How Lil Nas X made the most radical run of queer music videos in pop history

Lil Nas X’s new video for his single “Thats What I Want” is as much an old-fashioned love story as anything starring a teenage Taylor Swift.

In the clip — directed by Bad Bunny’s 21-year-old Colombian creative director, Stillz — he meets his male crush at a school football game, they hook up in shower-steamy fervor and take a bucolic firelight camping trip together. Things don’t work out — the guy chooses a hetero family, alas — so Nas walks himself down the aisle in a wedding dress, dripping mascara with a hair-metal electric guitar slung on his shoulder.

It’s a sweet, sincere ending to perhaps the most radical run of queer pop music videos in history.

“These videos are hugely important. They’re such an antidote to the toxic masculinity rampant in the Trump years,” said Virginia Kuhn, a cinema professor at USC who teaches feminist film theory. “In a culture dominated by visual media, to disrupt that core imagery is so powerful. He’s taking on football and Christianity, prison, childbirth and marriage. This has it all. It feels like the ’80s with Madonna’s videos.”

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The 22-year-old pop star released his Columbia debut LP, “Montero,” last week to wide acclaim. But as much as he is a rapper, singer and songwriter, his startling visual concepts and increasingly deft, sly performances in music videos and social media campaigns put him at the vanguard of queer iconography in the TikTok era. For a young fan base who made “Old Town Road” a viral sensation, Nas’ sensibility opens up gender-flexible possibilities much like icons Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Prince did for previous generations.

While foregrounding the Black male body — nude and dancing, cheekily pregnant or resplendent in a wedding dress — he makes his subversiveness look delightful, and his aesthetic bounty feel radical.

“So often, we see subversive work like this not be pleasurable,” Kuhn said. “That’s why he’s so important right now, it’s so joyful and visually lush. He has such a sense of humor, but he makes you examine your assumptions. Artists can get caught up in the industry where videos are just a way to sell music. He’s making music videos essential again.”

From Little Richard’s barely veiled appetites on “Tutti Frutti” to Sylvester’s celestial disco and the first waves of house music, to ballroom and vogueing culture percolating up through Madonna’s hits, Lil Nas X comes from a long tradition of Black queer music creating and remaking popular culture around it. In contemporary TV shows like “Pose,” fashion lines like Hood by Air and Telfar, Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator’s candor about same-sex desire, and the queer rap underground of Le1f, Mykki Blanco and Cakes Da Killa, the strains of art that Lil Nas X absorbed have circulated above and below ground for generations.

But few have made it as artistically, commercially and culturally meaningful to throw ass on Instagram.

Lil Nas X came out as gay in June 2019. When he began this album’s long rollout back in March, the Luciferian lapdance of “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” did exactly what he hoped for. The clip, where Nas frolics in a Y2K-era digital Eden before dropping down a stripper pole to Hell, scandalized the Christian right and needled Nike’s lawyers with a blood-injected shoe spinoff.

If Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion sent right-wingers sputtering with “WAP,” “Montero” finished the job for Republican politicians like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who said, “This is outrageous, disgusting and perverted and on #PalmSunday no less. Somehow @lilnasx thinks that Satanic worship should be mainstream and normal.”

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It was virtuoso trolling, and everyone from Nas to Noem seemed to get what they wanted out of it (publicity, laughs and fundraising — Nas directed fans to charities like the Bail Project for every track on “Montero”).

But the fact that a rap-aligned gay Black artist — let alone one who’s also such a country fan that he covered Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” — could pull this off atop the charts was startling. Hip-hop artists like Young Thug sometimes toyed with wearing dresses to illustrate their free spirits, but Lil Nas X made a not-obvious choice to put gay love and desire at the center of his craft. Male pop acts don’t often cover female acts’ love songs, and when Nas X sings “Jolene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man,” the weight of a whole straight culture presses down on him as well.

The nude shower choreography of “Industry Baby” blew up the prison-set rap video cliché. Lil Nas X winked at both “Brokeback Mountain” and his own “Old Town Road” with a cowboy sex sequence in “Thats What I Want,” which ended in a teary drag sequence played straight-to-camera. He committed to the bit of treating his LP rollout with the serene, floral joy of a celebrity Instagram pregnancy announcement, rotund belly and all.

Christian Breslauer, director of the “Industry Baby” video, said Lil Nas X had a vision for everything from color palettes to storyboards to camera moves, and deserves to be counted as a force in contemporary film.

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“He had every visual planned,” Breslauer said. “Directing him was like dancing with a partner who had practiced all the moves.”

Breslauer has directed plenty of hetero-sexy videos, including Doja Cat’s “Streets” and rap hits like Roddy Ricch’s “The Box.” But he saw Lil Nas X’s foregrounding of Black male nude bodies in the dance scenes, and his playful flip of a grim, confined space like a prison cell, as meaningfully subversive.

“A lot of artists over time have had to stay in the closet because of their fan base,” Breslauer said. “But there’s a reason he collaborated with Elton John, who was louder than life and owned it. There will be kids in the Midwest who haven’t come out but who learn his dance moves and feel free in themselves.”

For queer film fans like Annie Rose Malamet, Lil Nas X’s ultra-contemporary music videos allude to generations of NC-17 experiments that revamped film’s capacity to shock, thrill and illuminate.

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“You can see all these queer cinema references like ‘Pink Narcissus’ and ‘Flaming Creatures.’ If a gay person is playing with Satanic themes, you can’t not think of Kenneth Anger and Satan as a liberator,” said Malamet, a writer and podcaster on the history of queer genre and horror films. “But a whole new generation might not know those references. I find it extremely refreshing. That he’s not afraid to imply being a bottom in a sexual situation, I don’t know if people understand how radical that is.”

Malamet also thrilled to the notion that, while lesbian sex has long been fetishized in music videos, Lil Nas X turned the tables on rap and pop fans. “We don’t ever see explicit man-on-man sex,” she said. “Normani dancing on Teyana Taylor is more ‘acceptable.’ I hope the impact is that young queer people see it and then go look for what isn’t mainstream.”

Kuhn, for her part, plans to screen Lil Nas X videos in her classes alongside more experimental fare like Su Friedrich. His clips stand on their own as boundary-smashing art, she said, and she suspects future queer film scholars will see them in the same tradition.

“Other mainstream queer films aren’t breaking taboos like this right now, not institutionally. These videos will have staying power long-term,” Kuhn said. “He trusted his instincts, and that’s so rare for a young pop star. Using this pulpit to announce his sexuality was very gratifying to see.”

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Then she laughed, recalling the hot-and-bothered devil of the “Montero” video.

“Well, maybe ‘pulpit’s’ not exactly the right word for that.”

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National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Nephrology Release New Way to Diagnose Kidney Diseases

Newswise — Sept. 23, 2021, New York, NY – Today, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) Task Force on Reassessing the Inclusion of Race in Diagnosing Kidney Diseases has released its final report, which outlines a new race-free approach to diagnose kidney disease. In the report, the NKF-ASN Task Force recommends the adoption of the new eGFR 2021 CKD EPI creatinine equation that estimates kidney function without a race variable. The task force also recommended increased use of cystatin C combined with serum (blood) creatinine, as a confirmatory assessment of GFR or kidney function. The final report, published today online in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases (AJKD) and the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), was drafted with considerable input from hundreds of patients and family members, medical students and other trainees, clinicians, scientists, health professionals, and other stakeholders to achieve consensus for an unbiased and most reasonably accurate estimation of GFR so that laboratories, clinicians, patients and public health officials can make informed decisions to ensure equity and personalized care for patients with kidney diseases.

“This recommendation by the NKF-ASN Task Force is an important step forward in assuring health and healthcare equity. We commend the task force for the time, thought, thoroughness, and effort it took to explore this issue deeply and recommend the best path forward for us all,” said NKF President Paul M. Palevsky, MD, FASN, FNKF. “The NKF and ASN urge all laboratories and healthcare systems nationwide to adopt this new approach as rapidly as possible so that we can move towards a consistent method of diagnosing kidney diseases that is independent of race. While the work of the task force is an important initial path forward, both of our

organizations are committed to continuing to work to eliminate disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease.”

“As the largest organizations representing kidney patients and health professionals, NKF and ASN are committed to eliminating health disparities that harm kidney patients and ensuring that racial bias does not affect the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of kidney diseases,” said ASN President Susan E. Quaggin, MD, FRCP(C), FASN. “By recommending the CKD-EPI creatinine equation refit without the race variable, the task force has taken action and demonstrated how nephrology continues to lead the way in promoting health care justice. It is time for other medical specialties to follow our lead, and NKF and ASN stand ready to help however we can.” More than 37 million adults in the United States have kidney diseases and 90% aren’t aware they have diminished kidney function. A disproportionate number of these people are Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. These

Americans also face unacceptable health disparities and inequities in healthcare delivery.

The NKF-ASN Task Force organized its work, which took place over a period of 10 months, into three phases: 1) clarify the problem and evidence regarding eGFR equations in the United States.; 2) evaluate different approaches to address use of race in GFR estimation; and 3) provide recommendations. The group identified 26 approaches for the estimation of GFR and narrowed their focus by consensus to five such approaches.

“The holistic approach incorporated input from the medical community and patients to identify an approach that balanced social justice with scientific rigor,” said Cynthia Delgado MD, FASN, Associate Professor of Medicine, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Healthcare System (SFVAHS) and University of California, San Francisco and co-chair of the joint task NKF-ASN task force.

NKF and ASN are pleased to share the new equation recommendation with the kidney community – as well as other stakeholders, particularly the medical students, residents, fellows, and other trainees who spearheaded the call to action on this important issue. NKF and ASN encourage the Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative (KDOQI) and Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) to develop updated guidelines that ensure a uniform approach consistent with the task force’s recommendations. Such clinical practice guidelines will help ensure institutions and the laboratory community rapidly adopt the new equation to estimate kidney function. This new approach will replace the existing equations for estimating kidney function and well as assure confirmatory testing is done when there are important clinical decisions. Both the interim and final report will inform the medical community for clinical practice.

“We appreciate the patience of the community as the Task Force developed a sound strategy to not disproportionately disadvantage patients from any particular racial or ethnic group. Our approach was guided by health equity, patient centeredness and patient safety, and was informed by evidence,” said Neil Powe, MD, MPH, MBA, FASN Chief of Medicine at the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and the Constance B. Wofsy Distinguished Professor, Vice-Chair of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco and co-chair of the joint NKF-ASN task force. “We hope strong efforts will develop new, more informative, GFR markers and unite all of us in a focus on interventions to eliminate health disparities, thereby improving the quality of care for everyone in the United States.”

It’s a common practice in the medical field to use calculations to make accurate estimations that are reliable, non-invasive and identify certain illnesses and their potential risks. Those estimations are often confirmed with additional testing that is more invasive or more expensive. It will take laboratories, hospital systems, physician practices, and academic institutions time to incorporate the new approach into their results for doctors and patients.

NKF and ASN recommend diagnosing kidney disease using a blood test for creatinine to estimate GFR and a urine test for albumin to calculate urine to creatinine ratio (uACR). The new approach may report a different eGFR and could alter the stage of kidney diseases in some people. Patients should learn their latest eGFR and uACR to assess if the new eGFR calculations change their kidney disease status or stage. Patients and healthcare professionals can use an updated eGFR calculator that uses the new equation to determine a non-race-based calculation to assess their kidney function. It’s important for patients to speak with their doctors to determine if this may affect their treatment and care going forward.

We invite public comment to the final report. To learn more about NKF and ASN, visit www.kidney.org and www.asn-online.org.

Editor’s Note: See additional quotes from task force members.

Kidney Disease Facts

In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney diseases—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have diminished kidney function. One in three adults in the United States are at risk for chronic kidney disease. Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and family history. People of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Blacks or African Americans are almost 4 times more likely than White Americans to have kidney failure. Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.

Approximately 785,000 Americans have irreversible kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. More than 555,000 of these patients receive dialysis to replace kidney function and 230,000 live with a

transplant. Nearly 100,000 Americans are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant right now. Depending on where a patient lives, the average wait time for a kidney transplant can be upwards of three to seven years.

About the American Society of Nephrology

ASN leads the fight to prevent, treat, and cure kidney diseases throughout the world by educating health professionals and scientists, advancing research and innovation, communicating new knowledge, and advocating for the highest quality care for patients. ASN has more than 21,000 members representing 131 countries. For more information, please visit www.asn-online.org or contact the society at 202-640-4660.

 

About the National Kidney Foundation

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.

IN FOCUS: Inequality at the margins

… (ABC4) – Sometimes biases, such as racism, sexism, or gender bias can … talk” is that Black and African American parents have with their children … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

In Rashid Johnson’s Mosaics, Broken Lives Pieced Together

“The healing process starts with the negotiation of blunt force trauma,” the multidisciplinary artist Rashid Johnson said. “It’s the story of recovery.”

After the bruising of Covid, the end of the Trump administration and recent reckonings with race, gender, sexuality and identity, Johnson was ruminating about his own emotional state and our collective one, as he sees it.

Johnson, who turns 44 on Saturday, is mining a psychologically complicated moment in ways both highly personal and open-ended in new exhibitions at the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, on view now, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, opening Monday.

Johnson’s art practice has been kaleidoscopic, encompassing painting, sculpture, large-scale installation, film and, most recently, mosaic. His works are visual cosmologies, referencing aspects of Johnson’s home life growing up in Chicago and African diasporic culture.

“My work has always had concerns around race, struggle, grief and grievance, but also joy and excitement around the tradition and opportunities of Blackness,” said Johnson, whose mother has been a university provost and whose father is an artist and ran a small electronics company.

For the luxe interior of the Met Opera, Johnson created two 9-by-25 foot mosaic panels at his studio in Brooklyn, each titled “The Broken Nine.” Installed on the grand tier landings, they comprise chorus lines of imposing standing figures pieced together from thousands of fragments of colorful ceramics, mirror and branded wood, across which the artist has painted improvisationally in oil stick, wax and spray enamel.

Their wide-eyed expressions could read as frustration, fear, joy, anxiety or disappointment. “I’m trying to illustrate tons of different people and at the same time they’re probably all me,” Johnson said.

The works at the Met are also a good metaphor for the opera house, Peter Gelb, its general manager, said, as it has had to piece itself back together again after being shuttered for 18 months and during protracted labor disputes. Although the Met commissioned Johnson’s works two years ago, independently of Terence Blanchard’s opera, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” which also debuts Monday, Gelb sees parallels. The first opera mounted at the Met by a Black composer and a Black librettist (Kasi Lemmons), it is based on the memoir of the New York Times columnist Charles Blow. “It’s a coming-of-age story about a life that’s damaged and then repaired,” Gelb said.

“Rashid thinks and works on a scale that is operatic,” said Dodie Kazanjian, director of the Met Opera gallery, who invited Johnson to make a site-specific work, as she had done before with Cecily Brown and George Condo.

Johnson ascribes a “Humpty Dumpty” quality to his series of “Broken Men” mosaics, which he began in 2018. But unlike in the childhood nursery rhyme, the artist has put his shattered figures back together again. They reflect the artist’s challenges and professional rise over the last decade — during which time Johnson has become a parent, with his wife, Sheree Hovsepian, whom he met in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago. He also stopped drinking and using drugs on his journey to sobriety in 2014.

Seeing things with newly clear vision, he began his series, “Anxious Men,” in 2015, rectangular faces with spiraling eyes and chattering teeth scrawled in black soap and wax on white ceramic tile. They were repeated across large-scale grids like crowds at Hauser & Wirth during the 2016 election as a personal and collective response to the searing tumult of polarized politics and racial dynamics.

Johnson has become a leading voice of his generation, taking on board positions at the Guggenheim Museum, Performa and Ballroom Marfa, and helping raise the awareness of contributions by other Black artists, introducing the photographer Deana Lawson to Kordansky and curating a show of Sam Gilliam’s hard-edge 1960s paintings at that gallery in 2013. This year Johnson’s work was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, and his “Anxious Red Painting December 18th” set a new auction record at Christie’s for the artist, over $1.9 million.

The characters in his mosaics may appear to have been roughed up but they are built into an armature that’s solid, something the artist likes about the medium. “They’ve definitely been through something, but those experiences they’ve had to negotiate are maybe the ones that have left good scars,” said Johnson. “The Broken Nine” for the Met were inspired in part by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which he read during quarantine with his family in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and also by the religious figures in Peruvian paintings. “There’s a real autonomy in each character. They don’t have to be tragic,” he said.

Ian Alteveer, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who led its acquisition of “The Broken Five,” a 2019 work on view there, finds the figures wonderfully ambiguous. “They could be stand-ins for the artist himself or witnesses facing the world and the horror of it all,” Alteveer said. “They also could be more magical than that — strange new beings on the brink of a brand-new world.”

For Johnson’s show at Kordansky, titled “Black and Blue,” he used Louis Armstrong’s song of the same name as a departure point. In a new series called “Bruise Paintings,” his motif of the anxious face is now almost completely abstracted, rendered in a frenetic freehand with a palette of blues and repeated across linen in vast grids.

“It’s incredibly musical the way he works,” said Kordansky, “like bebop, growing off a template.”

In another room of the show, the face returns in three dimensions, now as weathered cubes cast in bronze and stacked like totems, with blue succulents sprouting from them absurdly like hair. Johnson jammed in vinyl copies of Armstrong’s “Black and Blue” — a record that the protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man” listened to constantly. The artist mottled the surfaces with oyster shells, which he has also used in earlier works as a reference to Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” in which she wrote: “I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

“I always found that to be so beautiful, this idea of being liberated to a place of nontragedy, but to expand even beyond that and imagine you have so much agency that you’re enjoying this leisure action,” Johnson said, referring to oysters’ connotations of luxury and sensuality.

These references resurface in a short film on gallery view shot at Johnson’s home in Bridgehampton that captures some of the monotonous, surreal, fearful, mundane qualities of quarantine life. The artist plays the main character — waking up, brushing his teeth, watching the talking heads drone on TV, going for a run. His 9-year-old son, Julius, practices “Black and Blue” on the piano and does homework as Johnson reads Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” At one point he shucks oysters at the table.

“It’s quite rare to see a Black character unencumbered and centralized,” said Johnson. “Yet you have to ask yourself, Why does it still feel anxious? This guy’s in a house in the Hamptons. Why does it still feel like something is about to happen?” (He directed a film adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” in 2019 that ends with the death of his young Black protagonist.)

Katherine Brinson, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum, remembers Johnson once telling her that he enjoyed wondering what Patrice Lumumba, the 20th-century Congolese independence leader, did when he got home and stopped living in the space of public activism.

“Rashid’s new work also deals with this foundational idea of how life is lived in the private quotidian sphere, away from the public gaze and the obligations to perform certain expected roles,” Brinson said. “It’s still a space that’s fraught and complex.”


The Met opens its doors 90 minutes before a performance, but because of Covid-19 only ticket holders are admitted. Next week Rashid Johnson’s mural can be viewed at metopera.org.

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