(September 23, 2021). With all the hype surrounding Lil Nas X’s new album Montero, which was released nearly a week ago and will compete with Drake’s Certified Lover Boy for next week’s No. 1 position in Billboard, it’s a song that’s not on the album that is turning heads and may be among his best performances yet.
Backed by a full band and backup singers on Tuesday during BBC Radio 1’s “Live Lounge,” LNX performed a surprising cover of country legend Dolly Parton’s iconic song “Jolene” along with two songs from Montero: “Dead Right Now” and “That’s What I Want.”
But it’s the rapper/singer’s haunting, low-key take on “Jolene” that’s creating some buzz and may be the best Lil Nas X performance of any to date, including the songs both on and off his first full-length album.
“Jolene,” a song whose lyrics portray a protagonist practically begging the title’s namesake not to take a man that doesn’t belong to her (just because she can), takes on a whole new unspoken context when sung by LNX, the openly gay rapper whose baritone easily navigates the tune’s haunting melody.
Without changing any of the lyrics’ gender references, Lil Nas gives the song’s love triangle a different twist while its soft-rock arrangement maintains the tune’s original country music integrity, but with a different, slower feel altogether. And with Radio 1’s “Live Lounge” program usually featuring artists performing their own tracks and then a song by another artist usually of a totally different genre, it might be easy to forget that LNX actually got his start on country radio in 2019.
In fact, sung in this arrangement by anyone else—male or female—and with the proper lyrical adjustments, country radio might be all over this version of “Jolene.”
But LNX, whose one-time, country-rap debut smash from two years ago, “Old Town Road,” was famously removed from the Billboard country charts because it was deemed “not country enough” (despite country radio playing it and even after country legend Billy Ray Cyrus lent his vocals to the song’s best-selling remix), will likely never again see his name on country radio playlists or the genre’s charts for that matter.
He’s considered too controversial and too far gone for that now. And besides, he doesn’t need country radio at this point in his career.
Nor did he need to give his take on Parton’s classic “Jolene,” which, according to her, is the country icon’s most covered song (she should know, she wrote it and probably still owns the publishing rights).
But, in an ironic play on the song’s lyrics, LNX did it because he can. And now people might be a-wondering if it’s the best cover of a Parton song since Whitney Houston’s take on Dolly’s original followup to “Jolene” in 1974, “I Will Always Love You,” which Houston re-recorded nearly 30 years ago.
Or perhaps it’s the best version of “Jolene” this side of Dolly’s original.
Both of those assertions may be stretching things a bit. With a body of work that only dates back two years, it may be safer to say that LNX’s “Jolene” is the best thing he’s done to date.
But I’ll let you be the judge. Check out the LNX song and video above as well as Dolly singing the original below and let readers know your opinion in the comment section or on any of the social media feeds where this article is posted.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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