There’s a part in the documentary Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero where he’s on a tour bus and starts playing Denice Williams’s 1976 classic, Free. The chorus’s parts resonate most with his soul when she sings, ” I’ve got to be free, free, free, oh/I just got to be me, me, me. The singer, rapper, and songwriter born Montero Lamar Hill, states this song has a hold on him, and he’s later seen in a skating ring moving carefree to the track again. If a theme is apparent throughout Lil Nas X’s career, it’s one of freedom. This is in the face of a music industry and society that has gotten better, but still has a way to go in accepting queer artists (especially a Black queer artist). Directors Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel had two tasks when making this documentary. It chronicles the rise of a superstar still in the early stages of writing his story and getting a handle on what drives him. The other is being a fly on the wall of the Long Live Montero Tour — which sees X grapple with the highs and lows of formulating his first live music show.

With the second part, it could be considered a triumph. Specific performances inter-spliced throughout the documentary allow you to see the extent of the theatrical prowess, choreography, and fan interaction in different cities. There’s an action-like approach Estrada and Manuel bring, which makes you feel the energy in the venues. This is complete with lovely little touches of X surveying the seat arrangements at Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan, before the first tour date and taking it in. Moments also happen where the viewer gets a peek at the backstage aspects of how these shows come together, and they feel unique to X’s journey. The more personal aspects of  X’s journey are where Long Live Montero becomes more muddled. Part of this is foreshadowed in the voiceover portion of his show, where it states, “This is only the beginning, and there is still more story to write.”

How X’s career has come together could be attributed to a product of affirmation. He states by the age of 16, he had abandoned the concept of religion. By 19, he found music and found his way back through this mode of creative expression. It’s not hard to fathom — especially with the many fan accounts throughout Montero where fans testify on how X’s fearlessness allowed them to embrace themselves. For the monumental locomotive “Old Town Road” as a single in 2019, there was “Call Me By Your Name,” which X explains he felt anxious to release. It’s one of the examples where López Estrada and Manuel are able to connect song performances with the main narrative the document is trying to weave. “Dead Right Now,” where X explains it’s a response to family. Speaking of family, X speaks on the impact of his nephew and how much it means to him that he was his first fan. He also appears apprehensive that his lifestyle could be offputting to him. Many of those same fears surround relationships with his stepmother, step-brothers, and father — where the film shows they support him. They show up to his shows and express that much. Later, in Long Live Montero, X notes that he feels he can be more of himself with his dancers. In moments like that, you wish the documentary would have dug deeper to understand why that is instead of more surface-level rumination.

In these intimate conversations, X can handle things with a smile and chooses to look on the bright side for much of what he is facing. The tour is an exercise for the artist and the person to become more confident in who they are. There exists a more significant discussion on the roadblocks Black queer artists have to endure to achieve the heights of their craft. Long Live Montero displays how fans and community surround X like a protective cocoon, but even he acknowledges another side of the coin — noting people peg him to be a satanic worshipper. At a particular tour stop in Boston, religious protesters try to make outrageous claims X’s music and visuals are somehow corrupting young listeners. The documentary illustrates X taking this in stride, sending pizzas to the picket line, and meeting this hatred with unabashed positivity. It’s as if Lil Nas X has become armor for Montero Lamar Hill in a world where people will shun him through a biased lens rather than widening the scope and seeing how this particular pressure point is something that doesn’t have to be tolerated merely. However, the viewpoint stays primarily focused on the tour itself — which may feel like a missed opportunity considering how X speaks on the legend of Little Richard and his insistence on “letting it all hangout.”

At best, you’ll see a young artist’s journey unfolding as he reasons with the newer parts of himself he is still discovering. You can imagine how nerve-wracking your first tour can be, and Long Live Montero does its job to illustrate that in broad strokes. X also shows spaces of charisma, vulnerability, and quiet restraint. One hopes that we will eventually get a more complete view of what those ingredients mean to him once they fully form.

Photo Credit: HBO Films