Michell'e Michaels is a savage. Known as Miss Shalae to her fans, she is undoubtedly one of the hardest-working and most dedicated Beyonce impersonators in the business. She turns around recreations and reimaginings of the queen's work at a quality level that's practically unmatched and at a breakneck speed. In fact, she's so good that Beyonce had to give her a shout out in her documentary Homecoming, when she realized that the performer had recreated her custom Balmain look, head-to-toe, and was wearing it by the second weekend's performance.
"How did you do that so fast?" Bey asked from on-stage. "She has on my outfit y'all!" Even Rihanna has been stunned by her beauty and performance ability.
So when Beyonce released her remix to Megan the Stallion's "Savage," Miss Shalae knew exactly what she was going to do. Her vision of how she would turn the song into a visual was crystal clear, incorporating things that the verses mentioned. But as she began to execute the visual, things took a turn that saw her lose 200 Instagram followers in two hours and be condemned by what she believed to be her loyal fanbase.
"When I first heard the song there was no doubt about it, I was going to create content around it." Miss Shalae tells Out. "I was just so immediately inspired. The song 'Savage' was so amazing already and then Bey? What?! I knew that I wanted to reference her talking about OnlyFans, and TikTok — those played into my visual."
In the performer's original vision, the video was supposed to look like the viewer was scrolling through the OnlyFans site. An on-screen cursor would click to Miss Shalae's page and then click in and out the clips there, which are all scenes of the video. To realize that vision, the creative started an OnlyFans page with no content that she could later have her editor screengrab and rework. To make the page appear authentic and operational in the clip, she uploaded a photo to her Instagram Stories writing "follow my OnlyFans account." Within two hours over 200 people unfollowed the lauded performer, dragging her in private messages.
"I feel like my followers thought I was going to be doing pornographic stuff or nudity," Miss Shalae says. There was never any content uploaded to the OnlyFans page. "That's what I'm assuming. I could see if there was content like that on there but OnlyFans wasn't only created for adult content. I would think if you really follow me, you know how I am about the work that I do; I would never be seen in a 'compromised position' so I don't know why people would jump to conclusions.
"I would think it would be exciting to be like 'oh shit, let's wait and see what you have in store,'" she says.
And what Miss Shalae says is true: when OnlyFans began it wasn't intended for adult content. In fact, that content sits in a nebulous gray area in regards to the site's guidelines and the platform actively avoids speaking on it. This is a stark difference from other fan-site platforms like the gay-owned JustForFans who not only recognize but celebrate and promote sex workers who use their service.
So while Miss Shalae could have certainly done adult material if that's what she chose, the reality is that she also could have used the service to monetize the same sort of content she's been providing to followers for free over the past few years given that her income streams have been cut off as a result of social distancing. Those streams had received a bump with the mention in Homecoming and were no doubt set to increase even more with the rollout of HBO Max's Legendary, on which Miss Shalae compete as the mother of the House of Saint Laurent.
"That was actually an idea," Miss Shalae says of creating premium performances to bring in cash. "It would be ideal for me to post my content on OnlyFans and have a steady income because I can't technically work. My job probably won't be back to normal until August or September, so instead of asking people for donations, this could have been a way for me to take care of my bills."
But instead of seeing those options, people jumped to conclusions and responded in-kind. It shows a bit of a dichotomy about sex-positivity and the shaming of sex workers as many applauded when Beyonce rapped "On that Demon Time, she might start an OnlyFans," as opposed to when her impersonator seemed to go through with the taunt.
Undaunted, Miss Shalae pressed on, scrapping the idea of doing an OnlyFans template but keeping the logo in the project in a video that premiered today, just one week after the track's surprise drop. She filmed the scenes at home, asking a friend from the brand TLZ L'FEMME to send over lingerie to wear as ordering online wasn't a realistic possibility given the time. For aesthetic, she went true Beyonce, filming in a style akin to how the queen posts on her social media, as well as what the "7/11" video looked like.
"It wasn't a full crew that was there so I feel like the way that it is speaks to the times that we're in," she says. Miss Shalae also did her own makeup "That's what art tends to do. And at the end of the day, it's me."
Though posting content to OnlyFans may be out of the question given the response, Miss Shalae has been making plans to adjust to the new normal of socially distanced life. She's turned her living room into a studio, blacking it out and ordering parts to put on virtual performances with a fog machine, fan, as well as a switchboard to control lights.
"It's crazy in here right now," she says of the change. "But you know, this is what the times call for so hopefully I'll be able to make some money."