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Lil Nas says BET snub is about a larger problem: LGBTQ acceptance

The rapper's being snubbed from the BET Awards nominations is an example of “what the struggle continues to be” for Black queer artists, one expert said.
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X performs "Call Me By Your Name" at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on June 27, 2021.Chris Pizzello / Invision/AP file

Lil Nas X is not happy with BET.

The rapper released a teaser video on Twitter on Tuesday for his new song “Late to Da Party” featuring YB, in which he sings “F— BET.” 

The line comes after Lil Nas X expressed his disappointment for being shut out of nominations for the BET Awards last week. He also pointed out the ongoing struggle of Black queer artists over visibility and acceptance, particularly among Black audiences.

In a series of tweets, Lil Nas X called out the network for the snub despite the success of his album “Montero,” which reached No. 2 on Billboard’s 200 albums chart in 2021.

“thank you bet awards,” he said in a since-deleted tweet. “An outstanding zero nominations again. black excellence.”

In another tweet, Lil Nas X addressed online critics suggesting he’s overreacting for not receiving a nomination. “this not over no bet award this is about the bigger problem of homophobia in the black community, y’all can sit and pretend all u want but imma risk it all for us,” he tweeted.

In the teaser video for his latest track, he references his three singles, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name), “Industry Baby” and “That’s What I Want,” which all landed top 10 in Billboard’s Hot 100 list in 2021. “I should put like three up in the top 10,” he said in the video.

Following Lil Nas X’s released teaser video, BET said in a statement Wednesday that the nominees were chosen by BET’s Voting Academy  — a group of 500 professionals in the entertainment industry — and that “no one from BET serves as a member of the Voting Academy.”

“We love Lil Nas X,” the statement said. “He was nominated for a Best New Artist BET Award in 2020, and we proudly showcased his extraordinary talent and creativity on the show twice: he performed ‘Old Town Road’ with Billy Ray Cyrus at ‘BET Awards’ 2019 and his ‘BET Awards’ 2021 performance was a highlight of our show. No one cheered louder that night than BET.”

Ernest Owens, an editor at large for Philadelphia Magazine who is gay, said BET’s statement is “hollow” and that it suggests that there is lack of LGBTQ+ individuals involved in the decision-making process within BET’s Voting Academy. 

“There’s no way to rationalize it,” said Owens, author of the upcoming book, “The Case for Cancel Culture.” “It was a homophobic decision.”

While other queer artists have not reached the mainstream heights that Lil Nas X has, the situation with him is “a great example of what the struggle continues to be” for Black music artists in the LGBTQ+ community, said Gerrick Kennedy, a culture critic and author based in Los Angeles.

Kennedy pointed out that one of his biggest songs featured Jack Harlow — introducing him to a large fan base. This year, Harlow was named a BET Award nominee for best male hip-hop artist. “At a certain point,” Kennedy said, “you do have to just sort of ask the question of what’s going on at BET?”

What is particularly notable about BET’s snub, Kennedy added, is that Lil Nas X released three Top 10 hits this year and also performed “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” during BET’s 2021 awards show, which he said was “still a battle” for Lil Nas X to perform the way he wanted to. During the performance, the rapper kissed a male backup dancer, prompting backlash and suggestions that he promote safe sex and HIV awareness. 

Following Lil Nas X’s performance at the 2021 BET Awards, Owens shared a tweet and wrote an article regarding responses from some Black viewers that he described as homophobic. He also pointed out that other artists, like Migos, can perform lyrics about guns and drugs, without being asked to also push gun safety or abstaining from drugs. 

“It’s just blatant homophobia,” Owens said.

While the acceptance is visible for some Black queer artists such as Lil Nas X, Frank Ocean and Janelle Monae, Kennedy said, progress is slow because the LGBTQ community was “not meant to be accepted.” He said that societal acceptance of Black queer men, in particular, tends to only last until people are reminded of their sexuality and that support quickly dissipates. 

“When you think about the acceptance of us, yeah, of course there’s progress,” he said, “because they see us on these shows. They see us winning these awards … Billy Porter was still only able to tell us that he had HIV last year. Why? Because the stigma still remains.” 

Lil Nas X’s star rose with his 2019 breakout hit, “Old Town Road” with country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, later breaking the record for the longest consecutive run song to remain No. 1 in Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. The single also earned him a Grammy for best music video and best pop duo/group performance. His success continued with other hits like “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” which earned him accolades from the American Music Awards and MTV Video Music Awards in 2021. While he is successful, as a young, Black queer artist, Owens said, Lil Nas X simultaneously deals with racism and homophobia in the music industry.

“He’s broken so many barriers in music and continues to, not just as a gay artist, but as also a Black artist,” Owens said. “And yet, he’s still being forced to a different set of standards, not just by the white industry … but by his own peers in the Black music scene.”

While Lil Nas X gained popularity with the success of “Old Town Road,” Kennedy also said many queer artists cannot find broad success while openly embracing their identity, which is “why so many people stay in the closet.” He added, It “is a shame but it’s also a matter of survival.”

Lil Nas X came out early in his career during Pride Month in 2019, which Kennedy said is important because he “is a young Black man navigating his sexuality in front of the entire world and he’s doing it as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet at the same time.” He added,  “That is no small feat by any measure.”

Despite being excluded from BET’s nominees, Owens said, Lil Nas X is successful because he’s achieving his own career milestones while being “true to who he actually is.” Owens also said that the fact Lil Nas X has support from fans worldwide on Twitter “is just another sign of how we’re winning.” 

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