Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” has cemented itself as one of the biggest songs of 2019, sitting on top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six straight weeks as of May 13; its Billy Ray Cyrus-featuring remix also holds five of the top seven spots on Billboard’s list of the biggest streaming weeks in the publication’s history. And though the jury remains out on whether the “country trap” hit should classify as country music — Billboard voted no, you may recall, by removing the song from its Top Country Songs chart — few can deny that its long-awaited official music video is a surrealist neo-Western in miniature.
Lil Nas X, a.k.a. rapper Montero Lamar Hill, premiered the five-minute video (or “official movie,” as he calls it) on his YouTube channel on May 17, after dropping a teaser for it the night before. The video serves as something of an allegory for his real-life experience with “Old Town Road,” after the song, which originally found fame due to a viral TikTok meme, was decried by country music traditionalists as an aberration.
The video begins in 1889 on the “old town road,” somewhere in the Old West. Lil Nas X stars as our wily cowboy hero, who’s got his fast horse in the back and a big bag of money in his hand as he outruns the residents of a nearby town who are ostensibly trying to get that cash back. His clean escape is cut short, however, when a suspicious (white) family notices that he’s hiding out, and immediately arm themselves against him.
While the video’s Old West analogues of his modern-day country music critics may be wary of him, however, the year 2019 — to which Lil Nas X is eventually transported when he dives through a weird, Being John Malkovich-esque time portal — is home to people who are far more accepting of the rapper and his genre-bending song. Or at least that’s the case in the video, where Lil Nas X is received by a predominantly black community. At first, people don’t seem to know what to make of the old-timey traveler, but they quickly change their ways. (At one point, someone even asks Lil Nas X if he’s from Compton; this is an accepting bunch, not unlike the rapper’s loving social media following.)
Because the video is for the remix of “Old Town Road,” which features a verse by country vet Billy Ray Cyrus, it also stars Cyrus as Lil Nas X’s fellow outlaw in the past, and supportive cowboy partner in the present. In the 2019-set portion of the video, Cyrus validates his self-conscious friend when he doubts he’ll find acceptance among classical country folks; it’s a role similar to the one Cyrus played in real life, lending his name and reputation to a new take on “Old Town Road” after Billboard challenged its country bona fides.
The duo’s real-life collaboration is mirrored during the video’s climactic moment, when Cyrus and Lil Nas X stroll into a country-lovin’ old folks’ bingo game in the present day. Our rapping hero seems nervous that he will be rejected by the entirely white crowd. But with Cyrus by his side, they quickly warm to him.
Joining the pair in the video are a couple notable celebrities, namely Chris Rock as the impressed leader of an all-black cowpoke gang, and Diplo, who previously made his own remix of the song and who stops by in a very embarrassing wig to jam with Cyrus and Lil Nas X. (He rocks the washboard.)
All in all, the video is a fitting tribute to this inescapable earworm — silly, a little nonsensical, and weirdly mood-boosting, with a side of subtle social commentary. Yeehaw, indeed.