Metro Weekly

‘Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero’ Creates Space for Greatness Without Filling It

The HBO documentary "Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero" feels like a brand extension for the star's unique pop culture status.

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero – Courtesy HBO

In a moment backstage in the HBO Original documentary Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero, the artist known as Lil Nas X lays down his ambitions to achieve something “great, super grand, BIG.”

He might be referring to his trailblazing career as a Grammy-winning rapper-singer-songwriter, whose unabashedly queer persona and presentation garner admiration and controversy in equal measure.

He could mean his first concert tour as a headliner, the Long Live Montero Tour, the American leg of which is chronicled in this film by directors Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel.

There’s little doubt he envisions greatness for himself, Montero Hill, the self-described brat from Lithia Springs, Georgia, who uploaded his modest country-rap banger “Old Town Road” to his socials and became a global sensation.

The film, a verité-style tour diary in three acts, doesn’t achieve greatness of its own, but offers glimpses at those aforementioned aspects of Montero’s super grand life.

Whether rehearsing for opening night at Detroit’s legendary Fox Theatre, getting a surprise pre-show visit from Madonna, or donning his drag persona to meet his uncannily accurate Madame Tussaud’s wax figure, he rides the dizzying whirlwind of music stardom with aplomb, clearly living out a dream.

Among the most compelling footage presented here is the video he shot himself in 2018, as a striving but confident 19-year-old, a month after releasing “Old Town Road” to the internet. Looking into the camera, he tallies his current follower count, promising that in a year the count will look different. He wasn’t kidding. “Old Town Road” is still the longest-running Billboard Hot 100 number one of all time.

What Lil Nas X and crew achieve with the tour is much less definitive, from what’s shown here. The behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage, narrated by the artist, and heavily featuring his troupe of predominantly gay, Black, and Latino dancers, reveals more of his jolly trickster personality.

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero – Courtesy HBO

He confesses that it’s with his dancers, as opposed to around his family or industry associates, that he feels he can be most himself, and the movie has fun showing the gaggle of gay boys work hard and play hard. While, in the midst of his family, who come out en masse to see his shows, there’s a strong sense of love and support, but also tension.

It’s like Madonna: Truth or Dare with a new beat. But Madonna and Alek Keshishian’s groundbreaking tour documentary unfolded spicy mini-plotlines and dramas throughout, whereas Long Live Montero merely moves us through the tour chronologically, without much drama or buildup.

On-camera, the star credits creative director Hodo Musa and label exec Saul Levitz for the tour concept — a pink-and-gold fantasy about otherworldly soul Montero entering a new world — however, the movie doesn’t convey that throughline with cohesion.

And the performances of hits like “Panini,” “That’s What I Want,” “Sun Goes Down,” and, of course, “Old Town Road,” in venues from the Fox to Radio City Music Hall, just come and go with less impact than the offstage sequences. The filmmakers rarely, if ever, aim to hold us in suspense.

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero – Courtesy HBO

As a live performer, Lil Nas X can hold our attention, although, technically, his vocals and dancing leave plenty of room to grow, and he’s yet to develop the commanding stage presence of other touring titans we could name. Still, he looks most assured taking on his 2021 number one “Call Me By Your Name,” and in a climactic performance of “Industry Baby,” his tightest, most energetic turn onstage.

“Industry Baby” is a highlight in a film that surfs from peak to peak, seemingly not guided in any particular direction. So loosely structured that its three act titles — Rebirth, Transformation, Becoming — all basically mean the same thing, Long Live Montero creates space for greatness without completely filling that space.

But we can see the vision, especially in a montage of Lil Nas X’s queer fans expressing heartfelt appreciation for his message of hope, perseverance, and LGBTQ pride.

“He’s so sexy. He’s the first male celebrity I’ve wanted to fuck and be at the same time,” gushes a male concertgoer in Detroit. He is, according to the tour’s intro voiceover, a special soul, who found himself in music, and has, in the words of tour choreographer-director Sean Bankhead, created his own lane for himself.

As the film cheerfully portrays, he’s still that kid from Lithia Springs riding high down his old town road, bound for destinations unknown.

Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero (★★☆☆☆) premieres Saturday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. on HBO and streams on Max. Visit

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