Michael the III is a sensual, provocative icon of masculinity, queer culture who pays tribute to the era of the selfie and serves as parody of our generation’s social media use. Michael Rinaldi, the guy behind the famous Instagram persona considers his alter ego to be a self-centred, obnoxious, playful and extremely sexual character that has become very popular in the social media platform and is gaining followers day by day.
Michael’s style is surrealist. He is not interested in creating realistic representations of reality, although he wishes to make one believe that what they are seeing does exist. He does not believe in imperfections. For him there are no pores and no(t many) hairs. Everything is hyper-sexualised or over-coloured. It’s his world of human fantasy where boundaries are limitless.
YASS Magazine met Michael, the powerful queer influencer and here is our beautiful chit-chat.
MICHAEL the III is writing Instagram history, but little is known about you. Who is MICHAEL the III?
Michael the III is a fictitious character I’ve been developing since 2014, mostly through Instagram and more recently through print work, online publications and collaborations with select brands. At it’s essence, Michael the III is a parody of our generation’s social media use, and a tribute to the era of the selfie. He is self-centred, obnoxious, playful and extremely sexual. I originally aspired to make statements about the perceptions of reality we have based on one’s social media content, to blur lines between the real and the fantasy, and though I still aim to do that, it has also evolved into something a bit more lighthearted: I want it to make people laugh as well.
Who is the real Michael and what the similarities between you and MICHAEL the III?
In real life I refer to myself as “Mike”, but there is so much of myself in “Michael the III”. Our interests are the same, we have the same viewpoints about the world, and the same tastes. If I say I don’t like something as Michael the III, I also don’t like it in real life as well. The main difference is that a lot of the scenarios I post about are far more dramatic versions of actual life events. I like to describe it as who I would be if Instagram ate my soul: over sharing and over exposing myself. All his politics and viewpoints are my own as well.
How do you use your body as your art object?
I think taking your own pictures, no matter how small a task, makes one into an artist temporarily, and you are the living sculpture. I think self-representation has a lot of power and I noticed early on about the power of the selfie. The world is more accustomed to selfies than when the term was first made mainstream, but I always was fascinated by them. They have a language and an opportunity that we’ve never had before in history. I loved seeing selfies and I very quickly used them as a medium to play with, and the body is an obvious way to do it because it can express so many different emotions depending on your posture, position and angles.
In your Instagram account you explore and celebrate your body through a pink and vintage pop perspective. What is the message you want to convey?
The general message is not caring about what it means that your body is exposed, not subscribing to the idea that your nudity being seen makes you less pure, or more disgraceful. A major step in starting this project was Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album where she presented explicit sexuality. Of course, she isn’t he first to do that, but there was something unique in how she approached singing about about getting her ass eaten. It was less shock value and more about the beauty of what was being displayed. It had pride, artistry and the autonomy. It made me think about the act of showing one’s body online. At that point, for about a year I had already been doing a project called “Naked Thursdays” with three others; we would have dinner, drink wine, get naked, take pictures and publish nudes every Thursday. After that stopped and this album came out, I started to really think about the topics Beyoncé explored, and how it related to what I was doing and how I could continue doing it, sharing revealing information of myself but not all of them. Aside from that, I make sure to be unabashedly gay, and promote things like safe sex while also subtly questioning preconceived ideas we have about relationships, religion, idol-worship, and more.
Tell us about the people who have inspired you.
I find Pierre et Gilles very inspiring. Their work has subconsciously inspired some of my images for sure. Beyoncé, as I mentioned, is a constant inspiration in how she always wants to take everything a step further. I am inspired by camp, and anything over-the-top. I love the riduculousness of that and I gravitate to Old Hollywood Musicals. There is a film called The Great Ziegfeld which has one of the greatest scenes I think ever has been filmed. I can’t even describe it but the song that is sung is called, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Medley” and it requires a massive stage with a huge rotating centrepiece, hundreds of extras, costumes, and perfect timing. Things like that really get me going.
Why is nudity such a hot topic on social media?
I think a lot of people use it because it is such an easy way to get noticed. It’s somehow still shocking to see someone post their own nudes, and that angers some and intrigues others. I think now though it’s become a language too. The “nude” or “underwear” selfie in a mirror is a visual phrase and an icon of our time, and the more iconic it gets, the more people will post some.
What is your style as an illustrator and graphic designer?
My style is surrealist. I’m not interested in depicting photo-realism in my illustrative work, though it may look realistic. The colours and the texture are immediate signs of computerised idealism, and I hope to present isolated moments frozen in time or even literally in the frame. Overall I’d use words like: clean, precise, colourful, sexual.
Are you into modelling too?
I’m not at all into modelling. I’ve done it a couple of times before, but much prefer being my own photographer. To be honest I feel a bit uncomfortable in front of other people’s lenses, and I like being in charge of my likeness, not giving it up to someone else’s vision. For the right photographer, I may do it. There are a few people I would love to collaborate with (someone so extra like David LaChapelle) but I’d have to be pretty involved in the concept, because that’s what I am really doing anyway: executing concepts, it just happens to be me in the photos .If I had a permanent model around me, willing to do whatever I said whenever I needed it, it could be them in all my photos instead of me.
What has been the most glorious moment in your career?
Most recently, getting to be involved in a social media campaign for Christian Louboutin was really rewarding. It’s such a huge and iconic brand to collaborate with, and they let me truly be “Michael the III”, with saucy copy and sexual images too. My favourite is a tableau of myself and my ‘wife’, out to lunch with her lover (played my myself) and my gay lover (also played by myself with a different hair colour). I love that I could create this polyamorous love story on a high-fashion brand’s page.
How do you embrace hyper-sexualisation and human fantasy?
For me, the human fantasy I do is of an escapist nature. It’s always familiar but there is something out of place or exaggerated and though you know it may not be real, the entertainment value can be dazzling. It becomes a way to either express myself in ways I can’t in real life, or a way with which people can relate it to themselves. Many people have messaged me to say that my caption was like a situation they were dealing with, or that it felt real to them. This is part of that. We know what is fantasy but we can’t help humanising it. The sexualization is actually the easy part for me.
What is the most unexpected comment you have received from a fan?
Someone asked my permission to make a Wikipedia page of me. That was surprising.
Do you feel an influencer?
That is a title I’ve been uncomfortable to embrace, but as I receive more questions (ranging from what underwear I’m wearing to DMs asking for advice), I realise that by portraying an authority-figure, I do have a bit of influence in that regard and I need to embrace that sometimes. That being said, in any standard “influencer” role where I am supposed to promote something, I like to play with it and go over-the-top, writing a ridiculous story for it to be inserted into. If the person doesn’t like that I’ll make it into a joke, we won’t work together. There are so many influencers who just advertise the silliest things and that really bothers me, but it also inspires me and I often pretend to promote products that I find funny: my favourite is a post I did about Kraft Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread which I advertised as being perfect for consumption after gay sex.
What are your future plans?
For the future I’d like to do more videos, finally release my book of photos and writing (and probably full nudes) and maybe even release a debut single and be the popstar Michael the III deserves to be.
More of Michael the IIIrd here:
*all images are courtesy of Michael Rinaldi