By Elizabeth Reich Photos by Abel Lockhart
You’ve been hit by - You’ve been struck by - Shui Miles
You may have seen him around. Or, maybe you heard him first– an echo of “Billie Jean” in the quad, a few lyrics from “Bad” behind the NAC. You might have even seen him moonwalk. At City College, Shui Miles may be as iconic as Michael Jackson himself. Armed with a speaker, gelled hair, and the King of Pop’s iconic moves, he’ll stop at nothing to spread the style and music of MJ around City College.
For two years, I caught glimpses of Shui around campus. He was like a phantom passing between classrooms and buildings, never in the same place twice. The Jerry curls, the jacket; it was his look that really caught my attention. So, I decided I wanted to interview the man himself, to get a better sense of who he is behind the outfit.
I didn’t have much information to go on, but I was determined to track him down. A few weeks into my search, I got lucky. While I was in class, my best friend May blew up my phone with texts that read: “BIG NEWS. MAJOR NEWS.” Thinking that there was some sort of emergency, I left as soon as possible and met her outside. But while I walked towards her expecting the worst, she greeted me with a huge smile.
“I met him! Michael Jackson! And I got his number for you!”
She was in the lobby of the Cohen Library, minding her own business, when she heard the bass riff of “Billie Jean” blast through the bookshelves. Frantically, she began scouring the place in an attempt to look for the source, knowing that he must be around somewhere.
Finally, she spotted Shui at a nearby table and ran up to him eagerly, explaining who I was and why I wanted to meet him. Shui was hesitant at first, but he gave May his number so that he could talk to me. After a quick round of celebration, I wasted no time in texting Shui and setting up an interview. The time had come. I would finally meet him.
The Shui Miles I know is the living embodiment of Michael Jackson off the cover of Bad. His style, hair, and attitude mirrors Jackson to the T, and he rocks it all to the fullest. But Shui isn’t your typical copycat; it’s evident that this is an expression of who he really is. Shui says his love for MJ began when he saw the animated movie Megamind, which was his first encounter with the song “Bad.” Needless to say, he was hooked. He began watching Michael Jackson music videos on YouTube, and even learned to moonwalk (which he demonstrated to me beautifully). But, putting aside outward appearances , I wanted to know the deeper lore behind his love, and about Shui Miles himself. So, with May’s help, I got to work on our interview.
Shui said it was the music that grabbed him first. “When I heard “Bad,” I was like, ‘Who is this? I feel like he's definitely a popular guy!’” His interest in MJ was further influenced by his mother, who would often play anything from Off the Wall to Bad around the house and in the car. It became clear to me that Shui’s appreciation for MJ stemmed from home, and created a safe space for self-expression. But I began to wonder—was reception the same outside of his house?
Did his passion for Michael Jackson ever get him weird stares from less-than-accepting classmates, or even backlash? Luckily, Shui says all that has passed him by. Most people just point out how similar his appearance is to MJ’s, especially since Shui has been growing out his curls to match the singer’s 1983 bad boy image. For Shui, matching the look is how he connects to Michael Jackson, and he says no amount of criticism would stop him from dressing the way he does.
And he’s not the only one who appreciates Michael Jackson’s eye-catching aesthetic. In his free time, Shui enjoys watching other MJ impersonators in Times Square.
“Every weekend whenever I get off work, I'll usually go to Times Square, and I’ll see this one person who’s a Michael Jackson impersonator. I built a really close relationship with him,” Shui says. “When people surround the area, I'm sitting there watching him, like: He’s really stealing the show.”
In a sea of Elmos and Minnie Mouses crowding the shadows of Broadway, it’s this MJ imitator who seems to be the hottest ticket in town. And while Shui doesn’t aspire to become a professional impressionist himself, he still wants to continue MJ’s legacy in his own way.
Aside from the music and the clothes, he also pays close attention to artists who take inspiration from Michael Jackson. For Shui, there are a couple artists today who continue the legacy: “Beyonce, Chris Brown, Usher, and The Weeknd. As of right now, Chris Brown is one of the artists I like in particular, especially when I see him dance.” According to Shui, many more modern pop acts are tinged with the essence of Michael Jackson.
That essence is apparent in Shui’s soul, too. As someone on the shy side who struggles with feelings of loneliness, Shui has always felt similar to his idol, to the point where he considered it a sort of “two-sided personality.”
“[Michael Jackson] helps with certain aspects of life. Like, his music motivates me, and helps to shape my day into something bright and cheerful.”
It can be hard for a lot of City College students to have the confidence and courage to express themselves as radically as Shui Miles does. Some fear rejection, some believe they simply don’t have it in them. But Shui doesn’t accept that.
“Never be ashamed of who you are,” he says. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”
Thank you to May Nicol for assisting in acquiring and completing this interview.