Everything leading up to Montero proved one thing, Lil Nas X is a superstar in the making. On Montero, he reaffirms or rather solidifies these thoughts. “Montero” and “Industry Baby,” two leading singles, are excellent pop songs that fit the mold of Lil Nas X and his current stasis as an artist. Following the pattern, where two of the three tracks are usually significant and catchy hits, Montero is a freight train that never lets loose, except for a few moments where Lil Nas X takes us on an eloquent ballad-esque drive.
These ballad-like songs bring a delicate touch to the number of pop bangers that guide most of Montero. “Tales of Dominica” and “Am I Dreaming” don’t limit themselves and work to Lil Nas X’s strengths; in the latter song, Miley Cyrus’ strengths. Miley beautifully compliments Lil Nas X, delivering a duet that sees both artists lamenting on their peaks, where promiscuity and overtly sexual topics made them conversation of controversy. It makes you think back on these artists and their careers and the maturity they’ve gone through since. Lil Nas X, in particular, has shown that maturity behind the microphone, as each song uniquely brings each topic to the center, even when some of them are the plethora of pop bangers on the album.
“That’s What I Want” and “Lost In The Citadel” stuck with me the most, and it started with the production. As bombastic and elegant as the first three songs are, the guitar and keyboards on “That’s What I Want” blow them out of the park. Immediately, the guitar and keyboards begin to play, and Lil Nas X fearlessly expresses himself through beautiful melodies, displaying a sense of confidence in his voice and singing. It’s no surprise as the production is co-produced by Ryan Tedder of One Republic, who has produced some of the biggest hits over the last decade. His pop overtones complement the hip-hop-like percussion from KBeaZy. It has complete unison from start to finish, and I haven’t turned off repeat each time it comes on.
“That’s What I Want” speaks to the life Lil Nas X wants in terms of love, lamenting on the simplicities. He isn’t here singing or rapping about the explicit nature of gay love, and instead, it is comparable to everyone with similar sentiments — someone to come home to and embrace during his highs and lows. It’s compact and focused, and it’s on the chorus where it hit; Lil Nas X made it known “Old Town Road” was not a fluke. Of the moments where Lil Nas X keeps it personal, he shines with the various styles and production, engulfing them into his soul and delivering nothing but great songs.
After some solid songs, including the poppy “Scoop” with Doja Cat — who delivers a memorable and fun verse to accompany Lil Nas X’s FU attitude as they flex their physical looks. Unlike the personal songs, Lil Nas X proves here he can deliver great flex bangers like “Dolla Sign Slime” with Megan the Stallion. We’ve consistently heard Lil Nas X sing more often rap, and any qualms about his ability to go both ways — toss that out the window. On “Dolla Sign Slime,” it comes naturally to Lil Nas X, flowing with finesse. It contrasts the smooth FU nature of “Scoop” with glorious effect.
The production is handled predominantly by Take A Day Trip — known for recent production on Man on The Moon III by Kid Cudi. They have an ear for building upon the pieces from the many co-producers, like Omar Fedi — designing elegant pop/hip-hop hybrid production like “Industry Baby” and “Dolla Sign Slime.” Their work stays consistent, even when the delivery is lukewarm from Lil Nas X, like on “Don’t Want It.” Similarly, Lil Nas X doesn’t impress with “Life After Salem,” producers by another frequent producer, John Cunningham. “Lost In The Citadel,” the other track that wowed me upon first listen. Following the same subject as “That’s What I Want,” love, but through a different perspective.
“Lost In The Citadel” encompasses a pop-punk core with the angst-filled guitar and percussion. It took me back to the mid-2000s when this kind of sound was all the rage, and hearing Lil Nas X and his producers making this sound their own had me floored. Like “That’s What I Want,” this got hit with the repeat immediately. It becomes a testament to his artistry, especially at a young age, where he can be fluid with his music and turn it into certified bangers. In turn, he continues to prove Elton John’s fluidity with his contributions on “One For Me,” which continues his consistency with smooth electro-pop.
Montero was not what I expected, and in many ways, it was more. Lil Nas X proves his mainstay pop star status, and despite songs not matching the strengths of “Old Town Road,” he continues to show range. He can rap, he can sing, and his gravitas is immense. The songs are glossy and catchy, and with Lil Nas X as a conductor, Montero is a train I may not find myself hopping off so soon.