Lil Nas X’s criticism of BET after not garnering any nominations at this year’s BET Awards has arguably overshadowed the awards themselves. Nas has made his disapproval abundantly clear, from noting “the bigger problem of homophobia in the black community” earlier this month, to the release of the song “Late to Da Party” on Friday complete with a “Fuck BET” chorus line and album artwork featuring a urine-soaked BET Award in a toilet.
The surprise shutout, however, wasn’t the beginning of any skirmish between Lil Nas X and BET, but rather the latest in an already shaky relationship over a year in the making. As the grammy-winning rapper and multiple members of his team claim to Rolling Stone, before getting the go-ahead to perform at last year’s award show — where Lil Nas X would make headlines after kissing one of his backing dancers during his performance — BET was hesitant when booking Nas, asking for his team’s confirmation that he wasn’t a “satanist or devil worshiper,” the rapper claims. And after Nas finished his performance, the kiss allegedly left certain network producers upset.
“My relationship with BET has been painful and strained for quite some time. It didn’t start with this year’s nominations like most people might think,” Lil Nas X tells Rolling Stone in a statement. “They did let me perform on their show last year, but only after [I gave] assurances that I was not a satanist or devil worshiper, and that my performance would be appropriate for their audience.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, a BET spokesperson said that the “summation of events around Lil Nas X’s 2021 BET Awards performance is simply untrue.” “Since last year’s performance, we have been in touch to work on other projects,” the rep adds. “We are still excited about his previous performances and continue to wish him well. But today, we are focused on culture’s biggest night and delivering history-making moments for fans worldwide.”
Nas’s statement marks the latest and most complex in his barbs at BET. After the network announced its nominees for Sunday’s award show, Nas posted several since-deleted tweets criticizing his lack of nominations despite releasing several hits off one of the most acclaimed albums of last year. “Thank you BET awards. An outstanding zero nominations again,” he tweeted. “Black excellence!”
In another since-deleted tweet, he wrote, “I just feel like black gay ppl have to fight to be seen in this world and even when we make it to the top mfs try to pretend we are invisible.”
BET issued a statement following Nas’s criticism, referring to his Best New Artist nomination in 2020 and defending this year’s nominations by noting that it’s their voting body and not the network itself that selects the nominees. “BET’s Voting Academy … is comprised of an esteemed group of nearly 500 entertainment professionals in the fields of music, television, film, digital marketing, sports journalism, public relations, influencers, and creative arts,” the network said. “No one from BET serves as a member of the Voting Academy.” The network added that “no one cheered louder that night than BET” during the rapper’s 2021 performance.
But speaking to Rolling Stone, Lil Nas X and his team have refuted the latter claim. As one of the rapper’s team members who worked on the BET performance recalls, the issue with BET started in May 2021. Nas had just wrapped a performance of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” on SNL in which he accidentally ripped his pants mid-song. The BET awards were soon approaching, and the ceremony felt like the right place to give the song another shot.
By that point, Lil Nas X had already faced controversy from religious conservatives for months after giving the devil a lapdance in his “Montero” video and partnering with the company MSCHF to release the controversial “satan shoes” infused with drops of human blood that Nike ended up suing MSCHF over. (The suit was settled in April 2021.) Nas’s critics had been accusing him of satanic worship, and as the team member says, the heat seemed to be enough for BET to inquire further.
“The response we got back was, ‘We need to clarify a few things,’” the team member, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, says. “Is he a Satanist? Are there going to be elements of devil worship or satan in the show? I was so taken aback by it. We’d been fielding those questions from people for months by that point after the video and the shoes, and of course the answer was no and we obviously got the slot. But it blew our minds.
“When Nas created ‘Montero,’ he knew what he was doing. He wanted to create a queer-pop anthem. He wanted to make a statement based on what he’s heard from people probably his whole life as a gay man,” the source adds. “That statement was very clear to me. But they’ve all missed the message so much that all they see is the devil. There was no contemplation that this was what he’s always heard and that now he’s embracing it.”
The rapper’s 2021 “Montero” performance immediately went viral and became one of the most memorable parts of last year’s show. In the immediate aftermath, the rapper’s team said they expected a laudatory response from show organizers, but instead said the network was disappointed. “It didn’t feel celebratory,” the first team member says. “The response I got back was that they felt taken advantage of.”
“After [Nas] got offstage, one of the BET producers came up to me and before I could even open my mouth, he looked at me and said, ‘That was really fucked up.’” – A member of Lil Nas X’s team
The second team member, who also requested anonymity, recalled a BET producer involved in the rapper’s performance approaching them afterward. “At some point after [Nas] got offstage, one of the BET producers came up to me and before I could even open my mouth, he looked at me and said, ‘That was really fucked up.’”
“They say that ‘no one cheered louder’ for me than them that night,” Lil Nas X tells Rolling Stone, “but the BET Awards team was actually very upset that I kissed my dancer onstage and vocalized their discontent with multiple members of my team immediately following the performance.”
In their statement earlier this month regarding the controversy, the network said they are “passionate advocates for the wonderful diversity that exists within our community. We are committed to using all of our platforms to provide visibility and inclusion for all of the many intersections of the Black community.”
But the rapper and his team disagree. “It’s almost like they didn’t mind sweet kind of gay ‘Old Town Road’ Lil Nas X, but this is too much,” the first team member says. “I think BET is doubling down on what they did wrong. Instead of saying, ‘We got it wrong,’ they said, ‘It’s [the voting] community and they don’t fuck with him,’ which is bullshit. All the accolades, the achievements Nas has had in his career, all the music people have consumed, the [voting] community doesn’t fuck with him? What are you talking about?”