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From Cheer to Christopher John Rogers, the term has come to define survival in the face of white privilege

In the first episode of Pose the hit drama about the 80s ballroom drag scene that gave birth to vogueing a group from the House of Abundance break into a museum exhibition of Elizabethan-era clothes. They strip the mannequins, stuff the corsets and ruffs into shiny black bin bags, then escape through a smashed window to the ball competition. The category is Bring it like Royalty, says the MC, Billy Porter as the gang walk and pose in their Renaissance era garments. They win the competition, but their victory is about not only looking great whatever the cost, but also about breaking with convention, law and history.

In Cheer, Netflixs docudrama about a competitive cheerleading squad, the breakout stars are Jerry Harris and LaDarius Marshall. Unapologetically exuberant, the black, gay teenagers in Republican-supporting, gun-toting Navarro, Texas, should stick out like sore, if deeply fabulous, thumbs. Yet Cheer becomes a story of how they survived grief (the premature death of Jerrys mum and LaDariuss suicide attempt) and accepted themselves. In both shows, as black and Latino members of the LGBTQI community, these characters are outside mainstream society and so have created their own. In this world being fabulous is not just the defining quality, but acts as a challenge to the status quo and (white, entitled, birthright) privilege.

LaDarius Marshall and Jerry Harris from Cheer. Composite: Jim Spellman/Getty Images

The concept of fabulousness is said to have begun in the drag subculture and with Crystal LaBeija, who is seen as the founder of ballrooms house culture (alternative families for members of the LGBTQI community who have been kicked out of their homes). Pepper LaBeija, from Crystals house, was featured in Jennie Livingstons 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning which brought ballroom culture to a wider audience.

It was in this filmthat many first heard the words that make up the lexicon of fabulousness. Words such as work!, fierce, gagging, yaaaaas, slay and phrases such as giving me life and serving a look. Although TV shows such as Absolutely Fabulous, Sex and the City and Americas Next Top Model brought these phrases and concepts into peoples homes, it was RuPauls Drag Race (now in its 12th season) that truly bought the concept of fabulousness into the mainstream.

Jack Doroshow and Crystal LaBeija in The Queen. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

Jinkx Monsoon, who won the fifth season of Drag Race, says both drag and fabulousness are about creatingyour own destiny. Were born into this world, and told from day one who were supposed to be, she says. Were told at a very early age that were expected to behave, dress, and think certain ways all because of what is between our legs. Drag is casting all of that off, and deciding for yourself who you want to be.

But the concept of fabulousness is also, says Madison Moore, the author of Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, a lifeline for people who belong to more than one disempowered or persecuted social group and therefore face intersecting prejudices. Fabulousness is about the risk of stretching out and expanding when you have been told you dont deserve to exist.

In his book, Moore sets out four traits that define fabulousness: firstly, it does not take a lot of money; secondly it requires a high level of creativity; thirdly it is dangerous, political, confrontational, risky and largely (but not exclusively) practised by queer or transgenderpeople of colour and other marginalised groups. Finally it is about making a spectacle of yourself because your body is constantly suppressed and undervalued.

Because of this, fabulousness is not to be confused with being camp because it is inherently political. Susan Sontag in her influential 1964 essay Notes on Camp (the inspiration for the theme of the 2019 Met Gala), defined camp as an aesthetic sensibility devoid of any deeper meaning.

But Moore points out that for marginalised people, theres no such thing as style for styles sake. Fabulous people are taking the risk of embracing spectacle when it may perhaps be easier, though no less toxic, to normalise. This is very different from how camp is typically discussed.

Dominique Jackson in the pilot episode of Pose. Photograph: FX Productions/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

In 2020, the concept of fabulousness is everywhere: in Lil Nas Xs mashing up of neon disco colours with cowboy style or each time Poses Billy Porter wears a traditionally non-masculine outfit on the red carpet. Both style statements challenge the white, cis-gendered status quo.

Yet, while mainstream culture has absorbed elements of black culture, such as the adoption of the fabulous lexicon into everyday conversation (yassss kween) the outsider status has not disappeared. Being a black body, a black queer body, a black trans body, a gender nonconforming black body in public space is always vulnerable, says Moore. You cant go shopping while black. You cant go swimming while black. You cant enter your dorm room while black. You cant exist in your own home while black. You cant drive in your car with a white girl while black. You cant buy designer clothes while black. You cant wear a hoodie while black. The list continues.

During New York fashion week, the collection from the Anna Wintour-anointed African American designer Christopher John Rogers displayed a level of extreme fabulousness. His show featured largely non-white models sporting outfits in shocking shiny disco colours (fuchsia, emerald green and orange) and cut to massive proportions in geometric shapes that looked straight out of the Teletubbies. As Robin Givhan said, the shows aesthetic appeared as if it were stylistically influenced by: [the Diana Ross film]Mahogany, Ebony Fashion Fair (which ran from 1958 to 2009), drag balls and Instagram selfie filters.

Fabulous backstage at the AW20 Christopher John Rogers show. Photograph: Sophie Sahara/WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

The models stopped dramatically at the end of the runway pausing for the endless clicks of photographers. They strutted in a knowing parody of fashion cliches. Our shows are filled with a ton of emotion and energy so we encourage the models to feel themselves and the fantasy when they get on the runway, Rogers tells me after the show. Its really about their personal attitudes and moods coming through.

For the designer, his shows are an expression of encouraging people to take up space and be the most themselves. Does he think it is important to express fabulousness in the current climate of political divisiveness? Absolutely, he says Theres so much vitriol and pessimism in the air towards individuals who dont fit certain moulds, so its nice to combat that with true expressions of self, in whatever form that takes. The most effective, in some instances, is radical, boisterous personal style.

Pat Boguslawski, the movement coach who choreographed the model Leon Dames strutting, angular walk, which went viral at the SS20 Maison Margiela show, says he was inspired to bring individuality back to the runway. A fashion show is not just about mannequins and watching the clothes, its about creating a show. So we hire dancers, have amazing lighting and great music. I think a fashion show should be a show. For him, Dames walk was an expression of his individuality. As a movement director Im creating something based on (a persons) character, on who they are.

Being who they are is a key narrative element of Pose. Angelica Ross, who played the spiky Candy, says the show is important on multiple levels. To quote (Pose producer and trans activist) Janet Mock: We have to say these things cause no one else will. Pose told a story that no one else wanted to tell as evident by the many nos that (creator) Steven Canals received when initially pitching the project. Its not only important that Pose told our stories, but told them right by including folks from the (LGBTQI) community at all levels of production.

Fabulousness is a much needed state of mind in the current climate. As Ross says: Being fabulous means feeling free to be yourself. Its not fabulous if its fake.

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Billie Eilish and Lizzo are competing for a string of the top prizes, but could the likes of Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey and Rosala cause upsets?

Noise threatens to drown out the music at the 2020 Grammy awards. A line had been drawn under the tone-deaf leadership of Neil Portnow, who had presided over the ceremony since 2002 between 2013 and 2018, Grammy winners were 91% male, but, after a 2018 ceremony where men swept the board again, Portnow said it was on women to step up and create opportunities for themselves.

A woman, Deborah Dugan, replaced him; a taskforce was appointed, and in December they published their report, calling for greater diversity in the Academy voters. Any hopes that they had moved on, though, were scotched last week by Dugan being suspended for alleged misconduct; Dugan countered by saying she had been sexually harassed, that the Academy had covered up an alleged rape by Portnow, and that the voting was corrupt.

So we go into this years ceremony more jaded than ever, but the irony is that, no matter how poisonous the Academy is and regardless of whether it is rigged or not, we ended up with a much more diverse range of nominees this year. Leading the pack are Lizzo with eight noms and Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X with six each a vibrantly youthful and non-conformist trio. But will the Academy members shake off the past and vote for the future?

Record of the year

Bon Iver Hey, Ma
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
HER Hard Place
Khalid Talk
Lil Nas X ft Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Post Malone & Swae Lee Sunflower

Aside from the merely pleasant HER and Khalid tracks, this is a strong field. While lots of eyes are on Lizzo and Eilish, this could perhaps be Ariana Grandes year. Its her first time with nominations in the big four categories rather than being patronised in the pop awards and, with its My Favourite Things melody, doddering Academy voters might listen to 7 Rings and say: Hey, its one I know! Triumphant earworm Old Town Road is the longest-running No 1 in US history; Bad Guy is a showcase of the kind of fiendish genius usually employed by Hollywood horror movies to construct elaborate ways for teenagers to get killed. But an Academy eager to telegraph its modernity might go for Lizzo: Truth Hurts is a great underdog story, reaching No 1 two years after release, and her charisma is near universally infectious.

Will win: Lizzo Truth Hurts
Should win: Billie Eilish Bad Guy

Album of the year

Bon Iver i, i
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
HER I Used to Know Her
Lil Nas X 7
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride

This is Grandes best chance of a big win. Thank U, Next is a superbly realised almost-concept album about heartache, grief and moving on that can be witty, even caustic, but never cruel it sealed her as one of the three or four definitive pop stars of our time. Lizzo, HER and Lil Nas X are hampered with too much 6/10 material across their albums; Lana Del Rey was the critical hit of the year and will certainly beat out fellow Pitchfork darlings Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend, but may not cut through to the more august and mainstream Academy members. Eilish was the inescapable pop-cultural breakthrough of the year, and her album has such terrific range and invention. She will, hopefully, squeak this.

Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish

Song of the year

Lady Gaga Always Remember Us This Way
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now
HER Hard Place
Taylor Swift Lover
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell
Lewis Capaldi Someone You Loved
Lizzo Truth Hurts

Piano-driven ballads dominate the songwriting category, including Taylor Swifts only big nomination. Lover is such classic American songcraft, though Lewis Capaldis powerful Someone Like You is the best of these ballads and it would be a British win to remember. Eilish is streets ahead in terms of songwriting innovation and should win for that Duh! alone. But, while Truth Hurts most famous lyric (I just took a DNA test, turns out Im 100% that bitch) may have been plagiarised and its British author later added to the credits, Lizzo has this sewn up. The lyrics are hilarious, and it is a massively successful example of that new school of songwriting where a single melody is repeated over and over until the brainwashed public is involuntarily chanting it and then clawing hopelessly at their faces.

Will win: Lizzo Truth Hurts
Should win: Billie Eilish Bad Guy

New artist

Black Pumas
Billie Eilish
Lil Nas X
Maggie Rogers
Tank and the Bangas

Nice to see some country-soul curveballs here in the excellent Black Pumas and Yola, though the less said the better about the tune-free Tank and the Bangas at any rate, theyre all making up the numbers. Maggie Rogers didnt really break beyond her fanbase with her underrated debut album, and Im sure the Academy will see Lil Nas X merely as a two-hit wonder. Lizzos debut album came out in 2013, whereas Eilish has only just turned 18 and feels like the rightful owner of this award. But you can bet than every Latinx voter is going to be going for the astoundingly talented Rosala, who won big at the Latin Grammys and could cause an upset here.

Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish

Pop solo performance

Beyonc Spirit
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Taylor Swift You Need to Calm Down

Just as performances where you cry, shout and climb inside the carcass of a bear win you Oscars, the leading pop award rather behoves you to give it some welly not for nothing has Adele won it three times. Eilish and Grandes variously murmured and chatted performances will appear to the Academy like weirdo arthouse choices here, and even Swift is in a relatively conversational mode. Beyoncs ponderous Spirit was the lame old wildebeest eaten by the younger jackals on the Lion King soundtrack, so this is Lizzos to lose.

Will win: Lizzo
Should win: Billie Eilish

Rock performance

Bones UK Pretty Waste
Gary Clark Jr This Land
Brittany Howard History Repeats
Karen O & Danger Mouse Woman
Rival Sons Too Bad

Anyone looking for evidence of backroom dealing in the Academy might well make Bones UK their exhibit A: Pretty Waste is the kind of creative vacuum beloved only of nihilistically cocaine-addicted LA music industry execs looking for something to soundtrack rock bottom. The rest is pretty good. Rival Sons riffs and hollering make them the most tangibly rock thing here Karen O essays 60s pop, and Brittany Howards History Repeats is a kind of bluesy funk tune, but with mainstream rock stranded out on a sandbar while rappers and pop stars taunt it on jetskis, they need to blur the genre lines. Gary Clark Jr could edge this with his politically charged This Land, half-rapped over a heavily skanking backing.

Will win: Gary Clark Jr
Should win: Rival Sons

Rap performance

J Cole Middle Child
DaBaby Suge
Dreamville feat JID, Bas, J Cole, Earthgang & Young Nudy Down Bad
Nipsey Hussle feat Roddy Ricch & Hit-Boy Racks in the Middle
Offset feat Cardi B Clout

Many voters hearts will go with Nipsey Hussle, whose murder last year robbed the world of a skilful, soulful MC who united backpacker hip-hoppers and mainstream rap fans. Racks in the Middle also features Roddy Rich, who has broken through spectacularly over the last year. But the track pales next to two others here: DaBabys Suge is a slowly prowling piece of minimalism that makes Offset sound fussily overworked in comparison; its ridiculous that DaBaby isnt up for best new artist. He is rather damaged goods after a series of run-ins with the law, however. That could hand Middle Child the win, on which J Cole raps as if hes high-stepping across the surface of a lake, his triplet time full of balletic grace.

Will win: J Cole
Should win: DaBaby

Country solo performance

Tyler Childers All Yourn
Ashley McBryde Girl Goin Nowhere
Willie Nelson Ride Me Back Home
Blake Shelton Gods Country
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now

If you scoff at country, youll probably always scoff at country, but this spread of songs shows off the admirable breadth of the genre and may pique your interest yet. Willie Nelsons song is a bit something-and-nothing; Tanya Tuckers Bring My Flowers Now is nominated in the song of the year category, and its live-for-today message and simple piano backing will appeal across the Academy, but its rather workmanlike. Ashley McBryde outdoes her in the ballad stakes, but its Tyler Childers and Blake Shelton both strongly channelling the gospel and soul music that not so secretly underpins country who are the strongest here. Childers song would make for a classy first wedding dance, while Sheltons stirring ode to proud Christian labour, while deeply unfashionable, will have you gazing soulfully across a cornfield.

Will win: Tanya Tucker
Should win: Tyler Childers

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Eighteen-year-old Billie Eilish took home the Grammys biggest awards on a night marked by tributes to Kobe Bryant, Nipsey Hussle and more

Billie Eilish reigned supreme at the Grammys on Sunday night, winning five awards including best new artist, album of the year and song of the year for Bad Guy a high point for Generation Z on a night otherwise defined by solemnity for those who have passed too soon.

The shadow of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others mere hours before the show, loomed large over a ceremony held at the Staples Center in which he played for the Los Angeles Lakers for over 20 years. Were all feeling crazy sadness right now, said returning host Alicia Keys to a room in which Bryants retired jersey numbers shone brightly overhead. Were literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.

Bryants death marred a ceremony already jaded by controversy surrounding the awards governing Recording Academy. The Academys president, Deborah Dugan, was recently ousted following allegations of sexual misconduct; Dugan countered with a legal filing last week in which she alleged sexual harassment and voting corruption in the company, and that her predecessor Neil Portnow raped an unnamed female recording artist. Its only been two years since Portnow said female artists needed to step up in order to be recognized, a comment which spiked long-simmering frustration with the Grammys diversity of voting and awards.

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Alicia Keys and Lizzo lead tributes to Kobe Bryant at Grammy awards video

But while last years ceremony showcased feisty defiance and shout-outs to female empowerment, this years event mostly sidestepped any swipes at the recording academy in favor of vulnerability and remembrance. Tributes to Bryant rained throughout the show, from opening performer and pop solo performance winner (for Truth Hurts) Lizzo to DJ Khaled to a strategically placed jersey in Lil Nas Xs staging of Old Town Road. DJ Khaled and John Legend sang Higher, a rousing tribute to the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed in Los Angeles at 33 last April. Demi Lovato returned to the stage for the first time since she nearly died of a drug overdose in July 2018, to belt Anyone, a song she wrote four days before the hospitalization; choked by tears, she stopped and started the song over. Best country album and song winner Tanya Tucker, accompanied by Brandi Carlile on piano, silenced the room with Bring My Flowers Now, a chastened song on cherishing your loved ones while you can. We all think we got the time until we dont, she sang.

Still, there were plenty of the usual and much-hyped Grammy moments collaborations meant to hype audiences across genres and age, such as Aerosmith re-teaming with Run DMC for a chaotic rendition of their 1985 crossover hit Walk This Way. Tyler, The Creator brought in Boyz II Men for a concept piece from his best rap album winner Igor, and Usher slickly saluted Prince with help from a pole-dancing FKA Twigs.

Ariana Grande performs 7 Rings. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Along with Eilish, who performed her hit When The Partys Over with brother Finneas, the ascendant generation of performers represented high points for the stage. Spanish sensation Rosala flamenco-danced her way through Malamente, Lil Nas X remixed Old Town Road again with assists from Billy Ray Cyrus (with whom he won best pop duo performance), K-pop band BTS, Mason Ramsay and a banjo-slinging Diplo. The Jonas Brothers returned to the Grammy stage in triumphant black and gold suits and Ariana Grande re-enacted her music video for 7 Rings, complete with returning an engagement ring to its box.

The big winner, however, was Eilish, who won the nights three biggest awards in the last half hour of the telecast, leaving her seemingly both bowled over and exasperated. I think Ariana deserves this, she said of her win for album of the year for her debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Im not going to waste your time thank you very much.

We wrote an album about depression and suicidal thoughts and climate change and being a bad guy, whatever that means, added her brother and collaborator Finneas, who also won for producer of the year, non-classical. We stand up here confused and grateful.

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Im a true cynic, but in a world that feels increasingly grim, its good to have someone to admire

Im a true cynic who has never believed in role models. Im wary of the Inspiring Woman Industrial Complex and its exhortations for us to Lean In or Eat, Pray and Love. Heroism is a label I would bestow lightly, if ever, knowing how the milkshake duck quacks for us all, eventually.

And yet there is something about the chaos and awfulness of 2019 that has softened me up for inspiration. You could be forgiven for almost flinching at breaking news alerts at this point our politics is so woefully scandal-ridden, our leaders are so comically terrible. Traits we were raised to believe were wrong lying, cruelty, greed are embraced wholeheartedly by leaders like Donald Trump. In many parts of Australia, we end the year shrouded in smoke and ash.

So in Gotham-esque times, Ive found myself looking for heroes. Not people I worship or believe are without fault, but people who have helped push back against the tide of hopelessness and despair; people bringing courage, excellence, compassion, defiance and, in some cases, just pure joy into the world.

Heres a very incomplete list of some who made my year tell me yours in the comments.

Volunteer firefighters

Australias unprecedented and seemingly intractable bushfire crisis has taken a heavy toll in lives and homes, buried cities in smoke and ignited anger over our lack of action on climate change. What is usually our happiest time of year has been marked by tragedy, dread and mounting anxiety.

Every day of this emergency, though, thousands of firefighters primarily volunteers have acted with selflessness and bravery. Everything that was already burning was burning even more, everywhere you looked was burning, was how the captain of the RFS brigade in the NSW town of Balmoral described the horror around his team on Friday. The firefighters that were here, they were not only were they fighting for their own lives, they were fighting for this community.

There are necessary political debates going on about how sustainable the current volunteer model is but in the meantime we are awed and grateful.

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe (right) celebrates scoring her sides first goal of a July 2019 game with team-mate Alex Morgan. Photograph: John Walton/PA

The Pose said it all: arms outstretched and smiling face turned to the sun, both basking in her own success, taking up as much space as she could and inviting the world in for an embrace. Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the US womens football team, was one of the biggest sporting stars of the year. She led her team to victory at the World Cup and was named the tournaments top scorer and best player. But she transcended the game and gave even non-soccer fans a jolt of hope with her fearless advocacy leading her teams campaign for equal pay, refusing to sing the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and being unapologetically, joyfully open about her sexuality, posing nude with her partner, Sue Bird.

She became a Twitter target of the president when she stated matter-of-factly, Im not going to the fucking White House in the event of a World Cup victory. Instead, her team got a parade in New York City, where she partied hard, basked in her success and used her speech to plea for a better world. This is my charge to everyone, she said. We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less.

TikTok teens

Most social media platforms have long been colonised by brands, Nazis and your older relatives sharing political disinformation, but TikTok has not only been a shelter from the storm, its been one of the most fun corners of the internet. The low-fi, high energy short video-making app is a geyser of creativity, nihilist humour, dancing and politics, driven primarily by teenagers displaying astonishing wit (and incredible moves).

Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old Muslim American from New Jersey, became one of the biggest TikTok stars of the year with a short make-up tutorial that quickly segued into a PSA about the imprisonment of millions of Uyghurs in China.

A still from Feroza Azizs Tiktok make-up tutorial. Photograph: Tiktok

For the Walk a Mile challenge, users attempted to wear household objects loaves of bread, pencils, chairs as shoes while prancing around their houses. While Australia burned, and Scott Morrison slipped out of the country to Hawaii, teens took their revenge by roasting our absent leader. As an adult you can sometimes feel like an awkward chaperone at a high school party on the app uninvolved and uninvited but you always leave thinking the kids are all right.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shook up American politics when, at just 28, the political novice challenged her local Democratic congressman with an insurgent, grassroots campaign. She promised to deliver for the working class and communities of colour and won.

In 2019, she underscored how she pulled off that victory with her relentless work ethic, passion for social justice and deftness at politics in the internet age. Most notably, she has transformed usually staid congressional committees into a spectator sport. She filleted Mark Zuckerberg during his recent appearance, exposing the hollowness of Facebooks claim to act in the interests of democracy or its users privacy.

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‘So you won’t take down lies?’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez challenges Facebook CEO video

Politics is tough on women, especially women of colour, but AOC hasnt shrunk or changed herself she is unyielding about her values and about who she is (the Instagram makeup tutorials are a delight). In the process, she is changing the game. Her confidence is infectious, too. One of my favourite onscreen moments this year was AOC in her tiny New York apartment, geeing herself up before a debate in the Netflix documentary about her campaign.

I need to take up space. I can do this, she tells herself.

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X channels Little Richard and Prince at the MTV awards. Photograph: Getty/Rex Shutterstock

There were plenty of pop-cultural thrills in 2019: watching Jennifer Lopez pull off an all-time comeback in Hustlers (and shaking her perfect butt), watching Lizzo bring relentless energy and joy to every music awards show (and shaking her perfect butt), the Little Women trailer (butts very much obscured by civil war-era fashions, but perfect nonetheless).

Up there has been the Lil Nas X ascendancy. This year the teen rapper rose from obscurity at least outside social media to dropping the hip-hop country mash-up Old Town Road, which sat atop the singles charts for a record-breaking 19 weeks. Gay, funny, deft at social media, dazzling on a red carpet, Montero Lamar Hills (his real name) success story has been described as akin to A Star is Born, but starring a teen in Atlanta with a dream and a SoundCloud account. Old Town Road is not my favourite song of the year, but its catchy and fun and silly and impossible not to sing along with. It also seems to hotwire the happiness receptors in the brains of small children show me a club on this planet that goes harder than an elementary school hosting Lil Nas X.

Complex (@Complex)

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