Lil Nas X’s ‘Long Live Montero’ Tour Is A Magnificent Showcase Of His Dedication To The Performance

Back in 2019, as Lil Nas X rode the wave of his historic hit “Old Town Road,” I wrote that he was handling the song’s outsized success just as he should. Later that year, after getting the chance to actually talk to him about it in person, I opined that his precipitous rise was no accident. Last night, at the YouTube Theater in Inglewood, the latest stop on his Long Live Montero Tour, he more than justified my belief in him, putting on a show unlike any other I’ve seen.

For one thing, I’ve never been handed a legit Playbill in the lobby. Thumbing through its pages reveals that Nas has taken the time to acknowledge literally every single person who contributed to the show, from the dancers to the designers to the security. One page shows off the designs for the six costumes he’ll wear throughout the 90-minute show, which maintains the Broadway theme with a three-act structure and a loose narrative. Nas leans into the Renaissance aesthetic, with cotumes inspired by that era right down to his sparkly heels.

His costume changes are concealed by interludes presented by “The Wizard Of Naz,” a woman who is projected on the stage curtain between the acts, breaking down what each part represents in the story of Nas coming to terms with himself and his desires. In addition to advancing this narrative, the setlist also loosely re-tells the story of his rise to stardom — the first act is highlighted by early career hits such as “Old Town Road,” “Panini,” and “Rodeo,” while album cuts such as “That’s What I Want” and “Montero” buttress the second.

The finale, naturally, is “Industry Baby,” the song that proved Nas isn’t just a one-hit-wonder and solidified him as even more a provocateur and pioneer than we had ever originally imagined. (Yes, “Call Me By Your Name” exploded behind the music video hype, but “Industry Baby” has been a lasting, resonant megasmash, even helping to launch collaborator Jack Harlow into his own No. 1 hit).

While an offstage band blows out all the songs, one of the things Nas does to keep the familiar hits more interesting is incorporating elements of other artists’ hits. “Old Town Road” gets remixed with Genuwine’s “Pony,” Beyonce’s Renaissance favorite “Pure/Honey” gets smashed into “That’s What I Want,” and Prince’s manic guitar intro even makes an appearance. Meanwhile, like Megan Thee Stallion before him, Nas invites exuberant fans onstage to twerk it out to “Down Souf Hoes.”

What makes the level of presentation and confidence in his performance all the more impressive is not just that Long Live Montero is Lil Nas’ first tour. It’s also the scale of the show in relation to where he is in his career. Like many young breakout artists of the last few years, Nas lost what amounted to two years of development. Instead of starting out at, say, 1,500-cap venues and scaling up over successive tours, he’s been thrown into the deep end at 6,000-plus-cap venues like YouTube Theater.

The stakes are higher here; there’s more pressure, a slimmer margin of error, and further to fall with a misstep — which becomes more likely without significant tour experience under his belt. Sure, working with so many awards shows definitely contributed to the scale and complexity of the production, but Nas hasn’t really had to perform for a live audience night after night while zigzagging across the nation in a tour bus before. That he’s able to do so as coolly as he has is a testament to his dedication to the craft.

That’s what makes the difference between Lil Nas X and the artists that the industry has based on his blueprint. He wasn’t just a TikTok sensation that blew up by accident and took the brass ring when it was offered. He worked for it. He made “Old Town Road” go viral by sheer force of will, and when circumstances conspired to give him more attention than he was ready for, he worked his butt off again to deserve it. He’s been forced to grow up before our eyes, but he’s risen to that challenge magnificently.

That’s the story on display in his Long Live Montero set (which also explains its brevity; the kid only really has one album out). Many artists these days preach self-belief during their sets, but Lil Nas X doesn’t just tell us; he shows us what it looks like. He puts his life story and his career arc on display, then plays it to the tilt, adding a flair for drama that makes it truly entertaining. It’s not just a great show, it’s a perfect example of an artist doing everything he can to make sure it’s a show worth seeing and talking about because he knows what it took to get here.