During the Super Bowl, Lil Nas X appeared in an ad for computer manufacturer Logitech. Over standard hustle culture clips of influencers, students and small-business owners happily creating content on their branded products, the singer offered up an anthemic voiceover about the company’s marketing campaign, masquerading as a self-actualization mantra to “Defy Logic.” The voiceover is situated with a snippet of his upcoming single, “Call Me by Your Name.”
Lil Nas X has teased the forthcoming song for a while now. In July, he posted a video to Twitter of him singing the new track while driving. He’s also used the sound in the background of several TikTok videos. In January, he tweeted a slew of selfies wearing red, feathered wings, with the caption “call me by your name era loading…”
While it’s unconfirmed as to what the song is actually about, the name seems likely to be a reference to Call Me by Your Name, the 2017 Luca Guadagnino film that turned into a cultural force, launched the career of Timothée Chalamet and (for a moment) confirmed Armie Hammer’s status as a leading actor.
Based on a novel of the same name by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is one of just a few films about the intense, overwrought experience of young gay love. When it first premiered in 2017, the film inspired queer film critics to extol its ability to conjure up long-repressed emotions. Chalamet and Hammer’s tender, feverous performances were praised, and some still think the film was robbed of Best Picture at the Oscars.
Today, the film’s legacy exists beyond Letterboxd entries where film buffs rehash James Ivory’s Oscar-winning screenplay. On queer corners of the internet, Gen Z and young millennial gay men like Lil Nas X have turned the film, its score by Sufjan Stevens and cinematography of the Italian countryside evoking a 19th-century Monet painting, into an aesthetic fantasy. Finally, gay men have their own Before Sunrise — an aspirational real-life fairytale abroad.
However, the film’s messaging is perhaps not as politically correct as its many fans. In Call Me by Your Name, Hammer plays Oliver, a 24-year-old graduate student who falls in love with Elio (Chalamet), the 17-year-old son of archaeology professor — and Oliver’s boss — Samuel (Michael Stuhlbarg). Elio and Oliver’s relationship appears predatory, even if it’s true that historically, many young gay men find their same-sex sexual encounters with people decades older.
Controversy did bubble at the time of release. However, the discourse quickly dissolved into a political fight as alt-right actor James Woods became the face of concerns about the film, and his history of being a truly shitty man destroyed any nuanced conversation regarding the film’s themes. In 2017, he tweeted unfavorably about the age gap, arguing that “they” — the “they” seemingly referring to progressives — “quietly chip away the last barriers of decency.” Hammer replied, saying, “Didn’t you date a 19 year old when you were 60…….?” He hashtagged the post #NAMBLA, the acronym for the pro-pedophilia advocacy organization with ties to the alt-right.
Soon thereafter, Amber Tamblyn replied to Hammer and accused Woods of making a pass at her when she was 16.
While Woods deserved what was coming to him, questions about the age gap did quietly proliferate beyond just alt-right fearmongers. “But even if Call Me by Your Name doesn’t depict anything technically illegal, does that make it ethical?” wrote Jeffrey Bloomer for Slate. “To answer that, we need to resist the revulsion that often comes with thinking about sexual relationships outside the idealized ‘charmed circle’ (of the straight, married, same-age sort) and consider the specifics of the situation.”
Over three years later, these nuances of what Call Me by Your Name has to say about sex and consent is still not the oscillating conversation — the Italian countryside and tainted peach are. It’s puzzling to see that the generation labeled the most attuned to the nuances of consent fawn over a film with such a convoluted idea of what a teen’s sweeping, glorious first love should look like.
Even heterosexual couples have turned the song into a wistful token of European love excursions, falling for a suave lover abroad and living an influencer life of day trips, intimate walks at sunset and stolen glances.
Americans have long fantasized about glorious European excursions — think Under the Tuscan Sun, Mamma Mia! and Emily in Paris. Call Me by Your Name is the genre’s only offering to gay men, and this dearth of TV shows or movies fixated on gay love without inhibitions is partly why there’s so little discussion of Call Me by Your Name’s limitations when it comes to showcasing the intricacies of age as a power structure, and how it can affect even sincere, consensual relationships for queer people. (Admittedly, just a year prior to Call Me by Your Name’s release, Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars — a feat for a film about Black queer love. But while its score and cinematography remain beloved among film buffs, Moonlight doesn’t receive the same saccharine adoration on TikTok as Call Me by Your Name does, likely because the app notoriously favors videos about whiteness and wealth.)
If Lil Nas X’s new song becomes a hit like “Old Town Road,” we stand to see even more discussion about Call Me by Your Name, the movie. But it’s unlikely that much of it will interrogate the film. Hammer is currently seeing his career in freefall following allegations of abuse and accusations of a predilection for cannibalism, and the growing subsequent reevaluation of Call Me by Your Name seemingly comes only to poke fun at a particularly, um, ravenous and lustful scene featuring Oliver — like how he massages Chalamet’s shoulder. (It’s worth noting Chalamet and Guadagnino are reuniting without Hammer for an adaption of Camille DeAngelis’ Bones & All, about a girl who kills and eats people who love her.)
And so, my guess is that most references to Call Me by Your Name will continue to evoke an almost Urban Outfitters-esque commodity — an emotional rose-gold Instagram filter for the heart — for Americans who’ve bought into the idea that trips to Europe are romantic, sweeping and all about themselves and their yearnings.
Lovelorn queer teens want a Jonathan Sparks movie. And until something new comes and sweeps them off their feet, they’ll stand to aestheticize Call Me by Your Name.