Miquela Sousa—or @lilmiquela as she’s known on Instagram—posts bathroom selfies like any regular teen on social media. The 19-year-old musician is based in Los Angeles and uses her platform to drum up support for new track releases and pledge her allegiance to social movements, like Black Lives Matter. In keeping with other millennial influencers, she shares a steady torrent of #OOTD shots, memes, and inspirational quotes with a dedicated legion of followers. You might compare her to Bella Hadid, Rowan Blanchard, or Kylie Jenner. You might, except you’d be missing the point entirely. Because Miquela’s not like them at all. In fact, technically-speaking, she’s not even “real.” She’s a computer-generated avatar—a simulated character designed by an anonymous team of people for an undisclosed reason.
The concept of virtual celebrities isn’t exactly new, (think back to Damon Albarn’s Grammy Award-winning Gorillaz in the early 2000s), but Sousa is the first of her kind to tap into the bizarre world of social media. Her creation—and subsequent success of her debut single, “Not Mine,” which climbed to number eight on the streaming charts in August 2017—is pushing wider discussions about the evolution of digital influencers and the role they play in the life of Gen-Zers. In particular, her presence has brought into question the abstract (and often intentionally misleading), images we ourselves post and see on a regular basis.
A quick scroll through the comments on her Instagram feed, and it’s clear to see the polarizing opinions she sparks: Adversaries battle over her purpose and the psychological impact of a society that buys into “fake” personas. Some argue that she’s a byproduct of relentless tech addiction, while others praise her existence as the result of a highly-skilled creative project—a clever on-going performance akin to artist Amalia Ulman’s controversial “Excellences & Perfections,” that played out on the app four-years-ago. This past week, tension around her creation escalated to Orewellian proportions: Her account was hacked and subsequently wiped clean by a pro-Trump influencer named Bermuda—who, ironically, is also a digitally rendered CGI character.
Real or fake, Sousa is exceptionally active on the Internet. She interacts with online users with lightning speed—“liking” curious fans and politely side-stepping conspiracy theorists. This hands-on approach and her savvy knack for “throwing together” looks has won over the adoration of fashion brands, who “send” her clothes that she then models and tags on her account. She favors designers like Vetements, Chanel, and Supreme and has appeared in fashion editorials for magazines like Paper and V Magazine in America. The mystery behind the chic robot with a penchant for $1000-dollar streetwear has been reported on all over the world: Everyone has questions, but there aren’t many answers.
This week on Semaine, we inch a little closer to the truth. Via a short back-and-forth on the Internet (naturally), Miquela responded to our most-burning questions and opened up a new window into the fascinating world of virtual reality. As the role of digital influencers continues to evolve, we invite you to experience a piece of the action that caters to your taste in our first-ever feature of the sort. Read on this week and draw your own conclusions—we've never met a tastemaker quite like her before...
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.