What’s the Deal with Lil Nas X’s Satan Shoes and the Nike Lawsuit Against Them?
Everything you need to know about the controversy surrounding Lil Nas X and MSCHF's "Satan shoes" and the just-settled Nike lawsuit.
It’s hard to tell what’s generated more buzz online over the past few weeks: The catchy new Lil Nas X single (and his second number one hit) “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” or the parody Nike sneakers — dubbed “Satan shoes” — the artist designed in collaboration with online design studio/streetwear brand MSCHF to coincide with the track’s drop.
One thing’s for sure: They both created plenty of controversy, with Nike even launching a lawsuit against MSCHF for the shoes, which were actually customized Air Max 97s. And though the lawsuit between the two brands has now been settled, we have a feeling this won’t be the last we see of the now infamous sneakers. Here, we break down everything you need to know.
So what’s the deal with Lil Nas X and these “Satan shoes” anyway?
To understand the story behind the shoes, you’ll first need a little background into “Montero.” A nod to the 22-year-old’s given name (and the queer novel/film Call Me By Your Name), the track is about embracing his queer identity. “This will open doors for many other people to simply exist,” the singer wrote in a note to his 14-year-old self, which he shared after dropping the song. The single was also accompanied with a cinematic music video, which includes Lil Nas X sliding into Hell on a stripper pole, giving Satan a lap dance and other satanic imagery, so… you can probably guess why certain corners of the internet (especially those inhabited by conservative commentators) were vocal in their contempt for both the song and video.
That brings us back to the Satan shoes. A true child of the internet, Lil Nas X knows how to cause a stir online and use it to his advantage. Shortly after dropping the song, he revealed the collab with MSCHF: a limited-edition run of Satan shoes with only 666 pairs available. (Get it?) The modified Air Max 97s are black with red accents, feature a pentagram charm and have “Luke 10:18” written on them, which is a reference to the Bible verse in which Satan falls from Heaven. The iconic Nike swoosh is also clearly visible on the shoes. But the true pièce de résistance? The New York Times reports that a drop of real human blood, willingly provided by MSCHF employees, is mixed into the sneakers’ red air bubble. Again, you can probably guess why the shoes were immediately branded as controversial.
Despite being priced at over $1,000 USD, the sneakers sold out in less than one minute when they were made available online.
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How did the Nike lawsuit come about?
MSCHF made it clear from the beginning that Nike was not at all involved in their Satan shoes. Unsurprisingly, the brand did not love being associated with satanic imagery, issuing a statement to the New York Times that read: “We do not have a relationship with Little Nas X or MSCHF. Nike did not design or release these shoes, and we do not endorse them.” The athletics company also faced backlash online from some of the track’s vocal opponents who believed the brand had signed off on the shoes.
The next day, Nike sued MSCHF — Lil Nas X was notably absent from the legal paperwork — over the sneakers, saying that the “unauthorized Satan shoes are likely to cause confusion and dilution and create an erroneous association between MSCHF’s products and Nike.” The lawsuit asked that MSCHF immediately stop fulfilling orders on the sneakers. According to The Verge, the brand also asked that the shoes be destroyed and that MSCHF pay damages.
It’s worth noting that this kind of splashy drop is very much in MSCHF’s oeuvre. Back in 2019, the art collective released a pair of “Jesus shoes,” another modified pair of Nike Air Max 97s, this time with holy water in the soles. Those sneakers, however, did not end up the subject of a lawsuit.
What’s this about a settlement in the Nike Satan shoes lawsuit?
Less than two weeks after the lawsuit was launched, it was reported that Nike and MSCHF had reached a settlement. While the specific terms of the agreement haven’t been revealed, we do know some details — namely that MSCHF is offering a full refund to any customers who purchased the shoes in a voluntary recall. What will happen to the sneakers that are returned, however, is currently unknown.
MSCHF had also held onto a single pair of the Satan shoes for Lil Nas X to give away, but will now be keeping the unsold shoes instead.
While it may ultimately seem like a victory for Nike, MSCHF doesn’t seem too upset about the settlement. In a statement to The Verge, the collective’s lawyers said they were “pleased” with the outcome. “With these Satan Shoes — which sold out in less than a minute — MSCHF intended to comment on the absurdity of the collaboration culture practiced by some brands, and about the perniciousness of intolerance,” they said, arguing that the lawsuit “dramatically amplified” their point. “Having already achieved its artistic purpose, MSCHF recognized that the settlement was the best way to allow it to put this lawsuit behind it so that it could dedicate its time to new artistic and expressive projects.”
Can I still get a pair of the Lil Nas X Satan shoes for myself?
Technically, MSCHF and Lil Nas X are not allowed to continue to put the shoes into circulation. But, as true sneakerheads know, there’s always another way. Some of the lucky people who were able to snag one of the 665 pairs have listed their shoes for resale on Etsy at a range of different prices — though we suspect you’ll have to act fast if you’re serious about adding the Satan shoes to your collection.