From Lil Nas X ‘Satan Shoes’ to Addison Rae’s Holy Trinity bikini, today’s post-ironic apparel is designed to provoke. But who’s taking the bait?
Irony, trad cath, and celebrity shoe collaborations make up the internet’s holy trinity at the moment, and disciples Lil Nas X and Addison Rae are preaching the gospel.
Back in 2021, art collective MSCHF teamed up with Lil Nas X to create a series of ‘Satan Shoes.’ They customized 666 pairs of black Nike Air Max 97s, adding a bronze pentagram and an inverted cross on the tongue, with a drop of real human blood in the bubble sole. Luke 10:18 was printed on the sides—referencing the verse: “He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” Even with the sneakers’ $1,018 price tag, all pairs, besides the one that Lil Nas X kept for himself, sold out in minutes. Shortly thereafter, he released the “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” music video, in which he rides a stripper pole down to Satan’s lap.
The angry mob who went out for Lil Nas X is now back for Addison Rae. A few weeks ago, she became the ambassador for the Adidas x Praying Supernova Cushions 7 sneakers, set to release on August 26. To announce the collaboration, Rae posted an ad where she wears a triangle, string bikini printed with the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Times New Roman font. The image is almost a headshot, cropped just below her chest; overlaid are both the brands’ logos, on either side of her collarbone. Rae is looking down—possibly at the shoes the photo is supposed to advertise—with her mouth half open. She’s sexy as hell, and the internet wasn’t prepared to see that side of her.
It’s still unclear how sincere either product is, as both were designed amid a post-irony internet culture, which led to nihilism and the rise of Catholicism in fashion. In the pandemic’s afterlife, the so-called vibe shift has people not caring about anything anymore, or turning to God for a glimpse of hope. Linda Hutcheon argues that this type of irony is a discursive practice of relating, differentiating, and combining said and unsaid meanings—ultimately becoming a cultural event—rather than an inter-communicative act. In Irony’s Edge, she continues by discussing, only discursive communities, who share common knowledge about a culture, can interpret if the ironist is actually being ironic.
Linda Hutcheon argues that this type of irony is a discursive practice of relating, differentiating, and combining said and unsaid meanings—ultimately becoming a cultural event—rather than an inter-communicative act.
Regarding the sneakers, a MSCHF spokesperson told CNN, “We all knew that some people would take the Satan element of this seriously… but I’m not sure we were entirely prepared for how much of a furor it would cause. Obviously from our perspective, it’s just fun, right?” Meanwhile, Lil Nas X tweeted, “i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. so i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”
Praying, a cult streetwear brand infused with witty biblical references, functions in a similar thought-provoking manner. Religious sayings and online slang are printed onto garments, turning the items into immediately recognizable symbols of being a hot girl online. Skylar Newman, one of the brand’s creators, shared with Vogue, “In terms of intellectualizing the brand, we just liked the idea of putting messages on clothes that have unclear, multiple meanings, and presenting them clearly.”
Lil Nas X’s created the Satan Shoes, and Rae is the face of their angelic counterpart. Christians and Evangelics found the demonic aesthetic, name, and blood of the Air Maxes to be disrespectful. Nike even sued MSCHF for selling Nike sneakers unauthorized, and possibly creating an association with the brand over a product they don’t endorse. That sinister connotation doesn’t exist in either the Adidas sneakers, nor The Holy Trinity bikini, yet people have turned on America’s sweetheart leaving comments which ultimately caused Rae to delete the post.
Blasphemy couldn’t have been the only reason for public outrage. The shoes sparked controversy, at least in part, because of the identities of the people who were acting ‘sacrilegious.’ In the early 2010s—when soft grunge was trendy—Christians didn’t ‘Joan of Arc’ brands like UNIF, which often featured pentagrams and inverted crosses in their designs too. But when a Black gay man or a supposed ‘girl next door’ does something in the same vein, internalized racism, homophobia, and misogyny leaks out.
Sex sells, after all—and within a predictably discriminating white, cishet patrichary, irony subverts.
Granted, UNIF was only well-known among the edgy subculture the brand designed for, and never attained the mainstream popularity of Adidas or Nike. However, Olivia Rodrigo, who has over 27 million followers, didn’t experience the same outcome as Rae when she designed a purse with Praying or was personally styled by the brand. She didn’t lose her fans’ respect, and TikTokers never questioned her morals. The difference between the two lies in how society perceives young women who demonstrate control over their own sexuality, versus someone who simply holds a relationship with the brand that doesn’t involve putting her body on display. Yet, when actor Chloe Cherry modeled a bikini with the same text––which critics claimed was the reason for their outrage––she didn’t get hate comments resulting in her post’s deletion. It wasn’t a surprise to see the pornstar-turned-model naked—her body is no longer valued. She’s the whore, while Rae is the Madonna: someone who cannot be seen as sexy without creating public resentment.
Or maybe this was what MSCHF, Lil Nas X, Praying, Rae, and Adidas wanted all along. Before the Satan Shoes, MSCHF created Jesus shoes. The white Air Max 97’s contained holy water and Jesus on the cross, yet Nike ignored them. One of the creative directors told the New York Times, it would’ve been “rad” if the shoes caused a disavowal by Nike or the Vatican. The same article claims that the entire brand is actually known for dropping viral pranks as products. Lil Nas X purposely collaborated with the collective around the time of his music video drop, where he’s openly gay and proud singing: “You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend / I’m not fazed, only here to sin.” Following the controversy, Lil Nas X posted an ‘apology video’ which cut after five seconds to the lap dance scene featured in the “MONTERO” music video; it quickly garnered 8 million views. At the beginning of August, Rae started selling her own doll with Bonkers Toy Co at Walmart. Four days later, ‘Addison Rae’ was searched over 100,000 times. That same day, Praying posted a blurry, heavily filtered stock image of a sunset, with words reading, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
The Praying, Adidas, and Rae debate is a divine summon to Lil Nas X’s Nike project with MSCHF. Both collaborations are examples of how parody and publicity works within our current culture. It doesn’t matter how earnest each shoe was, the crucial aspect is the implication of multiple think pieces surrounding the sneakers. Sex sells, after all—and within a predictably discriminiting white, cishet patrichary, irony subverts.