Leave it to Lil Nas X to deliver the spectacle we were all patiently waiting for and deserve at the 2021 MTV VMAs. After turning heads on the red carpet with a look seemingly inspired by both Little Richard and Lil’ Kim, the rapper opened up his VMA performance by leading a Montero-branded marching band (and by taking a page straight from the Beyoncé Homecoming playbook) onto the stage, wearing all pink, of course. Then, with the help of a production assistant on the stage, Lil Nas X’s shirt came off and the performance of “Industry Baby” truly began.
From then on, there could only be more skin to reveal, and Lil Nas X delivered. While Jack Harlow popped up in a black latex prison uniform to perform his verse of “Industry Baby,” Lil Nas X stripped out of his prison jumpsuit and down to his pink bedazzled skivvies to twerk alongside his many backup dancers for a performance of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” in front of the “Montero State Prison” showers on the stage. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to think of a more queer moment in recent MTV VMA history than the one that just happened on stage with Lil Nas X and his backup dancers during the “Call Me By Your Name” performance at the end of the spectacle.
The rapper even used his performance to eradicate the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS in the LGBTQ community by inviting Mardrequis Harris of the Southern AIDS Coalition to wear the number 433,816 on stage to acknowledge the number of people living in the southern United States with HIV. It was a stark contrast from the ignorant perspective held by another popular rapper who noticeably was not present at the ceremony this year.
Twitter, of course, loved the performance with one caveat—there seemed to have been a missed opportunity for a Britney and Madonna homage moment between the two rappers when they both clapped hands in the middle of their song.