Upon entering a concert venue, the last thing you would expect to be handed is a Playbill. In the Playbill’s opening letter, Lil Nas X himself promised his audience everything but a “regular ass show.” Three acts mapped Lil Nas’s, née Montero, recent rise to stardom, depicting the growth of his career, his struggles with internalized insecurities, and his magical transformation into the Black, queer artist he is today. The display of ethereal butterfly wings briefly attached to Lil Nas was perfectly fitting, as Montero led his audience through the metamorphosis of his own life, songs, and persona.
Honestly, this play had no consistent plot. But whose life does? Lil Nas’s story began by covering his rise from internet personality to fame on the old town road and beyond. Throughout his performance, Nas tackled the struggles he faced from his religious community growing up, coming to terms with his identity and sharing his love and pride. Within every flamboyant act were salient emotions to every community, but especially Lil Nas’s eternal search for love, and a determination to achieve so much beyond the Grammys and exalts he has already received. Almost every song came with a new set projected onto the stage, taking the audience from a cyber wasteland, to a fairytale princess-esque bedroom and ballroom, and even into hell, advertised instead as Montero itself. It was nearly disorienting, especially when a cybernetic Wizard of “Naz” addressed the audience, her visage becoming increasingly glitchy with each cryptic description of the next act’s content.
With lasers up, bass pounding through the floor, and energetic music pouring from the stage, Lil Nas sought to engage his D.C. audience completely—and he succeeded. The crowd was wholly involved in the show. Literally. In Act Three, Lil Nas gathered five volunteers to come on stage and join the dance crew. The dancing both on and off stage was riotous throughout the show and even extended into the final encore. Lil Nas’s vibrant and varied costuming only added to the ecstatic energy.
Within the crowded pit, there was little to nothing to be seen of people’s outfits, except the inordinate amount of cowboy hats. So many cowboy hats. Before entering, on the other hand, everyone’s glorious, glittery, gay outfits were on display, to the extent that a basic cowboy outfit did not feel nearly queer enough. That was until, however, one dad appeared on the scene in what could only be described as disco-business meeting attire, as though he simply pulled together the most colorful clothing he could find in his closet. Never has the implicit feeling of a community overlapped with such scrutinous judgment. And nowhere else would someone shout “Oh my God, your cheekbones……I wanna kill myself,” while snaking in front of you with drinks.
One specific component of this theatrical performance created discordance during its initial appearance: a color changing chrysalis that was rolled on and then off stage in between each act. This mysterious orb was in fact an important prop that Lil Nas climbed out of later in his performance. Other astounding props were used, including an animatronic horse brought out during old town road, and of course confetti cannons at the finale. So many of Lil Nas’s experimental decisions were ones that would largely benefit the pop music industry. Every backup dancer had their own biography in the Playbill; during the show, each was given a moment of recognition by the audience with a brief solo while their name was projected onto the stage.
With a hyperpersonal narrative of Lil Nas X’s life, combined with the rather intimate venue of The Anthem, this show is one I will certainly remember and has transformed the definition of what a concert performance must be. No longer is there an expectation for a concert to have a singular theme, format, or even genre; perhaps Lil Nas’s unique transformation of music onstage will influence the concepts of pop performance art as much as the influence of his music on the pop industry.
J. Gertin is a freshman in the College studying Physics.