Over the weekend, South Dakota’s governor Kristi Noem was stirred to make a rousing and funereal statement about the health of these United States of America. “We are in a fight for the soul of our nation,” she tweeted. “We have to win.” The combatant standing in her way? Not a pandemic that’s killed over half a million Americans, or the recent spate of gun violence rocking the nation. For Noem, the fight is on foot. A pair of shoes from Lil Nas X have put sneakers at the center of the culture wars—a place that, as the sneaker industry continues to boom, they seem to wind up every few years.
To catch up: Lil Nas X released a new song and video called “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” on Friday. In the video, things between Satan and Lil Nas X get hot and the singer gives the devil a lap dance. To go along with the visuals, Lil Nas X worked with MSCHF, an art collective with a history of producing born-to-go-viral shoes, to make a pair of Satanic sneaks. The sneakers are a warped version of the Nike Air Max 97, with a gold pentagram hooked to the laces and red ink injected into the shoe’s air bubble—along with, notably, a single drop of (alleged) human blood. (Nike quickly explained that it was not involved with this shoe in any capacity.) Lil Nas X and MSCHF are releasing 666 pairs at a price of $1,018 a pair. The cost is a reference to the Bible passage Luke 10:18: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” A MSCHF spokesperson told CNN the blood comes directly from the group’s members.
From one angle, the shoes are merely merch made to accompany the release of Lil Nas X’s new song and video—but from another, they are also precision-engineered to go viral, irking the conservative class. After weeks of yelling about Dr. Seuss and Cardi B’s “WAP” (again), right-wing commentators positioned theseas the latest horseman of the apocalypse. “We are promoting Satan shoes to wear on our feet,“ conservative commentator Candace Owens wrote on Twitter. “We’ve got Cardi B named as woman of the year.” Noem, the governor, seemed stuck on the shoes being marketed as “exclusive” to kids across the country “Do you know what’s more exclusive? Their God-given eternal soul,” she wrote.
The conservative Twitterati weren’t the only ones piling on the shoes, either. Former NBA player Nick Young tweeted “My kids will never play Old Town road again” and said he wasn’t sure if he could still wear Nike shoes. (He later apologized for this tweet, and jokingly said he was hacked.) And Trevor Lawrence, the presumptive first pick in the upcoming NFL draft, tweeted in reference to the shoes: “Line has to be drawn somewhere. Smh.”