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Lil Nas X at Glastonbury review: ‘Pure gay power’

Fierce costumes, on-stage kisses, staging straight out of an 80s fantasy movie - the 'Industry Baby' singer's set was like immersive theatre, writes Attitude's Jamie Tabberer

5.0 rating

By Jamie Tabberer

Lil Nas X on stage at Glastonbury 2023 (Image: @aaronparsonsphotography)
Lil Nas X on stage at Glastonbury 2023 (Image: @aaronparsonsphotography)

Pop fans are understandably disturbed that recent Elton John collaborators Britney Spears and Dua Lipa were no-shows at the star’s Glastonbury headliner slot last night. But the bigger mystery is why Lil Nas X wasn’t part of the Rocketman’s euphoric production. He took second billing beneath Elton on the Pyramid Stage, after all, and Elts, 76, has called Lil Nas, 24, a hurricane of fresh air in the past. What gives?

It could have been a symbolic passing-of-the-baton moment between two out gay male performers. A sharing of power as one cemented his legacy with his (supposedly) last ever England show and the other made a bid for greatness with most high-octane outing of Glastonbury 2023. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Let’s start with LNX’s costumes, which were uniformly skintight, brilliantly weird, and gave Elton’s lone ill-fitting Gucci suit a run for its money. (His trousers looked like they were going to fall down, didn’t they?) Lil Nas looked sensational in a lacquered, electric blue skirt, with head of a horned animal guarding his crotch. Later, a gold breastplate accentuated his adonis-like torso. He coquettishly trotted off-stage to switch things up, telling a gridlocked crowd: “Don’t go anywhere!” Brilliant.

Lil Nas X’s Glasto performance featured multiple costume changes (Image: @aaronparsonsphotography)

For too long, the costume change has felt the prerogative of pop girls only. This guy puts paid to such a notion. Indeed, there’s something about Lil Nas’s artful combination of the conventionally masc and femme – flicking his long, billowy hair in the breeze like a Kardashian, while singing in a smoky, gravelly lower register like Johnny Cash, Barry White or Elvis – that is beyond compelling and queer.

Overt sexuality, of course, is telegrammed throughout. “Do you wanna see my snake?” he teases at one point. Next thing you know, several people are parading a huge puppet around the stage.

He revels in close bodily contact with a huge trope of dancers, who move at lightening speed with inexhaustible energy. At one stage, they simulate an orgy. It’s tame compared to Lil Nas’s seduction of the devil in his ‘Montero’ video, and what goes on in some corners of Glastonbury after dark. But for the main stage and the prerequisite BBC television broadcast, it’s subversive and sexually charged.

Later, after the soaring ‘Someone to Love Me’, Lil Nas plants an unapologetic kiss on a backing dancer. Is it a nod Adam Lambert? Or Madonna, Britney and Christina? Or himself at the 2021 BET Awards? In the moment, I mistook it for the declaration of a new relationship.; in hindsight, I’m told the guy is Lil Nas’s ex, so I’m guessing it was rehearsed. But like great theatre, the kiss was enacted so convincingly and with so much adrenaline that I gasped and was completely swept away by it. Or maybe it was the unfettered emotion of the song, about a wild desire for love, which gave the moment its power, like musical theatre.

Fantastical musical theatre, that is. The warrior-like clothing and the grand staging put me in mind of The Dark Crystal or The Never Ending Story. Huge sculptures, as if carved out of mythical animal bones, served as the backdrop. For ‘Old Town Road’, Lil Nas mounts a prenaturally large horse with long, poker-straight hair straight out of a storybook. It’s fun and playful.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Old Town’, with its smouldering hook and hypnotic, twangy guitar, goes down a treat. So do Lil Nas’s two other huge hits: the seductively melodic ‘Montero’ and the all out hip hop pop rap stomper ‘Industry Baby’. (The latter undermined by a low-energy and brief guest appearance from Jack Harlow.)

Interestingly for an artist given such a high-profile slot, this is where the universally-recognisable songs end. Sure, it was wonderful to hear elongated versions of (punishingly-short) lesser hits like ‘Panini’ and ‘Sun Goes Down’. But the truth is a lot of the crowd didn’t know them. Although they happily bobbed along, speaking to their engagement with and affection for the showman in question.

Perhaps to pad out a small discography, tried-and-tested bangers by other artists were blasted out at the crowd. Rihanna’s ‘S&M’, Beyonce’s ‘Deja VU’, for instance, and peculiarly, ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson. One or two sub par ‘Montero’ album tracks also got an airing: this reviewer fears the repetitive ‘Scoop’ may invade his brain later this week. But other than these small points, 95% of the set was spot on, so we’re rounding up this review and giving Nas a full five stars.

For someone so young to command a crowd so confidently after just one EP and one album… One can only imagine where he might go after a second and third. Attitude can’t wait to find out.