Other Biblical Motifs in “Call Me By Your Name”
Why freak out over one short scene when the whole music video uses Biblical motifs?
Lil Nas X recently released a song called “Call Me By Your Name” with an accompanying music video that involves a number of Biblically-themed images. His video and infamous “Satan shoes” have sparked controversy amongst a number of people including South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. Lil Nas X responded to her objection saying that she should stick to her job as governor rather than inciting moral panic over a music video and some shoes.
Aside from simulating sex with Satan, Lil Nas X has incorporated some other noticeably Christian-esque motifs into his music video. In the beginning, he casts himself as both the serpent in the Garden of Eden and Eve. This sequence ends with the serpent on top of him as he freezes seeming powerless to do anything about it. This first portion of the song represents an inability to change one’s true self, even if others see it as evil or intrinsically disordered. In a gold glitter costume that highlights his musculature, Lil Nas X pairs images of power with vulnerability. Even though he looks strong, it is clear that he is powerless against the slithering serpent.
The next portion of the video shows Lil Nas X as Samson struggling against his chains and dying in the act. In this part, he has a short pink curly haircut while the other people in this shot have perfect blue ringlets stacked on top of each other. This wardrobe choice is a reference to when Samson’s hair, the source of his power, was cut. When Lil Nas X wrote this song, he wrote it for his 14-year-old self. In this portion of the video, he wants to show the lack of power he had in that moment at that age.
Shortly before the (in)famous sex with Satan scene, Lil Nas X briefly ascends to Heaven before grabbing a pole and descending to hell in style. When he grabs the pole, his appearance changes from holographic to something darker. Sporting dark patterned shorts, long red twists, and high-heeled thigh-high boots, Lil Nas X enters hell with his head held high. After that, the iconic sex scene follows.
It’s worth noting that a sex scene in art is rarely ever there just for a sex scene. This particular scene continues the theme of power dynamics and has Lil Nas X in control. It parallels the first scene with the serpent in which he froze and couldn’t do anthing. Here, the roles are reversed as Lil Nas X takes Satan’s horns as a final gesture of asserting his agency. In other words, the sex with Satan scene wasn’t there to glorify the demonic. Rather, it was meant to show how Lil Nas X overcame his demons and managed to become the artist and person that he is today.
In this deeply personal and subversive music video, Lil Nas X flipped the ex-gay script and dethroned Satan by being open about his sexuality. Seeing that scene as disrespectful to Christians or Christianity or as merely a means of procuring shock value ignores the larger context of the video, the song, and how both of those things came to be. In addition to that, Lil Nas X faced religious trauma as a result of being raised in a household that used religion to condone homophobia. Inciting moral panic over a music video downplays that reality for both him and the thousands of other LGBTQ+ folks who have been harmed in God’s name.