The music video for Lil Nas X’s “THAT’S WHAT I WANT,” directed by Stillz, premiered on Friday, September 17 alongside the audio tracks for Lil Nas X’s new album MONTERO. The album (you can find my review on the album here) talks about Lil Nas X’s experiences as a gay man, and the struggle, inner conflict, and ultimate acceptance that come along with it. Each track is so good and the album as a whole, textually and musically, is incredible.
But, the music video for “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” struck me with such ferocity that I knew I had to write about it on its own.
First, this video is hot. It is incredibly and explicitly sexually charged. Lil Nas X, himself, is incredibly attractive, and the scenes he and his creative team crafted are not only steamy, but also so gay. This continues a trend of queer, sexually suggestive videos that we saw in the video premieres of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and “INDUSTRY BABY” earlier this year.
The video starts out with Lil Nas X having been injured playing football. After being brought to the locker room, a fellow teammate comes in, and they begin a sexual encounter in a passionate scene. An important shot here is Lil Nas X opening a condom, a blatant endorsement of safer sex practices for queer men. This is an important message to send to his often-younger queer fans.
In the next verse, we are now transported to a new world, reminiscent of one of the first mainstream queer movies, Brokeback Mountain. After another steamy encounter in a tent out in nature, Lil Nas X next goes to the house of this lover with flowers, only to discover that he is married and has a child. He then leaves to go drink away his sorrows in his home, surrounded by his football accolades.
However, this is not the end to his story, as we enter the next scene with the last chorus, a bit slowed down now. We see Lil Nas X walking down the aisle in a wedding dress, meeting Emmy-winning actor Billy Porter at the altar, who hands him a guitar. The music then picks up as Lil Nas X begins performing the guitar part and finishing out the chorus. This high energy performance appears to be a moment of self-acceptance, that he can find happiness in his art. But then at the end, during the last lines of the song, we get a close-up of Lil Nas X’s face. We see his makeup has run down his face from crying and an expression of emotional pain. The video then ends in silence after the music ends.
Compared to the videos for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and “INDUSTRY BABY,” the video for “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” feels incredibly personal. While using references to other queer media, Lil Nas X is telling a personal narrative about his need for love. The wedding scene in particular strikes me with an emotional message I won’t be shaking any time soon. Lil Nas X wants love in his life, and his accomplishments aren’t enough to sustain him. Compared to the scene in the locker room and the tent, where he is clearly content from a sexual standpoint, the wedding shows us that more is needed to keep us going. Mutual love and affection are just as important as any physical needs we might have.
There are a lot of important moments in this video. As a gay man, Lil Nas X is telling us he deserves love, just like any straight person. But reaching this moment of love is a complicated journey for queer folk. But we still “want someone to love me” and “need someone who needs me.” Lil Nas X has given us an important piece of music whose accompanying video helps lay out the struggles of queer love. This message is important to share; so many queer people never see their lives on a screen like this. By witnessing someone they know sharing the same relatable problems that they have, they will see that it can be overcome. The music video for “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” is an ode to queerness in a way that hasn’t been seen very often, and I hope it inspires many more in the future.
The groundbreaking queerness of both MONTERO as a whole, and the “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” video in particular, is an incredible moment. While it is a shame that it took until 2021 for such a gay musical moment to occur in the mainstream, especially considering the extensive influence queer culture has had on music as an art form, I am happy that this video exists. Straight musicians have long been showing us straight, sexually-charge scenes in their music. It is so refreshing to see a musician stand up and put out something so blatantly gay. To see a version of a romantic journey not too dissimilar from my own, it makes my gay heart so excited.
You can watch the music video for “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” on Youtube and Vevo. MONTERO is available to stream on all major music streaming platforms and as a digital download.