Upon arrival at Lil Nas X’s show at MGM Music Hall at Fenway on Sunday, attendees were presented with something unexpected: a playbill-style introduction to what would unfold over the evening. “This play is about my journey, what I’ve been through, me being out of breath while performing and my aspirations to continue on my path in life,” the hitmaker wrote in an editor’s note that showed how his blend of disarming sincerity, self-effacing humor, and world-conquering ambition have endeared him to so many. Calling what would unfold a play was deliberate: The evening offered a fantastical version of Lil Nas X’s origin story, meted out over three acts and accompanied by the hooky, over-the-top songs that have cemented him as a chart mainstay since the late-2018 release of his breakout hit, the country-pop-rap-meme blend “Old Town Road.”
Making a single hit isn’t by any stretch easy, but sustaining that momentum is even more difficult, particularly in the age of shattered attention spans and perpetual trend cycles. But Lil Nas X has succeeded in the years since he uploaded “Old Town Road” because he’s presented himself as utterly unbounded. He’s handled backlash from country-radio gatekeepers, right-wing pundits, and hip-hop personalities with hypocrisy-skewering wit, while the music he’s released since “Old Town Road” enjoyed its record-breaking run at No. 1 has, both lyrically and musically, upended any expectations of who the 23-year-old gay Black man born Montero Lamar Hill “should” be.
“MONTERO,” Lil Nas X’s 2021 debut, was maximalist while still being poppy and personal, with the artist wrestling with his need to be loved while reveling in his ride along stardom’s wave that allowed him to wrangle cameos from the likes of Elton John and Miley Cyrus.
Sunday night’s show distilled that whirlwind into a 70-minute spectacle during which Lil Nas X, flanked by a dazzling crew of dancers, commanded the sold-out room. Clad in custom outfits (which were given a spotlight in the tour zine), he told the story of his ascent through songs like the wounded mashed-synth cut “Panini” (which opened the set) and the triumphant “INDUSTRY BABY.”
There were also shout-outs to artists of similar ambition: The guitar freak-out that opens Prince and the Revolution’s “When Doves Cry” segued into Beyoncé's recent ballroom ode “PURE/HONEY,” during which Lil Nas X and his dancers flaunted their moves. When that transitioned seamlessly into his upbeat yet lamenting “THAT’S WHAT I WANT,” the room came unglued. The night ended with a single-song encore that was billed as “THE END OF THE BEGINNING” — a tantalizing promise of more to come from this outrageously creative, decidedly online-age pop star.
Maura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.
LIL NAS X: LONG LIVE MONTERO TOUR
With BAMBII. At MGM Music Hall at Fenway, Sunday