London-raised Lj Marles talks queer expression through circus arts and getting noticed by Lil Nas X for his ‘Montero (CMBYN)’ performance.
Lil Nas X’s newest music video for his single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” sparked outrage online among angry parents and conservatives for its use of religious imagery – the video sees the rapper descend into hell on a stripper pole, before giving Satan a sensual lap dance. Responding to the criticism, Lil Nas X explained that the visuals reflected the track’s themes of queer expression and sexuality. “The song is literally about gay sex what y’all want me to do, play the piano while baking a cake?” he said.
Two months after the music video dropped, London-raised and Birmingham-based circus performer Lj Marles uploaded a video of himself performing to “Montero (CMBYN)” on TikTok, recreating the rapper’s pole routine and video look in a club on tension straps suspended from the ceiling. “Call me when you find this,” Marles captioned the post, calling for Lil Nas X to take notice. The video quickly gathered over two million views on the platform, with fans commenting in admiration of the magnetising performance.
According to Marles – who has worked as a professional circus artist for the past ten years since applying to a training company on a whim – his “Montero” act follows suit with Lil Nas X’s music in celebrating Black queer talent and expression. Marles’ viral set was a part of a show by LGBTQ+ rave company Little Gay Brother, which supports queer, POC, and non-binary performers and hosts shows with politically-centred themes. This specific show, Squirt, featured a triptych of performances by queer dancers, each depicting a different section of the “Montero (CMBYN)” video to represent the challenging ties between religion and queerness.
“It was very much a showcase of queer Black excellence,” explained Marles on the show. Otherwise, the performer draws his inspiration from his drag persona, Déjà Da’Bomb – combining circus art with traditional drag elements to deliver dynamic and intensely creative sets.
After 22 days of fans tagging him in the comments and sharing Marles’ TikToks online, Lil Nas X reposted the video to his Instagram stories – a long-awaited sigh of relief for the circus performer. Here, we speak with Marles about his start in circus art, celebrating queerness through tension straps and drag, and (finally!) getting noticed by the rapper.
What led you to circus performing?
Lj Marles: I got into circus by accident. I was a dancer before I started my training. A few friends and I were in a dance group together, we competed and performed in a few talent shows and dance competitions locally. One of us found a flyer for circus company Bassline Circus, which was in town at the time, and they were looking for local youths to create a show with. We thought it would just be a talent show in a circus tent which we thought would be cool, but they ended up teaching us some circus skills and I enjoyed the new way of using my body.
I was the only one from the dance group to continue on and make the show with other youths who got involved using the new skills they taught us. When the shows were over they encouraged me to continue circus training and told me about the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton. I went on to take part in the youth program for one year, after which I turned 18 and then decided to apply for the degree program they offer. I didn’t have any plans to attend a ‘normal’ university, so I saw this as a way to continue my circus training and get a degree out of it. I finished the three-year course with a first class BA (Hons) in circus arts…
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