Lil Nas X is featured on the cover of Time magazine. In an accompanying interview, the 20-year-old rapper opened up about his decision to come out as gay earlier this summer.
Though Lil Nas didn’t plan on coming out, the fact that his inescapable hit “Old Town Road” — featuring Billy Ray Cyrus — was dominating Billboard charts and radio airwaves during Pride Month made him think again. According to the Georgia native, he was initially hesitant about coming out because he was taught from a young age that homosexuality “is never going to be OK.” Plus, he feared he might lose fans if he shared his truth.
“I know the people who listen to this the most, and they’re not accepting of homosexuality,” he said, later explaining that seeing celebrations of love during June helped his worries subside. “I never would have done that if I wasn’t in a way pushed by the universe. In June, I’m seeing Pride flags everywhere and seeing couples holding hands — little stuff like that.”
Lil Nas is one of the few openly queer black mainstream musicians. Frank Ocean came out in 2012, and Tyler the Creator did so in 2017. Lil Nas first came out to his sister and father in June. He then publicly came out on Twitter, casually doing so by writing, “Thought I made it obvious,” pointing to a rainbow on his album cover. His revelation was met with a handful of hateful reactions, but Lil Nas simply fired back at trolls with jokes. He once wrote on Twitter that the next person to say something offensive would be “getting kissed.”
While he has quickly embraced his sexual identity, Lil Nas admitted to Time that fame — and the anxiety he experiences because of it — has been tougher to come to terms with. His star has risen at an exponential rate thanks to the success of “Old Town Road,” which is now the longest charting No. 1 song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, beating out previous titleholders Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men (“One Sweet Day”), and Justin Bieber, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (“Despacito”). To date, Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road” has spent 23 weeks in the top spot.
“It gets overwhelming,” he said. “I just shut down on everybody — I’m still a loner in a lot of ways.”
Read Lil Nas’ entire Time profile here and see the cover below.
When @lilnasx’s debut single “Old Town Road” exploded online early this year and began climbing the charts, industry prognosticators anticipated a quick rise and fall. It’s now the longest-running No. 1 song in history, having occupied the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 weeks. It’s been streamed more than a billion times on @spotify alone. All of this has made “Old Town Road” the defining sound of the year, a slurry, genre-busting interpolation of two quintessential American musical genres: #country and hip-hop. Yet even from his perch, writes Andrew R. Chow, Lil Nas is still an outlier. There aren’t many black stars in country #music; there aren’t many queer stars in #hiphop. There aren’t many queer black stars in American culture, point-blank. The fact that Lil Nas has risen so far and so fast testifies not only to his skill, but also to the erosion of the systems that for generations kept #artists like him on the sidelines. At a time when debates about categorization and identity are ubiquitous, Lil Nas X represents a more unified vision of the future, one in which a young #queer black man can dominate popular #culture by being unapologetically himself. “Everything lined up for this moment to take me to this place,” he says now. “Not to sound self-centered, but it feels like I’m chosen, in a way, to do this stuff.” Read more at the link in bio. Photograph by @kelianne for TIME; animation by @brobeldesign; “Old Town Road” (p) 2019 Columbia Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment
This article originally appeared in THR.com.