Tour Diary: Old Town, New Sheriff

Tour Diary: Old Town, New Sheriff

Fresh off his VMA debut, is unstoppable. View his tour diary exclusively for VMAN 42.

Fresh off his VMA debut, is unstoppable. View his tour diary exclusively for VMAN 42.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

On his starward trajectory, Lil Nas X has met Rihanna, masterminded the song of the summer “Old Town Road” (a trojan-horse commentary on dated notions of genre) and ridden an actual horse into his first-ever televised performance. We were there to capture the convergence of all three. 

When Lil Nas X emerged on the public stage, he could have been mistaken for an anomalous anti-hero, the product of the crypto-pop age in which old notions of “celebrity” have disappeared into social media-fueled legerdemain. But as his hit April remix “Old Town Road,” a novel mashup of rap and country featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, galloped up the charts, internet theories soon gave way to song-of-the-summer acclaim. By July, the song was one of the biggest singles in history, tied for most weeks at No. 1 (with sixteen, a former record shared by Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day”). Then, by August, it had smashed the record completely, clocking in at the top for the 18th week and counting.

While theories surrounding his cryptic origins or antithetical approach may have cast him as a kind of music-industry cipher, the Atlanta-born 20-year-old is nothing if not human when reflecting on his national TV debut, at the BET Awards in June, documented here for VMAN. “It was amazing—it was my first televised performance, and everybody in the crowd was singing along. At first I had to poop a little, before I came out…” he deadpans. “They were like, ‘Okay it’s time to go through the doors,’ and I was like, ‘Oh well.’ But I got out there and did it.”

And like any sentient being, he fan-boyed out over Rihanna, who he met on the red carpet. “Somebody was like, ‘Rihanna is coming!’ I was like, What!? It was the first time I’ve been starstruck,” he recalls. “She was like, ‘Keep going, I am proud of what you are doing,’ and things like that. And she smelled good! …She smelled like, if you were to meet the queen of a huge, popular country. That’s how [Rihanna] smelled… I think she actually did [compliment my outfit] but I was too in the moment to even say anything.”

Both of his red-carpet getups bear repeating: for the pre-event, a custom black-and-yellow leather ensemble, courtesy of stylist Hodo Musa, and a powder blue Pyer Moss suit for inside. In addition to fashion courtships with Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond and Telfar Clemens, X has captivated big-name fans from all over the musical spectrum, from his producer, Blink-182 alum Travis Barker, to Nelly, who voiced support when Billboard took “Road” off its country charts, which many have interpreted as a discriminatory double standard.

Besides fostering an extended network of collaborators (following Cyrus and Diplo, Dolly Parton has pledged her own “Old Town Road” remix) X can call practically himself an adoptive member of country music’s royal family. He and Billy Ray Cyrus rode front-saddle together at the BET showcase, and Miley is wont to pop up on his IG grid.

But like any cowboy, X is most at peace when he’s off the grid, practicing his horse riding with Cyrus, the Butch Cassidy to his Sundance Kid. Prior to the BETs, Cyrus hosted X for a restorative weekend at the family horse ranch in Nashville. “I never could do [that kind of thing] when I was younger, because I didn’t have the money,” X says. “I was there for about a day and a half, just meeting the animals, his family, riding ATVs and exploring.” And if anything can quash a turf war between rap and country, it may be the fact that X felt right at home chez Cyrus. “[Nashville] was much cooler than I expected. It was just like Atlanta in a way,” he says. “I guess I expected some funny looks. But yeah, I didn’t [get any]!”

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