Manu Rios and Conan Gray on Their Rise From Small Town Boys to Gen Z Heroes
Spain’s most decadent export, Manu Rios, hasn’t caused global warming, but his shirtless selfies are burning us up. Since exploding on social media, the 23-year-old singer and dancer has taken his talents to Netflix, starring in the fourth season of the smash hit Elite, and is about to go full cowboy in Pedro Almodóvar’s erotic western Stranger Way of Life. Recently, Conan Gray, the musician and fellow smalltown boy, sat down with Instagram’s preeminent thirst trapper to dish. —EVAN ROSS KATZ
CONAN GRAY: How are you?
MANU RIOS: Hi, I’m good! I’m actually at the beach right now. That’s why I was having trouble connecting my phone.
GRAY: Yeah, I can hear you.
GRAY: I’m good. I’m in Toronto and I’m going to see The Weeknd tonight.
RIOS: Okay, cool. Are you there because you have a concert or something?
GRAY: I had a premiere last night for a play.
RIOS: Oh, okay.
GRAY: I have some questions for you.
RIOS: Thanks for doing this by the way. I’m so excited.
GRAY: No, I’m excited. We’ve known each other for so long since we both lived in random small towns in the middle of nowhere. So it’s very funny and a little ridiculous that we’re doing this right now. We also had that reunion at the Met Gala.
RIOS: Yes. That was so surreal. I’ve been seeing the Met Gala since I was a kid and I’ve always been really inspired by it, but I never thought I was going to make it there. When I heard that I was invited, it didn’t feel real at all. I remember before going on the red carpet, I thought I was really calm, but suddenly I felt all the nerves that I had before.
GRAY: Well, it was that line that we had to stand in. That was really scary.
RIOS: So scary. I looked to the left, Kris Jenner, I looked behind me, Naomi Campbell. I was like, this is not real. I was so nervous. I thought I wasn’t going to know anyone, but you texted me like, “Hey I’m here, are you in New York?” And I was like, “Oh, my god, no way.” I was so relieved.
GRAY: I was scrolling on TikTok or something and a video of you in a hotel showed up. I was so relieved because I was so nervous to go. I was only going to know a few people there.
RIOS: More than me.
GRAY: So we spent most of the night inside together, scared, clinging onto each other.
RIOS: I was really proud of us.
GRAY: I know. When I was there with you, I was like, “Oh, look at you go.” Then we saw each other again in Madrid, like a month later or something.
RIOS: So we’ve seen each other more in a month than we have in three years.
GRAY: But it’s also crazy because we first met when we were in high school, when the thought of ever seeing each other in Spain was so out of the picture. We were both just random kids from small towns.
GRAY: Okay, next question. Do you feel like you’re a Gen Z’er?
RIOS: You know what? Yes, I am Gen Z, but I have a lot of friends who are millennials and I’m really connected to that as well—the music, the lifestyle. But I also connect with Gen Z because it’s a movement. I’m looking forward to changing the future and fighting for the things that we think are fair for society and for equality. I’m really proud to be part of that.
GRAY: Yeah. I feel we are the generation that grew up on the internet. Our whole lives were online, and then we look back and there’s videos of baby Manu and baby Conan, forever on the internet for the rest of time.
GRAY: And it’s—
RIOS: So scary.
GRAY: I think it really impacted the way that we use the internet. It’s just another home to us. So it becomes much more of a powerful thing. Okay. Some questions about America because this is the American Dream issue.
GRAY: You are not an American, but I’m curious to see some of your answers to these. What’s the most American movie to you?
RIOS: Forrest Gump. I think it’s really American.
GRAY: Oh god. Forrest Gump is so good and it makes me cry every time. It’s super American.
RIOS: Yes. Super American. I’m not American, but I see America in the movie.
GRAY: Totally. Do you know that song “Forrest Gump” by Frank Ocean?
GRAY: I remember in high school, playing that song in the car with my best friend and being like, “Forrest Gump.” The next question is, what is the best American look?
RIOS: Denim really represents the American essence. It’s like, really Old Hollywood America.
GRAY: What is the most American thing about you?
RIOS: I’ve been obsessed with American pop culture since I was young. In my hometown, pretty much no one had an interest in American culture around my circles, but I was the one.
GRAY: For sure. I remember that.
RIOS: Yeah. I was always looking at pop culture and artists and getting inspiration from that. I was also obsessed with learning English, watching movies in English, and YouTube videos.
GRAY: I remember when we were young, when we were both still living in small towns, we had so much fun learning about each other’s cultures and our worlds because we lived in such different places. I remember I would text you sometimes and it would be like two in the morning and you’d be like, “Oh yeah, my parents are eating dinner.” I’m like, “Dinner at two in the morning?”
RIOS: Yes. We had really different lifestyles.
GRAY: Yeah, in a weird way, us being friends has taught me a lot about the rest of the world—back when I was still living in a conservative small town that was so closed off. I feel like we both lived in really small communities where everyone knows each other and everyone lives the same life and stuff like that. It was just really interesting to think about.
RIOS: That’s really cool that you learned that.
GRAY: Yeah. Let’s see other questions.
GRAY: Ooh, I want to know about this. It was announced that you’re starring in Pedro Almodóvar’s short film, Strange Way of Life, which describes as his response to Brokeback Mountain. What can you say about the project?
RIOS: The only thing that I can say is that for me to be able to work with Pedro is such a dream come true. He was actually born in my hometown.
GRAY: No way.
RIOS: Yes. I’ve been following his career since I was a kid. I’ve always been really inspired by him. Coming from a small town, people’s minds are super closed, so for me, he was always an inspiration and someone that I wanted to work with since I started doing this. But obviously I didn’t think that it was going to happen right now. I was like, maybe in ten years I will be able to do it. I’m so excited. Every time I talk with him I learn a lot. I just want to listen.
GRAY: It’s so funny that you say that about the, “Oh, maybe in the future,” thing. I feel like that’s how I felt this whole time. It’s crazy how fast everything happens and I’m just so proud of you and so happy for you.
RIOS: Thank you so much.
Makeup: Lucas Margarit using Givenchy Beauty
Photography Assistant: Ismael Tounia
Fashion Assistants: Gabriela Alvarado and Roberta Console
Location: Nave La Mosca