Lil Nas X’s Beef With BET Runs Deeper Than A Snub

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
Since he first burst onto the music scene, Lil Nas X has been known to make a statement; from his viral debut “Old Town Road” to its scandalous followup “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” his work has always sparked heated discussion. These days, he’s stirring up a new controversial internet discourse by starting a campaign against BET following the announcement of the network’s 2022 BET Award nominations. This isn’t your typical celebrity temper tantrum about being left out of an opportunity for accolades— the issue Lil Nas X is raising is connected to a timely but always relevant conversation about homophobia and who gets to be celebrated in Black culture.
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When BET first announced its nominees for the BET Awards, the lineup featured some of the best and brightest in music, bestowing the honors upon popular artists like Doja Cat, Megan thee Stallion, Drake, Jazmine Sullivan, and Kendrick Lamar. The network even snuck in a few surprises in the nominations; controversial faves like Kanye West and Jack Harlow are also named in major categories for the night. However, one of 2021’s biggest acts was left out of the elite selection, and he’s not happy about it.
Lil Nas X undoubtedly owned 2021. Even before his highly anticipated — and highly debated — debut studio album Montero became available to his passionate fanbase, it was the second most pre-saved album on Apple Music in history. Upon its release, Montero dominated the airwaves, with several of Lil Nas X’s singles topping the Billboard music charts for months on end. The project was a fun yet intimate exploration of the 23-year-old’s personal journey to self-acceptance, touching on everything from his tumultuous relationship with his mother (“Dead Right Now”) to his meteoric rise in the music space (“Industry Baby”). Fans and haters alike couldn’t stop talking about him and his music, and his name seemed to trend across social media every other day. It went without question: Lil Nas X had the best year ever. So why wasn’t he considered for the BET Awards?
When BET first announced its nominees for the show, Lil Nas X didn’t waste any time pointing out his disappointment at being excluded from the lineup. “Thank you BET awards,” the musician tweeted (then later deleted). “An outstanding zero nominations again. Black excellence!” He went on to share his disappointment in not being recognized by the network for his work, explaining that he believes he was left out due to homophobia, specifically when it comes to men who are present more femininely. Yes, Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean — fellow artists who also identify as queer Black men — were nominated for awards, but Lil Nas X pointed out that his style and presentation skews less masculine than theirs does, which he feels is why they’re more embraced in popular culture.
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Though many may not agree with his tactics, Lil Nas X makes a great point. With all of the accolades he racked up in the last year, leaving him out of a celebration of Black music seems intentional, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to identify some level of queerphobia as the issue.

“Love frank and tyler to death,” he tweeted when a Twitter user pointed out that he isn’t the only queer man in music. “But can we admit queer men are more respected when they do less feminine things or am i making that up?”
“I just feel like black gay ppl have to fight to be seen in this world and even when we make it to the top mfs try to pretend we are invisible,” Lil Nas X continued on Twitter. 
Though many may not agree with his tactics — starting off a diss record with “F–k BET” is a choice — Lil Nas X makes a great point. With all of the accolades he racked up in the last year, leaving him out of a celebration of Black music seems intentional, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to identify some level of queerphobia as the issue. In a recent statement to Rolling Stone (released the night of the BET Awards), Lil Nas X shared that his issues with BET are much deeper than just being snubbed for this year’s BET Awards. When he performed his controversial hit single “Montero” during the 2021 show, the leadup to the performance was marked by strict regulations and policing of his creative vision, with executives laying out their expectations of the singer: no Satanic imagery (stated explicitly) and nothing too gay (in less direct words). Lil Nas X delivered on the first stipulation, but his choice to kiss one of his male dancers at the end of the performance rubbed the people behind the show the wrong way.
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“They say [in their statement] that ‘no one cheered louder’ for me than them that night,” Lil Nas X told Rolling Stone. “But the BET Awards team was actually very upset that I kissed my dancer onstage and vocalized their discontent with multiple members of my team immediately following the performance.”
“At some point after [Nas] got offstage, one of the BET producers came up to me and before I could even open my mouth, he looked at me and said, ‘That was really fucked up’,” said one anonymous member of Lil X’s team. Of course, BET continues to assert its mission to “​​to [use] all of our platforms to provide visibility and inclusion for all of the many intersections of the Black community.”
Unfortunately, BET has been known to shy away from and even ignore queer Black creatives for quite some time now. When the FX series Pose was on air, shining a light on a close knit community of Black and brown trans folks connecting through the underground ballroom scene in 1980s New York City, the show was critically acclaimed for centering a narrative that is rarely depicted in pop culture. But in its three seasons on air, BET barely acknowledged Pose and its talented cast. Sure, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez (who has never been nominated for a BET Award) and Billy Porter (who’s only been nominated for a BET Award once) have attended the awards show in recent years, but the continued lack of acknowledgment over the years sent the clear message that Black queer culture simply isn’t not a priority for the network. The decision to have a performance this year featuring Pose costars Porter and Dominique Jackson seemed like a possible atonement for its past, but even that felt.. off, somehow; Black ballroom legends like Deshaun Wesley (Legendary), Shannon Balenciaga, and Kevin Prodigy couldn’t even get the same amount of airtime as Jack Harlow, a white man whose ties to Blackness include his friendship with Drake and not knowing that Brandy and Ray J were siblings. At the BET Awards — and during Pride Month at that?
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Respect, safety, and freedom should be afforded to all Black people, yet somehow, the culture is still trying to write in fine print exceptions to what should be an indisputable fact.

Within pop culture and in society at large, it’s common for many communities to balk at openly queer people, marginalizing those who are not cisgender or straight. In many Black communities, specifically, there is a blatant push back against more feminine-presenting men, with conservatives and hoteps alike rallying violently against what they call the “emasculation of the Black men.” The more makeup, jewelry, heels, and wigs a Black man wears, the more issue people take with his sexuality. Even more so if that Black man chooses not to shy away from open discussions of his love life. “You don’t need to throw it in our faces,” they rant and rave online. “Stop making your sexuality a shtick.” But being gay isn’t a bit. It's real life. 
It’s beyond disappointing that we’re still dealing with homophobia in many Black spaces. Respect, safety, and freedom should be afforded to all Black people, yet somehow, the culture is still trying to write in fine print exceptions to what should be an indisputable fact. On a platform like BET, whose very mission is to entertain, engage and empower our community, full support for queer Black people must be nonnegotiable, especially in the face of the frightening ongoing agenda to police and criminalize queerness. In the words of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, nobody’s free until everybody’s free. And we have a long way to go.

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