Lil Nas X Concert in London: A Dazzling Spectacle From The Great Destroyer of Pop Music

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“It’s been a long time — thank you for coming to see me be gay!” says Lil Nas X at the end of his first ever show in the UK. The Atlanta, Georgia-based cultural disruptor broke through nearly four years ago with “Old Town Road,” a country rap so unstoppable that it sparked a debate about racism in country music and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a record 19 weeks. Since then, the artist, born Montero Lamar Hill, has declared himself gay, released a genre-destroying debut album (last year’s “Montero”), and earned a reputation as the provocative king of show-style choreographic awards.

Today’s concert, the only performance in the UK on his first headlining tour, is an artfully crafted demonstration of his formidable stage prowess and dizzying, mischievous charisma. The 5,000-seat Eventim Apollo is far from intimate, but it’s also smaller than the huge hangar (hello, The O2!) that Lil Nas X could well fill: before tonight’s show, tickets were billed for a mind-blowing £200. on resale sites.

His 70-minute set isn’t long in duration, but it’s definitely generous in terms of production value. During “Sun Goes Down”, a massive double bed appears on stage (although Lil Nas X doesn’t even jump on it), and during “Old Town Road”, he is joined by what looks like the most glamorous pantomime horse in the world. Later, he emerges from the teardrop cocoon at the beginning of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, a sturdy transatlantic chart leader who proved that “Old Town Road” was no accident. As a result, it seems that the arena show is squeezed into the bolshoi theater with almost no fillers, which is reasonable not only because it adds a sense of occasion, but also because it gives Lil Nas X the opportunity to expand its vision in future tours.

It’s also a show in which dazzling pop performance is valued above boring musical authenticity. There is no live band in sight, and Lil Nas X does not pretend to say every line live: sometimes he brings the microphone to his lips, sometimes not. Like any great pop star from Beyonce to Britney, he understands that he looks even more powerful surrounded by a carefully selected troupe of dancers.

The choreography of this show is often breathtaking and almost always inventive: its dancers even perform a full program to the gloomy punk-pop “Lost In The Citadel”. When Lil Nas X and one of his male dancers kiss at the end of the randy pop-rock “This Is What I Want” – a silhouette behind a curtain that enhances the drama – it causes one of the loudest cheers of the night. Considering that his diverse audience seems to range in age from five to 55 and includes fans of the most diverse genders and sexual spectrum, this is a great unifying moment.

Lil Nas X

Creating a show with a comprehensive concept is always fraught with risk — too often it may seem vague and confusing — but in this case, everything is surprisingly simple. It is divided into three “acts” of approximately the same length — “Rebirth”, “Transformation” and “Becoming”, which effectively reflect the trajectory of Lil Nas X’s career to date. During the final act, Lil Nas X offers a glimpse into the future by performing a “still unfinished” track from his yet-to-be-announced second album. He introduces “Down Souf Hoes” as a “twerk song” and then invites a few brave viewers on stage for a fun twerk contest. One of them is adventurous enough to grab it for an impromptu selfie, which the star of the show does with ease.

The main set ends with a jubilant extended version of “Industry Baby” with dancers dressed as American football players, albeit with American football players with shiny knee pads and a bare belly. It’s a reminder that part of Lil Nas X’s genius lies in his ability to manipulate the mainstream with ease and an infectious sense of fun. He’s also not afraid to be a bit mawkish, firing a gun into the crowd at the climax.

Even his slightly unexpected choice of encore song turned out to be accurate. “Star Walkin” — a brilliant electro-rap banger recorded for the League of Legends World Championship, another example of Lil Nas X’s talent to control the zeitgeist – did not become his biggest hit. But his lyrics, located at the end of the show, seem to be a statement of intent: “Why worship legends if you know you can join them?” he raps in the second verse. Judging by today’s evidence, Lil Nas X is on its way.

Lil Nas X played:

‘Panini’
‘Tales Of Dominica’
‘Sun Goes Down’
‘Old Town Road’
‘Rodeo’
‘Dead Right Now’
‘Don’t Want It’
‘Thats What I Want’
‘Lost In The Citadel’
‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’
‘Down Souf Hoes’
‘Scoop’
‘Industry Baby’
‘Star Walkin’ (League Of Legends Worlds Anthem)’

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