Which demographic does the MTV VMAs appeal to? I watched the show with my cousins and their children, so we had an age range of like 7 years old to late 40s, with myself right in the middle. That meant that I heard the question “who’s that?” directed at both Missy Elliott AND Lizzo. Also, apparently, I’m not as young and cool as I had initially thought because the kids called me “cringe”????? Excuse me? Is this what aging feels like?
The one artist that everyone, no matter what age, was excited about was Lil Nas X. As we’ve seen this year, Lil Nas X is a disrupter. That’s what Billy Ray Cyrus emphasized when he introduced his performance of “Panini”, but I’ve always believed that his success came from his appeal to a younger audience, one that he cultivated with his meme savvy social media promotion. He’s the artist turning an old and slow-to-change industry on its head. That’s the persona we saw at the VMAs, including jokes about the 3162th remix of "Old Town Road" and prop comedy during his acceptance speech. This is, not surprisingly, now a meme. But apparently, Lil Nas X appeals to a much broader age range.
When I think of multigenerational appeal, I often think of Adele. Adele bridges the gap with her music, creating songs enjoyed by both older and younger audiences. But Adele’s musical style and what she sings about are relatively inside the box. I think she’s incredibly talented, and I love many of her songs, but she’s not revolutionizing the industry. Lil Nas X, on the other hand, is. He has blurred the lines between genres, within traditional music production and releases, and even between work and leisure.
So what makes Lil Nas X connect to so many people? Is it just that he managed to find the perfect formula with “Old Town Road”? Is it because he is endorsed by Billy Ray Cyrus? Is it a concerted effort by him and his team? Or has the world just struck talent gold?
Last week, “Old Town Road” was finally knocked off its top spot last week by Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”. Does this mean Lil Nas X is done? Not if he can do anything about it. Lil Nas X refuses to let himself become a one-hit-wonder. It’s why although "Old Town Road" was what was nominated last night, he chose to perform “Panini" instead. Lil Nas X is always thinking about moments and about the next step. By the time he had partnered with Billy Ray Cyrus, he was already looking at collaborations with other artists. It’s a constant, perhaps exhausting, effort to stay relevant.
But this might be the source of Lil Nas X’s appeal. Everyone loves him because everyone knows about him. When we watched his performance, the kids were incredibly excited to see what he would do next. One of the little ones made me record it because she had to go to bed. And her cohort will soon be driving the culture. This is the kind of anticipation that Lil Nas X is generating for them and the question is whether or not they will grow with him. If he can keep that going, we might actually get to "OTR" remix #3162.