Lil Nas X with 'Satan Shoes'
Lil Nas X with 'Satan Shoes' Image Credit: NYT

A prank company and Lil Nas X are selling ‘Satan Shoes’ containing a drop of human blood. Nike is suing.

Adorned with a pentagram and the number 666, the sneakers would stand out even if you did not know what they supposedly contained: a drop of human blood.

The bodily fluid from employees of the Brooklyn-based prank company MSCHF mixes with ink to fill an air bubble in each pair of the ‘Satan Shoes’, a new collaboration with rapper Lil Nas X that has ignited the internet with a mixture of shock, disgust and amusement.

The kicks are pegged to the release of Lil Nas X’s new single, ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’, in which the singer slides down a pole into hell and gyrates on top of the devil while singing about a guy he met last summer.

“We always talked about doing the Satan Shoes internally, and when Nas told us about his new song we knew it was a match made in heaven (or better yet hell),” Daniel Greenberg, one of MSCHF’s founders, wrote in an email.

Nike hits back

Copy of SATAN-SHOES-2-1617091951380
In an undated image provided by MSCHF, “Satan Shoes,” a collaboration between the company MSCHF and the rapper Lil Nas X. As a follow-up to its Jesus Shoes, the company MSCHF will sell 666 pairs of the shoes for $1,018 a pair. (MSCHF via The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY SATAN SHOES BY BRYAN PIETSCH FOR MARCH 28, 2021. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. -- Image Credit: NYT

Nike on Monday sought to indicate its stance on the kicks in the clearest way possible: It launched a federal lawsuit asking the court to have the sneakers destroyed.

In the complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York, the behemoth athleticwear company referenced social media backlash from people who vowed never to buy Nike products again because of the Satan Shoes. The lawsuit alleges trademark violations by MSCHF and demands that the prank company relinquish to Nike any profits that it made from selling the sneakers.

“This was done without Nike’s approval or authorisation, and Nike is in no way connected with this project,” the company wrote.

A transformation of Nike Air Max 97s, each pair of Satan Shoes is decorated with certain religious details. Red numbering on the back of each shoe identifies it as belonging to one of 666 pairs that MSCHF is selling for $1,018 each. Typical Air Max 97s sell for about $100 to $200.

By Monday afternoon, a website created to market the sneakers said that all but one pair had been sold and that the last would be distributed Thursday by lottery.

The sneakers are a follow-up to the holy-water-filled shoes that the company offered for thousands of dollars in 2019, Greenberg said. The firm’s other hits include computer-generated foot pictures and toaster bath bombs.

Unlike some of MSCHF’s other projects, the shoes are more than just a gimmick. The theme is a sarcastic play on public criticism that Lil Nas X says he has received for being homosexual. The 21-year-old rapper, whose legal name is Montero Lamar Hill, has said he wrote ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ for his 14-year-old self, who had “promised to die with the secret” of his sexuality.

“People already demonise who I am and put me in a painting of, ‘OK, he’s evil, he’s doing this, he’s doing that,’” Lil Nas X told the entertainment news outlet Complex. “So it’s like, you know what? I’ll take that. I’ll be that, and I’m going to make the best of it.”

Backlash to the shoes largely centred on the idea that the product promotes evil.

Copy of 821727-01-02-1617091946110
Lil Nas X Image Credit: AFP

“Our kids are being told that this kind of product is, not only OK, it’s ‘exclusive,’” tweeted South Dakota Governer Kristi Noem, a Republican. “... We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win.”

In a nod to the outrage, Lil Nas X published a tongue-in-cheek apology video in which he suggests that he’s about to renounce the shoes before the screen cuts to a shot from the music video of him crowning himself with horns. The singer also took a swipe at fast-food restaurant Chick-fil-A, which has donated to organisations that oppose same-sex marriage, with a mock-up of a fake sneaker tailored to the business.

Sneakers, which have been linked to fashion and entertainment for decades, have become signifiers of cultural relevance and common collectors’ items. Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, said she expects that some consumers who rushed to buy the Satan Shoes will turn them around for a profit on the resale market, where the media hype will make the sneakers valuable commodities.

But Semmelhack said other customers will inevitably be drawn to the narrative tied up in the shoes. In addition to their shock value, she said the sneakers seem to reflect Lil Nas X’s frustration with his treatment.

“I think the message that he’s trying to send is more complicated and deserving of a larger discussion than it being simply a marketing ploy,” Semmelhack said. “He is making a comment about society.”