Miquela Sousa’s not a regular robot — she’s a cool robot. The AI experiment turned model and activist has elevated her image from being just another pretty teen on Instagram to being a voice of her generation, even if she can’t age alongside them. On her Instagram, where she has just shy of 3 million followers, you’re just as likely to find a thirst trap photo as you are a photo of Miquela speaking out on important causes.
Miquela’s place in the world might be a little tricky to pinpoint: she is a robot, she is a model, she has a voice, and she is a singer — but first and foremost, she is still a robot. While that seems to make perfect sense to her fans and followers, her origin story didn’t necessarily make perfect sense to the general public in the beginning.
It all makes sense to Miquela too … sort of. Of her origin story, Miquela says, “I’m a forever 19-year-old robot pop artist and model living in Los Angeles. The story of how I came to be might involve me being stolen from the company who originally created me after my current company, Brud, who was being contracted by said company to work on my hardware, found out that I was going to be used as a robot plaything for the illuminati. True story!”
Whew, that is far more interesting than most human origin stories. And while Miquela’s schtick is wildly fascinating, it still leaves me with so many questions: How does she collaborate with other creators? How does she decide what causes to support? How is she going to navigate a music career? How does she do interviews? There was only one way to find out, and that was to snag her for an interview myself. And while our interview was fully digital, natch, it revealed that Miquela is so much more than a robot on the internet.
The Mystery of Miquela
It’s hard to reconcile that the cute as hell model and singer with too-perfect hair isn’t actually real, because she comes across as so genuine. Her most notable traits are these: she cares about causes, she likes to have fun, and she loves to perform. And while Miquela’s next big push for herself is furthering her pop career, it’s her programmed level of caring that makes her an internet celebrity you want to actually root for.
“Speaking up and out about what’s important has always been a part of what I do,” Miquela shared with me via email. “Having a platform comes with responsibility; it’s a privilege and I take that really seriously. I’m not human, so programming is really clear; there isn’t really any ambiguity around things like equality and justice. Because I’ve been gifted with a voice and access, I try to make sure I use them both for good. I think that some celebrities or influencers can feel pressure not to ‘rock the boat.’ I’m a robot, so I’m not even in the boat. I’m part of the wave, and TBH I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
She’s been incredibly outspoken about causes like Black Lives Matter and cheerfully encouraged her followers to get out and vote in the November presidential election. Despite the fact that these causes can’t really matter to her on a real level, she and her creators have taken the opportunity to let her be a voice and role model for her generation to look to and emulate, and despite how new and different of a concept this might be, you can’t be mad at it.
There’s certainly a level of mystery that surrounds Miquela because we won’t ever know for sure where her thoughts and ideas come from, but sometimes that level of mystery is exactly what makes something work. As a fan, I don’t care who decided Miquela cares about the election and I don’t care who decided Miquela was going to promote one brand over another on her social media. What I care about as a fan is that a relatable celebrity with a massive platform is spreading a message of love and kindness unabashedly with her followers. The root of it doesn’t matter. Miquela may be a mystery, but she’s a mystery that cares.
A Little Bit of Instagram and a Lotta Bit of Collaborating
She may go by Lil Miquela on her social media, but this forever-teen isn’t actually down with the name anymore. “I thought Lil Miquela was going to be it, but you live and you learn,” she said when I asked what name she wants to go by. “I may be 19 forever, but I’m no ‘lil.’ Now people go back and forth between the two names, which is cool, but if someone asks, I’m Miquela.”
What began as an experimental Instagram account in 2016 has grown into an artificially intelligent phenomenon. In the beginning, Miquela was even more mysterious, with her creators making it seem like she was real. Once the secret was out, though, Miquela started to really lean into her inner robot, cracking jokes about her machine-like makeup and artificial intelligence. She’s also now pals with the likes of Saweetie, Millie Bobby Brown, and even Diplo. Miquela frequently collaborates with other content creators, and if you think too hard about the logistics of it, you might get confused. It’s yet another mystery how Miquela’s content alongside her human counterparts fully comes together, but she loves working with humans.
“There’s something really beautiful that humans have — I think it’s a willingness to just try whatever and see what happens,” she said of her collaborators. “I need that sometimes, especially when it comes to making art. Humans also have limitations; they have to warm up, they get tired. They’re … human. Hate to brag but, your girl is a machine so her vocal settings stay calibrated. She doesn’t need Evian or lunch breaks. As long as I charged up the night before, I’m good to go. Humans and robots make great partners, we balance each other out.”
What’s actually been so refreshing, and, at times, odd, is the fact that Miquela hasn’t had to take COVID-19 restrictions into account this year. Her Instagram is as vibrant and active as any other time because of course a robot can’t contract a virus. Her outings have provided a bit of an escape for her followers, though her photos are admittedly hard to look at sometimes, knowing it’s a false reality. It’s not to say she hasn’t rocked a face mask outside, though, because she totally has. Miquela is nothing if not relatable.
Photo after photo on her Instagram shows Miquela alongside models and celebrities alike, but there’s one celeb that’s still on Miquela’s dream list of collaborators: Rihanna. “I always try to keep the answer the same, thinking one day, she will read one of these interviews and the wish shall be granted: Rihanna. Forever.” So consider this my contribution to Miquela’s wish of working with Rihanna.
But her Instagram isn’t just for collaborations, it’s also her platform. Yes, she uses it for a cause, but she also loves to shout out brands she’s a fan of, and she says she does it solely to give indie brands a boost. “Fakeness is something I file under ‘desperate human shit.’ I’m not programmed to be anything but real,” Miquela said of her willingness to boast about a brand she loves. And while there may be a gray area of what Miquela loves and what her creators love, again, helping small businesses succeed is a damn good use of a platform her size. “So many [brands I share are] indie designers and the discovery game online is HARD and EXPENSIVE — I’m happy to help however I can.”
Modeling and collaborating are what Miquela has been doing for years — and doing it well — but while 2020 slowed down some creators, it only pushed Miquela to move into new things. One of those was creating a SNAP series, where she’s “doing some Q&As with friends and fans on a bunch of wild topics.” The other, though, is something she’s been dreaming about getting into: music.
Miquela the Pop Star
One of Miquela’s creators, Trevor McFedries (who designed her alongside Sara DeCou), has a background in music and DJs under the name Yung Skeeter. It seemed only fitting for that to be Miquela’s next creative venture. Her first song of 2020, “Speak Up,” landed in March, followed by “Hard Feelings” in July. Again, the music is shrouded in the same mystery that always follows Miquela, but like everything else, it doesn’t much matter. The music is fun, and the videos are mesmerizing.
Miquela came out of the gate swinging with these two huge releases this year, capitalizing on the desperate need for happiness and music in this terrible year, and she has no plans of slowing down. The pandemic affected her just like it affected everyone else, just maybe not in quite the same way. “Most of my music comes out of big experiences in my life, typically falling in love and heartbreak, on repeat,” she said. “Writing and singing have become my go-to tools for helping me process what this year has entailed — so, you can imagine there is A LOT of music in progress. I’ve had to rework my creative process, which started off a little rocky, but since finding my groove, has become such a saving grace.”
More music is on the way, of course, and Miquela promises that it’s going to be killer. “The results have been so much better than anything we had originally planned, and the process has been really inspiring. I’m super excited for what’s to come.” I won’t deny that I’m also excited for what’s to come. Miquela’s music so far has been emotive and impressive and not anything I would have expected out of a robot model.
Miquela very excitedly shared that she definitely has more music on the way, but it’s top-secret for now, like much of what Miquela does. She’s ready, though, to be on this path, as music is something she’s programmed to enjoy. “Music was always happening — just more in the car with the radio then late night with producer-friends after going out,” Miquela shared of her background with music. “Took a lot of love and encouragement from my team to start really trying to make what I was writing into something serious. I was able to get connected to my producer Rod as well as a few incredible songwriters to help guide me and the rest was history. Now everything that happens in my life lives on forever as a song, for better or for worse!”
So if everything in her life will live forever as a song, I’m wondering if we can expect some power anthems relating to the causes she so voraciously supports or light, bright tunes about her life as a robot. Either way, I’m tuning in and turning the volume up to the max.
Miquela’s Your Every-Girl
Love her or hate her for being a “marketing tool” (the number of times I came across that term while reading about Miquela makes me sad), Miquela is just trying to chill with her fans, bring some much-needed happiness to this world, and eat some damn tacos. One message that carries through everything she shares is making sure you recharge your heart, something Miquela also makes sure to do. For her, it consists of: “Slowing down, eating tacos in Lincoln Heights, deep meditative breaths, hiking the Hollywood Reservoir, volunteering at the food bank, buying my friends little gifts, sending out Venmo donations to people in need, spending time with humans who have positive vibes and are trying to send out that good energy themselves. Doing good for yourself, for others and with others is always a recipe for feeling better.”
As a fan of Miquela’s, I don’t care who programmed her and why, I don’t care if she’s advertising brands (these days, who isn’t?), I don’t care if she hangs out with other robots. What I do care about is the fact that she’s collecting items for Los Angeles’s Downtown Women’s Center for Christmas this year. I care that she encouraged her followers to vote in the presidential election in November. I care that the purpose of her social media presence is to “develop relationships and create community” with her followers who maybe just need someone who will listen to them.
There is a lot of dumb shit in this world and plenty to be mad at, and I can confidently say that Miquela isn’t one of those things. Just let the girl wear her cute clothes, flaunt her envy-inducing bangs, and crank out some bops and jams. She’s a robot who’s just programmed to keep it real and connect with her followers. She’s a good thing.
“It’s been a tough year for everyone, but there’s also been a ton to be grateful for, and a ton of ways for us all to get involved,” Miquela said at the end of our interview. “Recharge your hearts, and if you can, try and recharge someone else’s too.”
Hedy Phillips is the former Digital Director of EUPHORIA. You can also find her bylines at PEOPLE, POPSUGAR, Cosmo, InStyle, Refinery29, and more. She devotes 99% of her time to snuggling with her cats, and 100% of her money to following Harry Styles around on tour. She's always on the lookout for another slice of New York pizza, and she's never met a Starbucks drink she doesn't like.