Lil Nas X: I felt like an imposter on tour

Lil Nas X at the 2024 Met Gala
Lil Nas X was on the red carpet at this year's Met Gala [Getty Images]

For singer and rapper Lil Nas X, five years after releasing Old Town Road, it's still his most talked-about track.

The 25-year-old's country-trap hit also remains the longest-running number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, after spending 19 weeks on top.

Despite the song's success in the pop realm, its exclusion from the US country music charts sparked fierce debate at the time of its 2019 release.

Billboard insisted it did not embrace enough elements of today's country music to be included.

Lil Nas X at the 2020 Grammy Awards
Lil Nas X won the best pop group performance and best music video for Old Town Road (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus) at the 2020 Grammy Awards [Getty Images]

Some music critics at the time suggested this was a race issue, and that black artists were rarely rewarded for their efforts in the country music space.

The US charts company insisted this wasn't the case, but were tested once more when Lil Nas X enlisted the help of country icon Billy Ray Cyrus on a remix of the track.

Fast forward to 2024 and there has been country chart success for two black artists in recent months.

One is Beyoncé, whose track Texas Hold 'Em made history by spending 10 weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

She was dethroned by another black artist, Shaboozey, with A Bar Song (Tipsy).

Lil Nas X tells the BBC he's "happy" for these two artists.

"But I wish this would have happened for me. I wasn't even able to experience this," he adds.

Asked whether it has inspired him to revisit the genre, Lil Nas X says he's been "trying out some country [sounds] here and there over the last couple of years".

"I want to feel connected to it and not force it," he adds.

A lot of Lil Nas X's success came before he'd actually decided to become a music artist.

Real name Montero Lamar Hill, he spent a lot of his teenage years online, curating an online presence on Twitter (now X) and now-defunct video platform Vine.

His experience helped him turn Old Town Road into a viral hit before he'd ever stepped on a stage.

'This doesn't feel right'

A new documentary, Long Live Montero, follows the singer's transformation into a touring artist in 2022.

It sees him trying to get to grips with becoming a stage performer, aligning singing and choreography - something he wasn't used to as someone who found fame online.

"In rehearsal it didn't feel like the real thing yet. I felt like I was going out there and putting on my best impression of a person [on tour]," he says.

On stage, he "felt like an imposter" as thousands of fans cheered him on and sang his lyrics back to him.

"I'd [ask myself], 'What am I doing up here? This doesn't feel right'. It wasn't like talking to people online. There were actual human beings in front of me. It was weird."

Lil Nas X on 2022 tour
Lil Nas X's star quality is evident in his documentary, where he isn't afraid to embrace his queer status on stage [Getty Images]

The documentary sees him discuss homophobia and his unique experience of coming out as queer while Old Town Road was at the top of the charts.

He faced a backlash on social media at the time for coming out, but told the BBC back in 2019 he would not give in to trolling.

"I'm not angry... because I understand how they want that reaction. So I'm just going to joke back with them," he said.

At the time, he said he hoped his fans would "feel comfortable" - but admitted homosexuality was "not really accepted in either the country [or] hip-hop communities".

His fans talk about this in the film, saying they were inspired by him embracing his sexuality so publicly.

You can see this when he is on stage, and it's where he really shines in the film. Despite not having much performing experience, his talent is evident.

In the film, Lil Nas X performs hits like Industry Baby and Montero (Call Me By Your Name), which both reached the top of the Billboard charts, along with fan favourites such as Sun Goes Down and Rodeo, which didn't have as much chart success.

When asked whether he now has to make a choice between music that will do well in the charts or resonate with fans, he says "I definitely want to replicate" earlier successful tracks.

"Not in a copy-and-paste way, but you want to create more big songs that touch the world."

He says a hit "makes you feel like a better person", but he doesn't want to lose "personal songs that are special for my fans".

The rapper and singer may have come from the online world, but his success has translated into real-life recognition.

He has two Grammy Awards and is the first openly queer black artist to win a Country Music Association (CMA) award.

Despite this, he still sees going viral as an important part of his brand - after all, Old Town Road's success mostly came from on TikTok.

Although the amount of music available on the app has fluctuated due to an ongoing row with record label Universal, Lil Nas X says being big on social media platforms like TikTok is still really important to him.

"As far as pressure goes, you want to make sure [you have hits] because in the public eye, it gives a person value," he says.

He does say he feels "less focused on creating hits", but admits he hasn't yet reached the level of fame where they no longer matter.

"Of course I know my own worth, but these are the things that are going to feed your family and the people around you who have helped build what you're creating.

"So it's important," he adds. "I can't just say [screw] hits, because I need them."

Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero is available in the UK on digital platforms from Monday, 20 May.