Skip to main content

Home Music Music Live Reviews

Lil Nas X live in London: pop superstar delivers show ready for stadiums

An impressive show at the Hammersmith Apollo feels like an undersell of epic proportions for the all-conquering Montero.

4.0 rating

By Gemma Samways

Lil Nas X live in London (Picture: Aaron Idelson)
Lil Nas X live in London (Picture: Aaron Idelson)

It speaks to an inherent insecurity underlying the pop industry that many of its most bankable stars actively distance themselves from the more frivolous associations of the genre. Often, this quest for “authenticity” comes at the expense of any actual fun, which surely defies the point of pop music in the first place. 

Thank God for Lil Nas X, then, who’s been putting pure entertainment at the heart of operations since late 2018 – the year he redefined the parameters of viral success with country-rap crossover ‘Old Town Road’. A provocateur par excellence and one of social media’s most consistently funny voices, the Georgia-raised artist born Montero Lamar Hill pairs indelible melodies with gleefully camp visuals, often specifically designed to inflame America’s religious right. Two Grammys and nine billion Spotify streams later, Lil Nas X’s notoriety precedes him as he hits Hammersmith for the only UK date of his debut headline tour, Long Live Montero.

“I can’t believe y’all speak English out here!” the 23-year-old quips to the sea of sparkly Stetsons stretching out before him. With a capacity of less than 3,500, the Apollo feels like an undersell of epic proportions. If there’s a sense his team are testing the waters before upgrading to arenas, it’s a theory borne out by tonight’s stadium-ready staging, which features eight male dancers, vast amounts of hyperreal 3D animation and a whole host of amusingly florid, burnished gold decor. A consummate showman with a keen sense of the absurd, during ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ Lil Nas X even emerges from a giant chrysalis a la Spinal Tap.

Lil Nas X live in London (Picture: Aaron Idelson)
Lil Nas X live in London (Picture: Aaron Idelson)

Clocking in at just over an hour, the performance is structured as a three-act musical punctuated by narrated video interludes, moving from ‘Rebirth’ to ‘Transformation’ and culminating in the triumphant ‘Becoming’. In reality, any narrative is simply a ruse to facilitate Lil Nas X’s six-plus costume changes, with custom looks including sequin-spangled cowboy, baroque dandy, glam American footballer and human butterfly.

As in his songwriting, Lil Nas X’s sexuality is front and centre throughout. During a version of ‘Industry Baby’ sampling Kanye West’s ‘Power’, he’s pinned down and straddled by one of his dancers. ‘That’s What I Want’ culminates with him kissing another while silhouetted behind the floor-to-ceiling curtains. Elsewhere, new track ‘Down Souf Hoes’ is a total twerk-fest while ‘Old Town Road’ interpolates Ginuwine’s G-Funk smash ‘Pony’ and comes complete with Magic Mike-style moves. 

With so much VMA-worthy choreo to deliver, it’s difficult to glean just how much actual singing is going on beyond the backing tracks. But then, exposing that sense of artifice perhaps serves as a large part of the motivation for an artist who has so far shown little-to-no interest in subtext. As exemplified by set closer ‘Star Walkin’, which sees Lil Nas X firing a t-shirt gun while surrounded by a dense grid of blue lasers, this is pop music at its most diverting: escapist, personality-packed and – above all else – bags of fun.