Lil Nas X appears to be repentant after upsetting Christian recording artists and fans with his latest song, "J Christ," whose cover art and music video appropriated biblical imagery and themes and certainly delivered on the track's promise: Give ’em somethin' viral.
The two-time Grammy Award winner debuted the controversial song Friday. In the accompanying video, he appeared as a devil, an angel and Jesus Christ crucified on a cross before mounting a comeback at a Met Gala-style event. He also navigates the flooded high seas as Noah, citing a verse from Corinthians. There are plenty of big-name doppelgängers preparing for judgment in the video too, but it was Lil Nas X who got the brunt of brutal discernment in real life.
The "Old Town Road" rapper, who wrote and directed the new video, addressed the backlash Monday in a footage posted across his social media accounts admitting that he went "overboard" and didn't mean to upset his Christian fans. The musician issued his latest mea culpa on the heels of Christian artists such as Dee-1, Lecrae and Hurricane Chris voicing their disappointment, characterizing the rapper as a blasphemer, disrespectful, "church hurt" or being used by the devil.
"Okay I gotta admit Lil Nas is playing with fire mocking Jesus," Lecrae, the first rapper to win a Grammy for gospel album, tweeted Friday. "he’s getting the attention he wants from folks at the risk of searing his conscious. Still if God can transform King Neb, murders, slave masters, sex workers, etc. he can add another Blasphemer to the list."
In his defense of the offending cover art before the video debuted last week, Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill, dedicated the new single to "the man who had the greatest comeback of all time." He also argued that the artwork, which featured him crucified as Jesus, wasn't making fun of the sacrosanct religious figure.
"the crazy thing is nowhere in the picture is a mockery of jesus. Jesus’s image is used throughout history in people’s art all over the world. I’m not making fun of s—. yall just gotta stop trying to gatekeep a religion that was here before any of us were even born. stfu," he wrote Jan. 8 on X, formerly Twitter.
By Monday, the 24-year-old was singing a different tune. He said he was "not necessarily" apologizing but explaining his headspace while launching his latest project.
"When I did the artwork, I knew there would be some upset people or whatnot simply ’cause religion is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people. But I also didn't mean to, like, mock," he said in a video posted on X and Instagram, explaining that he wasn't trying to be flippant.
"It was literally me saying, 'Oh, I'm back. I'm back like Jesus.' That was the whole thing," he added. "I'm not the first person to dress up as Jesus. I'm not the first rapper ... and I won't be the last."
The singer also acknowledged his track record with religious outrage, referencing the firestorm he ignited with a 2021 music video because it contained satanic imagery.
"And I know like given my history with the 'Call Me By Your Name' video, anything that I do related to religion can be seen as mockery. That was just not the case with this," he said.
Saying that he hadn't prepared a statement and was just speaking off the cuff, the "Industry Baby" singer also addressed his communion-inspired promotional video released last week — a sped-up clip that featured him in religious garb eating wafers and drinking wine, which he referred to as "crackers and juice." Lil Nas X said that the clip was meant to "lighten the mood" and dial down the seriousness of the discourse, not realizing the symbolism enshrined in the Christian sacrament and how his take on it could be offensive.
"I did not mean it as a cannibalism thing or whatever the freak, but I do apologize for that. I will say I am sorry for that. That was overboard. Though I don't agree with all of Christianity's rules or whatnot. I know not everybody follows Christianity by the book 100% or the world would be a lot crazier. But I do apologize for that," he said.
Lil Nas X is no stranger to controversy. The recording artist's name was back in people's mouths earlier this month after comedian Dave Chappelle circled back to the "Montero" brouhaha during his December Netflix special, "The Dreamer." While Chappelle put down the artist as the ultimate dreamer in his stand-up routine, Lil Nas X fired back on X, writing: “yall gotta let call me by your name go, me and the devil broke up 3 years ago. yall acting like children of divorce."
Appearing less glib in Monday's video, the recording artist explained why he felt the need to address the latest tumult sincerely.
"This is not to try to get everybody on my good side or what not, this is more so to clear my own head about my own decision," he said. "I know I messed up really bad this time and I can act unbothered all I want, but it's definitely taken a mental toll on me. ... I do want my Christian fans to know that I am not against you. I was put on this earth to bring people closer together and promote love and that's who I am. I'm not like some evil demon guy trying to destroy everybody's values and stuff like that. That's not me."
He continued: "With the video, there's no disrespect there. I thought [that by] me clearly not being on the side of the devil in that video, [that] there was an understanding there that I'm not trying to dis Christianity."
The musician said that he hoped people could move past it because he's excited about "the rest of this era and things I have planned."
"That's all I have to say for right now. I'm sending you all love. I'm sending my fans love. I'm sending the people who I hurt love," he concluded.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.