When Lil Nas X independently released ‘Old Town Road’ in December 2018, he had little more than $30 and a dream, having bought a midtempo trap beat online for a paltry fee. The artist, born Montero Lamar Hill, could never have imagined that, in the coming months, the country-rap hit would be re-released by a major label and break records by topping the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 weeks, while simultaneously sparking a debate about racism in country music. When Glastonbury rolled around, Hill joined Miley Cyrus and her father Billy Ray on the Pyramid Stage to perform their blockbuster remix of the track – prior to this, Hill had no live experience beyond a smattering of appearances on talk shows and, er, an Ohio elementary school.
In the four years since, Hill has grown into a well-seasoned live performer; last year’s Long Live Montero Tour packed out theatres on both sides of the Atlantic, and became symbolic of Hill’s personal journey, which involved him coming out as gay on the last day of Pride month in 2019. Taking to the Pyramid Stage two hours before one of his personal heroes, Elton John – who has previously praised Hill as “stoic” and “very intelligent” – the 24-year-old delivers a supercharged sexualised romp: all glitter, sweat and stunning feats of physical strength. As Hill prowls across the stage in a gold-plated chest armour piece, showing off his hair extensions like Ariana Grande flicks her trademark ponytail, he parades a wicked smirk – almost as if he knows that he’s about to send those prone to complaining to Ofcom into paroxysms of rage. It’s delicious.
Before an LED screen of purposefully garish visuals, Hill gives it his all: opener ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ is marked by hard flexes of muscle and an uber-confident prowess, his vocal delivery and grinding both elevated by sheer joy. Doja Cat team-up ‘Scoop’ sees him make use of his lower register, before a dance interlude – with a soundtrack that swings from Rihanna’s ‘S&M’ to Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Sex Talk’ – induces an onslaught of merciless ass-shaking from a male dance troupe. Hill joins in on the fun, before running backstage for a costume change, giggling feverishly like a child that’s just pulled a prank on their school teacher.
It’s this mix of endearing disbelief and theatre kid extraness that makes you want to root for Hill: he’s clearly aware of the platform this subheadline slot offers, and chooses to use his hour on stage to deliver an unashamedly loud expression of the self. When a scantily-clad Hill and a dancer lean in for a stage kiss – and later, tease a lap dance – during the heart-soaring ‘That’s What I Want’, a song about learning to be comfortable in your own skin, it’s a genuinely moving moment. Here is a star, still on the rise, fearless enough to tease a reaction from the biggest audience of his career to date. A ballroom MC backing track booms into life shortly afterwards; Hill briefly starts voguing, a nod to the rich, irrevocable ties between the dance style and queer people of colour.
This roaring party hits a new high during the final ecstatic flourish of ‘Industry Baby’, as trumpet trills pound against a drum section before Hill’s close friend, Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow, makes a surprise appearance. When Hill eventually takes a bow, now more confident and rocket-powered than ever, it’s not hard to read his performance as the making of a thoroughly modern superstar.
Lil Nas X played:
‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’
‘Dead Right Now’
‘Don’t Want It’
‘Old Town Road’
‘Sun Goes Down’
‘Down Souf Hoes’
‘That’s What I Want’
‘Lost In The Citadel’