Figuring out what you want to do is half the race, but then attempting to realise it - that’s a whole other level. Manu Rios at Next Model Management spent 2018 discovering new terrains of himself, experimenting creatively through means of fashion, photography, and music. Photographer Amber McKee captures him at the crossroads of teen and young adult - playfully questioning the fact of getting older.
Manu enjoyed being a teenager and views age 20 as 'middle of nowhere' - he is not a teenager but not yet old. It doesn’t quite make sense, but 'it is what it is'. Even so, there is no lack of excitement on his part for the future of things. He is a big dreamer - with an emphasis on big. We must all endure the transition phase of the twenties. Difficult as it may be at times, with sudden responsibilities flooding daily life and the mind of a 20-something, there are so many incredible things that may be welcomed during this time: mature love - for one.
Romantic love is still a foreign currency to Manu who equates falling in love with 'a lot of pain'. Reasoning being: it must be painful to worry so much - because to love someone that much must mean it is bound to be accompanied with a heap load of worry. Stylist Leo Plass soothes the working mind of Manu with warm, gentle knits and lined jackets, welcoming the drop in temperature in Los Angeles.
How’s your day so far?
Really good - just Sunday, chilling with friends. I’m home in Madrid.
How was your shoot with Amber?
It was really fun and I was so comfortable. She was so sweet, so I had a great time. It didn’t feel like work - just natural. She was sure about what she wanted from the shoot and we connected really well.
That’s great to hear - Amber is so lovely! Let’s get a bit philosophical; who is Manu?
Haha, I never know how to answer this. I’m constantly evolving, so I don’t know how to exactly describe myself. I know that I’m really passionate about the things I love. I enjoy learning and exploring new things - such as art, photography, music, and fashion. I’m really into those things. That is me, I guess.
It is a difficult question. What makes you happy?
Simply to be able to create and be me. I’m happy about being able to do the things I do. I always try to do what makes me feel good. If I’m able to do that - that is what makes me the happiest: to be able to express myself a hundred per cent. It makes me happy to surround myself with family and friends: to have good people around me.
You’ve been spending some time in LA lately, how has that been?
I went there for about a month, and before that, I’ve been there a couple of times for five days or so. I didn’t have much time to do stuff the previous times, but this time I was able to meet more people and explore the LA life more. In LA there is always something going on and you never really stop - going from place to place. Here in Spain, it’s more chill. You have time to actually sit down and eat properly. Life here is calmer. In LA, everything is happening.
What do you prefer?
I like both. Back here, I feel at home. I just feel super comfortable. But also, I need that LA energy. If I could live there, but then come back here for a while to just disconnect, that would be perfect.
You have 4 million followers on Instagram - that’s a lot of followers. Can the attention become overwhelming at times?
Sometimes. You feel a sense of responsibility because there are a lot of people watching the things you do. I want to be careful. I don’t like the idea of being a role model, to be honest, because I don’t think anyone is perfect. There is a little bit of pressure sometimes, but I try to be a hundred per cent myself. If people like me for who I am, that’s fine, but I don't want to change just because I have a big following.
How do you balance private vs. public? Where do you put the boundary?
Even though I post a lot of pictures and singing videos, I always try to protect my privacy. I don’t share everything that’s happening in my life. I try to be as honest as I can. I want the people who follow me to know me and for me to be real with them, but I think it is necessary to have a part of your life that is private.
In October you posted the following: "just a quick reminder that not everything you see on social media is real. Keep in mind people decide what they want you to see about their lives. Everybody goes through shit. Perfection doesn’t exist, so please, let’s try to not compare ourselves with others” and then on your iPhone there was a note which read: “social media seriously harms your mental health”. What is your relationship with mental health?
Mental health is such a hard thing - especially nowadays. Teens and young people have a lot of pressure put on us. We are always checking social media and comparing ourselves. With social media, you can decide what to share and what you want people to see, so when you see a certain person, you might think, 'Oh wow, their life must be perfect. They look so happy. They travel a lot'. You see all these people doing fun stuff, but what you don’t see is that there are a lot of things going on behind all that. Everyone goes through shit. I wanted to remind people of that because I get a lot of comments such as: “Oh, I wish I was you” or “Your life seems so perfect”. I always feel so bad when people comment that because it’s not the case at all. I’m not perfect. My life is not perfect. I just wanted to talk about it because I feel it’s important. And also, for myself - I tend to compare myself to other people. In fact, sometimes you have to remind yourself that it’s not real. I just felt I needed to talk about it because I feel so bad when people say those things to me. I hope that it can help people in some way, by opening up their eyes.
Yeah, the fact that you also compare yourself to others shows that this is a universal struggle. Are there days when you just don’t feel like doing the social media thing?
Yes, there are days when I’m like, 'you know what? I’m not going to post anything today'. I think it’s important to take a break from it and focus on living in the real life - to spend time with your friends and also to make sure to set off quality time for yourself. Take time to clear your head.
Let’s talk about music. You post a lot of covers - do you write your own music?
Yes, until now all I’ve been posting are covers. From now on, I don’t want to post too many covers because I don’t want to be known as the cover kid. I’m currently writing my own music. I started writing a couple of years ago and trying to find my sound. I want to make sure that when I finally release music it is something I really like and am proud of. It takes time, but I’m getting there. I’m pretty sure about the kind of sound I want to do and the things that I want to talk about. I’m really excited, so hopefully, it will be soon.
What kind of genre/sound are we talking?
I guess it is alternative pop with some dark vibes. I’m so excited, as I’ve been trying to discover my sound for so long. It feels good to be sure about what I want to do. Finally.
That sounds cool! Do you feel like you’ve found yourself sort of in that process as well?
Yes, a lot. And especially this year, which has been really intense for me. I’ve been getting out of my comfort zone and am more comfortable with who I am. I have explored new things in fashion and listened to new genres of music. Before I used to listen to the same style of music all the time, now I’m becoming much more open-minded.
Where does your love of music come from?
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been singing and dancing around. My mum is a hairdresser, so when I was like around four or five years old, I used to go to the salon and sing to her clients. People always told me: “You’re so good, you should keep going”. My mum loves music but I don’t come from a musical family. They all love flamenco, which is completely opposite to what I do.
Aww, that is adorable. What are your thoughts on masculinity and what it means to be masculine?
I think masculinity is sort of dumb. I don’t understand why people need to label things as feminine or masculine. For instance, why are skirts for girls? It’s just a piece of clothing. And what about perfumes? Certain scents are for girls and others are for boys. It’s just a scent. It doesn’t make sense to me. Or the way you act. I’ve never understood, so I’m not quite sure what to say. I don’t believe in that. At all. With young people, I’ve noticed it changing. But for instance, with my family, they don’t always agree with me. I get it - it’s a different generation. I feel my generation is open-minded and I’m glad. Although, I think we still have to keep evolving. We need to be loud. We need to speak our mind. We need to let people know and have a discussion. People suffer because of this and they need someone to look up to. It is important, but I think it’s getting there.
Do you consider yourself an emotional person?
Sometimes. Emotions are hard. Sometimes I don’t feel anything for some reason, but then there is a moment suddenly where I just feel like I’m about to explode. It depends on the day. It’s a really weird thing: emotions. I have no control over them, haha. With time, it will get better - more stable.
You’re turning 20 very soon - how does it feel to exit your teens?
I feel sad, to be honest. Turning 20 is such a weird thing because it’s in the middle of nothing. You stop being a teenager, but at the same time, you are still not old. I’m not really happy about it, but it is what it is. It’s not like I’m getting old. I’m excited about the future.
The theme of our recent print issue was The Dreamers, do you consider yourself a dreamer?
Yeah, I’ve always imagined things that might look impossible. I just think big. I’m really positive. The big dream is music-making, amazing music and hopefully have people feel something. Even with my pictures. I’m always dreaming about that. Big.
Have you ever been in love?
No, I don’t think so. But I imagine it to be a lot of pain. Falling in love is a good thing, obviously, but I feel like it’s also painful. A really intense thing. I think you just know when you’re in love, but I’ve never been - I think. I think you worry a lot about that person and that’s why I think of pain. You just love that person so much that it is painful almost. I’ve never been in love, so I don’t know.
Where in the world are you most serene?
I really like to be in my room. I feel like it’s my safe space. Although, sometimes I just need to get out. I like walking around Madrid, so probably that. But mostly my room because I have my guitar here and my piano and the things that I need to be more calm and happy. If I’m sad or feel down, I can just pick up my guitar or write or sing. Safe space, for sure.
When was the last you cried?
Yesterday. And I don’t even cry a lot, to be honest. I used to cry a lot when I was a kid; I was so sensitive. I even had a calendar to write down the days that I didn’t cry haha. Yesterday I was watching this TV-series and there was this guy who lost his brother in an accident. He was explaining and he felt so guilty - it was just such an intense moment, so I cried. So yes, yesterday was the last time I cried.
Who influences you?
Probably one of my biggest influences is Lorde. I really love her, not just her music but for the way she looks at life; the way she is. I also love Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey. I like people who are really mysterious - I love that. They are deep and mysterious and weird.
What's the plan for 2019?
I just want to keep living and evolving. Doing things that I like. I want to be more confident in my fashion. Keep being creative. Keep trying to explore my creativity. There are so many things I want to do. I don’t just want to do music, I also want to do photography, fashion, and to travel.
Are you going to continue doing YouTube?
Yes, I will try. With YouTube, I find it’s hard to post because I’m never happy with the result. I filmed a couple of videos a few months ago and I was about to post them, but then I went: 'no, maybe not'. I guess I’ll just see what happens and stop overthinking. I’m a perfectionist and I’m never happy with the things I do. I just have to learn that you’ll never be completely happy. The goal is to stop overthinking. I don’t know if I can do it, but I’ll try, haha.