Are they moving humanity forward or creating hollow hype?
Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Images: Supplied
Lil Miquela (1.6 million followers), Bermuda (138 000 followers) and Blawko (138 000 followers) should be the most fashionable influencers on Instagram for the simple reason that they can wear absolutely anything without paying for it. Since they’re not real people, getting dressed is a process conducted by the creative agency that animates them — and the possibilities are pretty much endless.
All three of these influencers can be spotted interacting with flesh-and-blood humans on Instagram. Miquela (full name Miquela Sousa, in case you were curious) was accused for queerbaiting when she made out with Bella Hadid for a Calvin Klein campaign. She did a takeover for Prada during their Fall 2018 women’s show, was on the cover of Highsnobiety’s April 2018 issue and has an active music career: her latest single is called Right Back. Blawko was on the cover of Esquire Singapore in April and has almost 4 000 followers on his YouTube account. Bermuda voted for Trump in 2016, but has since experienced moral reform, now attending events such as DragCon and gay pride.
From the slowly growing group of emerging computer-generated influencers, these three are animated and marketed to be the most human-like. Stop to read their interviews or watch their YouTube content and you’ll come across some sort of robot/human joke pretty quickly. With a swift glance at their content, you’re likely to mistake them for a real-life Insta influencer.
Since these influencers are modelled so closely on their human countertypes, their only true edge is that they are not actually human. Freedom from a human body, apart from the style benefits that is unlimited online shopping, ought to render these personalities modern deities. They could transcend barriers of race and gender in a way that might influence their followers to reassess the way these constructs work in their own lives and ultimately change minds. Though all three tend to endorse causes close to the average Gen Z’s heart, they are by no means tapping into their progressive representation potentials.
Answering the biggest question around these influencers — who are the humans controlling them? — is the best way to address their shortcomings. All roads lead back to Brud, a Los Angeles-based startup run by founders Trevor McFedries and Sara Decou. Until April last year, it was understood that Brud was responsible for Miquela and Blawko and another startup, Cain Intelligence, for Bermuda. Then Bermuda hacked Miquela’s account, temporarily deleting all her posts and throwing the internet into an investigative flurry. Journalists have tried and failed to get official confirmation, but it appears Cain Intelligence was a marketing ploy devised by Brud which they used to create the Miquela/Bermuda feud, boosting both accounts’ followings substantially. (Today, the three besties spend plenty of time together.) Team Brud makes as few statements and answer as little questions as possible, making sure the spotlight stays on the characters they’ve created.
It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, like real influencers, Lil Miquela and her friends are in it for the money. Having over a million followers is a lucrative position to be in and it may be comforting to assume that the proceeds go to supporting the families of Brud’s employees by paying their salaries. Still, the potential of not being a true human seems unfulfilled: these influencers are free of a human body, but not the constraints that come with it. That is, apart from having to pay for their Balenciaga.