On Monday 29 March, the infamous internet collective MSCHF released 666 pairs of the ‘Satan Shoes’ made in collaboration with rapper Lil Nas X in a PR stunt to promote the artist’s new song ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’, which debuted on YouTube the Friday before. The controversial shoes sold out in less than a minute. In fact, everything about Lil Nas X’s recent stunt was aimed to shock and divide, and it did. What most of us didn’t expect is that Nike would go after Satan, but not Jesus.
The $1,018 (£740) trainers, which feature an inverted cross, a pentagram, the words ‘Luke 10:18’, and “1 drop human blood,” were made using modified Nike Air Max 97s. Shortly after the drop was announced, Nike denied its involvement in the project, and has now claimed trademark infringement. “It has asked the court to stop MSCHF from selling the shoes and prevent them from using its famous Swoosh design mark,” reports the BBC.
What the brand didn’t seem to mind was MSCHF’s drop #7 of the ‘Jesus Shoes’—customised white Air Max 97s with soles containing water from the Jordan River that the Brooklyn collective had blessed by a priest. Nike didn’t bother to disavow the shoes then, to the disappointment of at least one designer on MSCHF’s team who spoke to The New York Times last year. “That would’ve been rad,” he said.
Nike stated in its filing that “there is already evidence of significant confusion and dilution occurring in the marketplace, including calls to boycott Nike in response to the launch of MSCHF’s Satan Shoes based on the mistaken belief that Nike has authorized or approved this product.” It included screenshots of comments from social media users expressing their outrage or vowing to never wear Nike again.
It further noted, “In the short time since the announcement of the Satan Shoes, Nike has suffered significant harm to its goodwill, including among consumers who believe that Nike is endorsing satanism.”
MSCHF is known for its viral stunts, from MasterWiki, its own WikiHow-style rip-off of MasterClass and its live recreation of all 201 episodes of the American version of The Office series over Slack to its latest ‘Birkinstocks’—Birkenstock sandals made from Hermès Birkin bags. According to Quartz, MSCHF “originally conceived of the Jesus Shoes as a way to troll sneaker makers and their fans about the proliferating number of sneaker collaborations.”
The Satan Shoes with Lil Nas X were nothing less than a logical follow-up. However, they could prove costly; in addition to asking the court to make MSCHF cease fulfilling orders for its Satan Shoes, Nike is also seeking damages. Was it worth it? If you ask Lil Nas X fans, they’ll probably answer positively.
“Since publicly coming out as gay in June 2019, Lil Nas X has unapologetically embraced his queerness in the face of his crossover fanbases of country and rap, two communities who—he remarked in a BBC interview the same year—were not overly accepting of homosexuality,” reports gal-dem in a love letter dedicated to the artist’s latest music video.
In an Instagram post accompanying the release of his new song, Lil Nas X wrote to his teenage self, recalling the fear of rejection that is still a sad reality for many LGBTQI+ people: “Dear 14-year-old Montero, I wrote a song with our name in it. It’s about a guy I met last summer. I know we promised to never come out publicly, I know we promised to never be ‘that’ type of gay person, I know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist. You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry. They will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”
It would be an understatement to say that not everyone is thrilled with the directorial choices in the video, especially as it relates to Lil Nas X’s sexuality, but that’s not stopping him from taking the criticism in stride. The musician has been all over social media, from Twitter to TikTok, with some top clapbacks. Here’s one, for example, where he rightly points out that religious diehards always warn queer people that they’re going to hell—only to be pissed when people embrace the idea of damnation.
Although Lil Nas X’s mastery of memes is nothing new, he admitted himself to being affected by the hateful comments he received following the launch of both his new song and the Satan Shoes. “I’ll be honest all this backlash is putting an emotional toll on me,” he wrote in a tweet. “I try to cover it with humour but it’s getting hard. My anxiety is higher than ever and stream ‘Call Me By Your Name’ on all platforms now!”