s telling in the two-minute sketch he released earlier this week as a prelude to “Industry Baby,” featuring Nas playing the judge, the prosecutor, defense attorney, a juror, and himself. It’s a move we have seen most notably in the comedic genius of franchises like Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor, Mike Myers’ Austin Powers, and Tyler Perry’s many films as Madea. But let’s face it, Lil Nas X could just as easily have been influenced by That’s So Raven. When Lil Nas takes the stand, the prosecutor (him, but with bushier eyebrows) makes his argument: “This is about much more than shoes,” he says. “Mr. Nas X, are you gay?” That admission is enough to get the singer sentenced to five years in Montero State Prison, which also happens to be the location tagged in his Twitter bio. The skit is not only concise and punchy, but a stellar bid for a potential full-length film starring the 22-year-old. He’s a natural entertainer, equipped with an impressive command of accents and comedic timing.
Part of Lil Nas X’s undeniable genius is in his ability to command attention. “Industry Baby,” and whatever monumental rollout for the album that is sure to follow, will be yet another way he does that. But this time, unlike with his previous single, the singer issued a fair warning that the video is not for children. When a fan chastised him for not making the video “appropriate for everyone,” Nas replies: “bless ur 2 year olds heart but i need to be a slut sometimes sir.” If Lil Nas X has made anything clear in his prelude, it’s that he feels like he has to constantly defend his sexuality—even in circumstances that have nothing to do with it. His commitment to being this generation’s most visible and openly gay Black man means that in order to do that, he’s willing to explore all parts of his sexuality in front of us all.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.