Hip-Hop

Five Burning Questions: Lil Nas X's 'Montero' Debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart

Lil Nas X
Charlotte Rutherford*

Lil Nas X

Two and a half years after first becoming a rap and pop phenomenon with his world-conquering "Old Town Road" single, Lil Nas X has finally released his much-anticipated debut LP, Montero. And the early returns for the album demonstrate that as big a hit as "Old Town Road" was, he's already long escaped the song's shadow.

Montero debuts at No. 2 this week on the Billboard 200 albums chart -- still stuck behind Drake's blockbuster Certified Lover Boy in its third week -- with 126,000 equivalent album units moved. In the meantime, the set boasts 11 tracks on this week's Billboard Hot 100 chart, led by "Industry Baby," which returns to its prior peak of No. 2.

How did Lil Nas X become such a prolific success? And could the album also be a success on Grammy night? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. No. 2 and 126,000 equivalent album units is obviously an excellent performance for a debut album by just about anyone -- but if you're Lil Nas X, are you smarting a little bit that you're held at the runner-up spot for your big week, both by Drake's Certified Lover Boy on the Billboard 200 and The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber's "Stay" on the Billboard Hot 100? And which do you think has a better shot of eventually climbing to No. 1, Montero or "Industry Baby"? 

Rania Aniftos: I’m sure with all the build-up leading to the album release, Lil Nas X was hoping for the top spot on the charts, but he knows better than anyone that any big Hot 100 hit eventually gets dethroned. So I’m going to go with “Industry Baby” having the better shot at climbing to No. 1 -- especially given its increasing popularity on TikTok, and Jack Harlow’s verse with the viral “I sent her back to her boyfriend with my handprint on her a—cheek” lyric.

Stephen Daw: Maybe they're a little miffed at missing out on the two No. 1 spots, but they honestly shouldn't be. 126,000 equivalent album units is a fantastic performance for any album (and a huge gain from his EP 7's peak performance with 77,000 album units in one week), and landing three songs in the top 10 of the Hot 100 is massive. Plus, when the artists you lose out to are streaming giants like Drake and Bieber, it should be a sign that you've done something right. As for which has the better chance at hitting No. 1, I'm personally going to have to give it to Montero. Fans are obviously still loving "Industry Baby," but a lot of them are also spending significant time with the album and learning which songs they like the best — at least I know that's the case for me.

Cydney Lee: I don’t even think he’s worried about it. I wouldn’t be. “Industry Baby” will probably reach No. 1 first because I feel like he’s become synonymous with bold hits like that. Montero has some slower ballads that are skippable (sorry, Lil Nas X), and even though people are enjoying those, I don’t think it’s enough to propel him above Drake just yet -- if at all.

Jason Lipshutz: When it comes to the charts, a Drake album is like the tsunami near the end of Deep Impact: you can either pull a Téa Leoni and make peace with its force, or you can pull an Elijah Wood, run for the hills and wait for its power to subside. Instead of delaying the release of Montero further beyond the run of Certified Lover Boy, which has cozily settled into the top spot of the Billboard 200, Lil Nas X faced off against it and scored a No. 2 debut with an impressive equivalent album unit total -- Téa would be proud! As for the better shot at No. 1, “Industry Baby” still has to overcome the radio play of “Stay” to snag the top spot in the coming weeks: difficult, but not impossible.

Andrew Unterberger: I'm sure it stings a little -- Lil Nas X seems to be a pretty ambitious guy, and it's never as much fun to brag about a No. 2 as it is a No. 1. That said, 126,000 is a better first-week number than a lot of No. 1 albums this year have posted, and the endurance of "Industry Baby" has been impressive. I wouldn't be shocked to see either Montero or "Baby" getting over the hump, but I'll bet on Montero -- the big singles on the album should keep it near the top of the charts for a while, and I'm sure Nas has more buttons to push (like a deluxe edition) when the Drake album has died down a little and the time is right.

2. The set sends 11 of its tracks to the Hot 100 this week, demonstrating that it's not just a couple of radio singles or viral hits that's propelling interest in Montero. What's the biggest factor behind Lil Nas X growing into that kind of albums artist? 

Rania Aniftos: His creativity. He develops a unique world and story around each song that makes fans curious to hear everything he releases, including all 11 tracks on the album, because no two songs sound the same or have the same energy. He’s also a master of shock value and no topic is off limits for him -- so it’s worth listening to the whole album just to hear what he might say, if nothing else.

Stephen Daw: Obviously, Lil Nas X generated a lot of hype around the album thanks primarily to his singles "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" and "Industry Baby," along with their respective videos. But go back and look at the viral marketing that Lil Nas X did for this album, and you will see why more than half of its songs immediately took the Hot 100 by storm. From faking a pregnancy, to debuting his own Dr. Phil-esque daytime talk show parody, to unveiling hilarious billboards spoofing personal injury lawyers, Lil Nas X and his marketing team pulled out every single stop to generate hype around Montero, and it undeniably worked.

Cydney Lee: I think his identity has a lot to do with it. Lil Nas X is unapologetically living his truth, sparking conversations/controversy in the music industry and making people feel uncomfortable in the process. His gimmicks and trolling are flashy, but they work, AND he makes good music! On Montero, some songs are more serious than others, finding him turning inward and reflecting on himself and career. I also think the way the songs are positioned on the tracklist makes it palatable and not too over-the-top with back-to-back hits. It’s a great debut, especially for an artist who many thought wasn’t going to be around this long.

Jason Lipshutz: Over the past six months -- basically, since the release of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” -- Lil Nas X has grown into an A-list star, and that stardom is completely divorced from his status as the face of “Old Town Road.” The chart success of “Montero” and “Industry Baby,” the headline-grabbing performances and music videos, the expert social media trolling and the visibility as a queer mainstream hip-hop artist have combined to create a singular type of household name, and drive interest in this debut album. Anyone who’s been paying attention to Lil Nas X over the past half-year shouldn’t be surprised by how well this debut week has been for him.

Andrew Unterberger: As brilliant as Lil Nas X's promotional tactics have been, it's also undeniable that he's just improved dramatically as a songwriter and performer over the last two and a half years. The easiest way to grow from an artist whose commercial reception varies greatly from single to single to one who fans want to hear entire albums from is simple enough: Just keep releasing good songs. Lil Nas X has been doing that this year, and they've added up to an impressive debut album with a resounding first-week performance.

3. Of those 11 tracks, "That's What I Want" is the best-performing of the brand new songs, debuting at No. 10. Do you think it'll stay the biggest of the album's debut tracks, or do you have your eye on another cut growing into something bigger?  

Rania Aniftos: “Scoop” featuring Doja Cat for me, without a doubt. You can’t deny the hitmaking magician that is Doja Cat, and throwing her on a song with the equally trendy Lil Nas X is a recipe for Gen Z success. I also just love the lyrics that two of music’s most talented goofballs came up with. “Can't call me stupid with this big ol' f--king forehead mother--ker”? It’s hilarious. I love it.

Stephen Daw: "That's What I Want" is designed to be a charts favorite, and I think it's very likely going to stay that way. But if Lil Nas X drops a wild video for either "Scoop" or "Dolla Sign Slime" (featuring Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion, respectively), he could have another huge hit on his hands. His visuals have always helped propel his sales and streams, and if either of these bangers with two of the hottest stars in the game were to be made into a Lil Nas X-quality video, I could see either (or both) going No. 1 in a heartbeat.

Cydney Lee: “Scoop” with Doja Cat is fire so I’m hoping that one gets its shine soon. He teased that song a bit too, prior to the album release so I’m kind of surprised that’s not the standout song right now. Then again, “That’s What I Want” was released with a video, so that could be why it's in the early lead.

Jason Lipshutz: “That’s What I Want” functions as a spiritual sequel to “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” as a short, punchy pop track with a focus on romance and a falsetto-led hook. It’s the obvious next hit from Montero, and while there are still others to pick from as the album campaign progresses -- I’ll be keeping an eye on “Scoop,” featuring another artist dropping hits left and right, Doja Cat -- I could see “That’s What I Want” climbing higher than its current No. 10 peak in the coming weeks.

Andrew Unterberger: "That's What I Want" is practically Lil Nas X's own "Stay," down to the presence of the white-hot Omer Fedi and Blake Slatkin as co-producers. It may not end up as big as that Hot 100-topper -- few songs in a year do -- but I definitely think it's the song to beat of the new Montero tracks.

4. As an album released 13 days before the Sept. 30th Grammy eligibility cutoff point, Montero might be the final major album release to be considered a major Grammy contender. Do you see an album of the year nomination in the set's future? 

Rania Aniftos: I certainly hope so, given that 7 was nominated for album of the year in 2020, and I personally think Montero is a better body of work. Also, with the criticism that the Grammys have faced over the past few years for its lack of representation, it would be great to see the Recording Academy’s continued support for a Black LGBTQ+ member who is as deserving as Lil Nas X.

Stephen Daw: One billion percent, yes. Critical acclaim? Check. Massive streaming numbers? Check. Grammys track record? Check. An artistic sense that defies expectations? Check. I don't see a 2022 Grammy Awards where Montero isn't nominated for album of the year and a genre category (though which one would be a tough call considering the genre-bending LNX does throughout the album) The set is exactly the kind of project that brings with it major award nominations. I can't speak to whether or not the album will win, but I certainly think it deserves a nomination that it will almost certainly receive.

Cydney Lee: Honestly, no. And not because it’s not worthy (Lil Nas X, TakeADaytrip and everyone involved put their foot in this), but because I feel like the voters are going to be so shook on how to fathom this album and position it amongst the other nominees. Not to mention existing biases. In general, I wouldn’t be surprised if a repeat Weeknd situation occurs, given that Montero is way more complex when it comes to categorization. He may either be snubbed because of that or included in nominations by the Recording Academy as an attempt for them to right their wrongs from last year. I’m all for Lil Nas X winning in any regard, but if he is nominated for any Grammy, I just don’t think it will be genuine.

Jason Lipshutz: I mean, Lil Nas X scored an album of the year nomination before Montero -- why wouldn’t he score one for his proper debut album? To me, Montero is not only a contender for an album of the year nod, but for a victory as well: Lil Nas X exists at the intersection of being artistically bold and universally beloved, with hits and acclaim rolled into his appeal. Even though it’s been out for barely a week, I wouldn’t bet against Montero come Grammy night.

Andrew Unterberger: If 7 scored an album of the year nomination for 2020 and Montero -- a bigger and better effort in just about any way that matters, minus not having "Old Town Road" on it -- doesn't for 2022, that would certainly be one of the bigger travesties of recent Grammy history.

5. Lil Nas X joked on Twitter that he's the first one-hit wonder to have 11 hits on the Hot 100 in the same week. Who's an artist right now with only one major Hot 100 hit to their name who you could see similarly big things from at some point in their future?

Rania Aniftos: Is it too late for Gotye to come out from the rock he’s been hiding under for the last decade? In all seriousness, though, I think Willow is quickly growing into an artist to watch. The only song she’s released that has come close to a top 10 hit is “Whip My Hair,” which peaked at No. 11 back in November 2010. However, her recent songs are so much more mature and authentic to her personality, and given the way “Meet Me at Our Spot” is bounding up the Hot 100, I could see her becoming way more than just a “one-hit wonder” in the future.

Stephen Daw: I actually think that country star Elle King might have a big future ahead of her. "Ex's and Oh's" remains her only big Hot 100 hit (it peaked at No. 10 back in 2015), but she returned to the Hot 100 earlier this year with her boot-stomping Miranda Lambert collab "Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)" (peaking at No. 53 on the chart in July). If she keeps up the pop-country-fusion style that she played with on "Drunk," I can see Elle breaking back into the top 10 sometime soon. But also, who the hell knows — maybe Ylvis will release "What Does the Fox Say Pt. II" and it'll go No. 1. Weirder things have happened.

Cydney Lee: Tems. Between “Essence” with Wizkid, snagging a feature on CLB and her own projects, she’s been creating a buzz and is definitely one to watch.

Jason Lipshutz: My “Justice for OMI” chants have been ringing out through the Billboard halls for six years now. The man behind 2015’s song of the summer, the delightfully low-stakes “Cheerleader,” simply has more summertime hits in him, if criminally underrated follow-up single “Hula Hoop” is any indication. As another summer comes and goes without another OMI hit, I shall hold out hope for 2022, and each summer after.

Andrew Unterberger: Speaking of Fedi and Slatkin: I'm hoping that 24kGoldn, the talented and versatile artist behind their first massive co-production, still has a rich future ahead of him as a hitmaker.