Last year Montero Lamar Hill purchased a Nine Inch Nails-sampling trap beat online for $30 and laid down some syrupy verses about a lonely cowboy. In December 2018 he released “Old Town Road” independently as Lil Nas X. And in the first three months of 2019, the song climbed the Billboard Hot 100 as he finalized a deal with Columbia Records.
Yet it wasn’t until April -- when Billy Ray Cyrus joined a remix of “Old Town Road” and the song began its record-breaking run at No. 1 -- that Lil Nas X’s professional life become a one-of-a-kind, year-defining whirlwind.
5 Billy Ray Cyrus hops on a remix of “Old Town Road” after the song is removed from Billboard’s country charts. “Means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club!” tweets Cyrus a few days earlier, referencing his ’90s country-pop hit “Achy Breaky Heart.” 6 Posts a photo of himself working on new music: “I live in the studio now.” 9 Turns 20 years old, the same day it’s announced that “OTR” hits No. 1 on the Hot 100. Asked how he celebrated, he told Billboard, “I’d just became famous and rich. That’s a celebration in itself.” 11 “OTR” breaks the one-week U.S. streaming record, with 143 million U.S. streams in the week ending April 11. 19 Celebrates 1 million Instagram followers, noting in a post that 10 months earlier, he had only 1,205. 22 Goes horseback riding with Cyrus. 28 Live-debuts “OTR” remix with Cyrus during Diplo’s Stagecoach Festival set and drops second official remix, with Diplo, the same day. “OTR” music video director Calmatic later says Lil Nas X came back “a whole new person.”
1 Releases limited-edition 7-inch “OTR” vinyl. 5 Attends Kanye West’s Sunday Service, where Kim Kardashian-West snaps a photo of him and West -- later, he reaches out to Kardashian-West on Twitter to track down the pic. 7 Makes TV debut on Desus & Mero. 12 Brings Cyrus onstage at Rolling Loud Festival Miami to perform “OTR.” 13 Signs with Creative Artists Agency for worldwide representation. 16 Hangs with Usher. 17 Releases the Western-inspired “Old Town Road” music video, with appearances from Cyrus, Chris Rock, Rico Nasty, Diplo, Vince Staples and more. “The video showcased how universally relatable this song is,” says Calmatic. “Everyone from the cowboys in the mountains of Montana to kids dancing in South Central Los Angeles felt authentically represented.” 21 Teams up with Postmates to deliver a “Maserati sports car” to Cyrus, referencing the country icon’s verse in the remix. 23 Moves into a new apartment, bringing no less than 21 cowboy hats. 25 Is brought onstage by Anderson .Paak at the Boston Calling Festival to perform “OTR.” 26 Hangs with Doja Cat. 27 Performs ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Boston. 29 After an Ohio elementary school teacher tags him in a Twitter video of her students dancing to “OTR,” he surprises them with a performance at the school’s talent show. “When Lil Nas walked into that gymnasium and hundreds of kids were going bananas, that was the moment I realized just how big he was going to be,” says Maverick Management’s Adam Leber, who co-manages Lil Nas X. “The level of insanity from those kids was reminiscent of superstars like Britney or Miley.”
2 Hangs with Blueface. 3 Reposts Instagram video of Cardi B dancing to “OTR,” which she captioned, “#1 song in the world.” 8 Surprises crowd at CMA Fest to perform with Cyrus and Keith Urban. Writes on Instagram, “I keep running into legends.” 16 Wishes a happy Father’s Day to his dad, who, he says on Instagram, “continued to fully support me after i randomly left school to do music last year.” 19 Releases merchandise. 21 Releases his 7 EP, which includes the Cardi B team-up “Rodeo” and his second single, “Panini.” The project later debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. 23 Meets Rihanna. “star struck,” he says on Instagram. 24 He and Cyrus ride horses to the entrance of the BET Awards in L.A. and perform “OTR” on a saloon-themed stage. 25 Presents the Silent Rodeo Experience, a choreographed puppet show, live set and meet-and-greet, in L.A. 30 Comes out as gay on the last day of Pride Month, making him the only artist to have done so while having a No. 1 record. “some of y’all already know, some of y’all don’t care, some of y’all not gone fwm no more,” he writes on Twitter.
1 Shares a video on Instagram from his “first real studio session,” saying he was “lowkey nervous asf about how it was gonna go.” 3 Makes a panini with Gordon Ramsay after connecting on Twitter. 5 Is brought onstage by Cardi B during her headlining set at the Wireless Festival in London. “It was lit -- keep doing your thing, the stars is the limit,” she tweets about their shared set. 11 Reaches 1 million YouTube subscribers. 12 Releases the third official remix of “OTR,” with Young Thug and Mason Ramsey. 16 Releases an Area 51-themed video for the “OTR” remix with Young Thug and Ramsey. 18 Encourages fans to help him break the Hot 100 record for most weeks at No. 1. “EVERY PLAY COUNTS!!” he writes on Instagram. 24 Releases the fourth and final official remix, “Old Town Road (Seoul Town Road Remix),” featuring BTS’ RM. 26 Visits Twitter’s New York headquarters, taking the reins from CEO Jack Dorsey for the day. “Lil Nas X’s command of Twitter, meme culture and connecting with fans stood out to us from the beginning,” says Twitter head of music partnerships Kevin O’Donnell, who helped plan the stunt. 31 Celebrates 1 million U.K. sales of “OTR,” writing on Instagram: “THANK U UK! i love u!!”
3 “OTR” spends its 17th week atop the Hot 100, breaking the all-time record for most weeks at No. 1 on the chart. “OTR” passes tied previous record-holders “One Sweet Day” (by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men) and “Despacito” (by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee). Carey is among the many artists who congratulate him on social media, saying, “Keep living your best life!” 11 Goes roller-skating with Noah Cyrus. 14 Partners with Topps baseball cards for his own limited-edition trading card. 17 “OTR” breaks the record for most weeks (19) at No. 1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart. It goes on to notch 20 weeks before falling from the top. 19 Congratulates Billie Eilish on breaking his streak at No. 1 on the Hot 100, as “OTR” slips from the top slot after 19 weeks. 21 Meets Katy Perry and Jeff Bezos at Amazon’s post-Prime Day company party in Seattle. 24 “OTR” makes Barack Obama’s annual Summer Playlist. 25 Wishes Billy Ray Cyrus a happy birthday on Instagram: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO A LEGEND WHO HELPED ME TAKE MY CAREER TO THE NEXT LEVEL!! I LOVE U BILLY!! 26 Performs “Panini” at the MTV Video Music Awards and takes home song of the year and best direction for the “OTR” remix featuring Cyrus. 27 Thanks supporters and collaborators -- including his family, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Columbia Records chairman/CEO Ron Perry, Diplo and the “fans who keep me going everyday” -- on Instagram.
5 Releases the futuristic “Panini” music video, directed by Mike Diva. 5 Meets Euphoria star Hunter Schafer: “new friend alert.” 7 Hangs with SZA. 10 Performs at his former high school. 13 Releases a “Panini” remix featuring DaBaby. 20 Performs at the iHeartRadio Festival. 22 Shares a photo on Instagram of him and Oprah Winfrey: “oprah pinched my cheeks u guys.” 22 Shares a photo on Instagram of him and Camila Cabello: “watching her career over the past few years has been inspiring asf. can’t wait to work with you one day.” 23 Makes his first appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. 27 Announces he’s taking a break from music, canceling performances at TwitchCon and the Sandbox Music Festival.
1 Opens up on CBS This Morning about coming out, saying he used to pray “that it was a phase.” 3 The “Panini” music video hits 100 million views. 5 Wins single of the year and best collab, duo or group, at the BET Hip Hop Awards for the “OTR” remix with Cyrus. 15 Appears on the Stagecoach 2020 lineup announcement. 22 “OTR” becomes the first song of 2020 -- and the fastest in history -- to be certified diamond by the RIAA. 24 Earns five American Music Award (AMA) nominations. 30 Sony Music reports another $1 billion quarter in recorded music sales, with Lil Nas X’s “Panini” among its best-selling releases. 31 Dresses up as Cam’ron for JAY-Z and Beyoncé’s annual Halloween party in L.A.
2 Teases an unreleased track on Twitter. 5 Reznor tells Billboard that he approves of Lil Nas X sampling his band’s song for “OTR”: “He did a good job.” 13 Becomes the first openly gay black male artist to take home a CMA Award, as the first “OTR” remix wins musical event of the year. 14 Billboard reveals “OTR” as the No. 7 top Hot 100 song of the 2010s. 20 Receives six Grammy Award nominations, including record of the year (for the first “OTR” remix), album of the year (7) and best new artist. “NO FUCKING WAY,” he writes on Twitter. 24 Accepts the AMA for favorite rap/hip-hop song for “OTR,” saying, “Whether you’re 15, 30, 55 or whatever, and you feel like your moment has passed, know that it’s waiting for you.”
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of Billboard.