There’s something strangely wholesome about ‘Old Town Road’’s success. Lil Nas X is the first star out of the Twitter generation. He doesn’t need to use it to get along with the youth: he is the youth. And the youth of today is a bloody bizarre one. Raised by memes and existential dread, they’re a bit hard to wrap your head around.
So what do you do when you can’t understand something? You treat it as a joke.
Now, for sure, Lil Nas X is funny. Very funny, in fact. His Twitter presence is one of the most entertaining to follow lately. His years spent in Stan Twitter as a teenager can certainly be felt through his comedy style. He knows how to appeal to a generation that thrives on absurdism. His music has the same feeling as his online persona does: a bit ironic, a bit weird, and appealing, even when we don’t quite understand why. ‘Old Town Road’ was a surprise in every way. It mixed country and rap, two genres people love to bash, in an exciting and dangerously catchy way. It’s a song about riding a horse and hardly anything more. It’s completely unexpected, which makes it so fun.
But Lil Nas’ success story starts taking bitter undertones once we look at the critical response to his debut EP, ‘7’. Complaining either of not being funny enough or of a lack of significance, the reviews shared a common thread of trying to fit the young rapper into a very specific and very tiny box.
‘7’ is not a coherent project. It’s more of a collection of different songs than anything else. But you know what ? For a twenty year old that is starting out in the industry… That’s perfectly fine. In fact, it is a much more researched project than many other debuts by older artists. No, it’s not a country-rap EP. No, it’s not a collection of remixes. No, they’re not all funny songs, and no, they’re not all 100% serious either. And that’s exactly what makes it his project, not anyone else’s.
Is it that hard to accept that someone who made such an impactful hit could also be defined by other things ? That there are more aspects to Lil Nas X’s personality than his liking of horses and his funny tweets ? That being funny doesn’t always mean being meaningless ? That his way of being serious might not be the way we’re used to see ? And, for once and for all, that comedy can be just as valuable of an insight into someone else’s personality than drama ?
Lil Nas X won’t be the first in his style. Musicians are looking more and more to push the boundaries of genre. Inevitably, more and more musicians come from younger generations. The raised by social media crowd, the generation that was born in a world close to dying. This is just the beginning. But that doesn’t make him any less unique. Critics spend so much time dissecting his public and private persona that that they forget about him being a person capable of playing with different things. If he wants to use trap beats in one track and Nirvana inspired riffs in the next, it should be taken as seriously than if it came from someone who never sang about horses.
If there’s one lesson to take away from ‘7’s reception, it is that someone being funny doesn’t give anyone the right to treat them as a joke. ‘7’ is not the work of a lazy person. It is the multi-faceted, sometimes messy, work of a young artist experimenting with his new celebrity. Going from Soundcloud to the top of the Billboard chart is quite the big leap, and it’s no surprise that it would take time to adjust to the new possibilities his status offers. So what ? Let him have his fun. Let him experiment. Let him be more than one hit. Let him be an artist. Let him be anything he wants to be. But for his sake and the generation of rappers to come, let him be more than a joke.