Last Word features: the NFT craze


Kings of Leon
Matthew Followill / Courtesy photo

When our Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution, they could hardly have foreseen the arrival of domestic assault weapons, Senate obstructions or, in all likelihood, Kings of Leon sending cryptographic video into space, then by auctioning off the iPhone on which it was read.

But all of those things have happened, one of the most recent being the southern rock band who teamed up with Elon Musk to project a non-fungible pledge of their self-esteem into the stratosphere.

To everyone’s credit, money raised from SpaceX’s Inspiration4 launch last month has been donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It also got a lot of publicity for the group – the “Billboard” magazine headline “Kings of Leon to Become First Band to Have NFT Performed in Space” was repeated, in various forms, by countless media outlets. – just as they reached the midpoint of their 2021 tour.

This was not Kings of Leon’s maiden journey into the realm of non-fungible tokens, a digitally certified art form that is sold as part of the cryptocurrency blockchain. Last March, the group hastily released their album “When You See Yourself” as a collection of digital NFTs, and were hailed by “Rolling Stone” magazine as the first group to do so.

In fact, that wasn’t true – Devon Welsh’s Belave, a virtually unknown indie band, beat them with the even more rushed release of an album titled “Does the Bird Fly Over Your Head?” But Kings of Leon could at least take comfort in the more than $ 2 million they’ve raked in, a quarter of which they donated to Live Nation’s Global Relief Fund for live music teams.

One of the biggest debates, when it comes to non-fungible tokens, is the issue of ownership. While an “original” NFT contains metadata that proves its authenticity, trademarks and copyrights are not part of the transaction. In fact, the same content can be downloaded by just about anyone with a working Internet connection. So why, you will ask me, would anyone buy them? There are a number of potential reasons. You may, for example, want to show your support for the content creator. You may want to impress people by displaying the contents of your digital wallet. Or you may just have too much money. But the most powerful motivation for buying NFTs is the possibility of reaping huge profits by reselling them.

Think of it as the virtual equivalent of flipping foreclosed homes, auctioning autographs on eBay, or emptying toilet paper shelves so you can jack up the price on Amazon during a pandemic. NFTs can also give musicians the opportunity to profit from their work in artistic fields for which they are less known. Grimes, the experimental pop artist who was until recently Elon Musk’s girlfriend, raised $ 6 million for “WarNymph Collection Vol. 1 ”, a digital art series that depicts winged babies floating in space.

It turns out that space is a recurring theme in the blockchain art world. NASA and the US Space Force have released their own branded NFTs. And then there’s Chris Torres, the creator of Nyan Cat, who pocketed $ 600,000 earlier this year for an NFT of his Pop-Tart Body Cat flying through space and leaving a rainbow trail in it. its wake. In the first three months of 2021 alone, collectors and venture capitalists have reportedly invested more than $ 2 billion in NFTs. So it’s only natural that these once obscure objects of desire have earned their fair share of derision.

“A lot of digital collectibles traded on today’s stock exchanges are, to be frank, crap,” Forbes magazine said with unusual candor in 2018, three years before Nyan Cat made his big leap. jump into the NFT art market. “People create things with no real value and try to add value to them through tokenization. Think about the current glut of digital art. Unfortunately, the amount of demand falls short of supply.

Of course, one only needs to look to art galleries to find works as baffling as their crypto counterparts, but with no shortage of buyers.

Consider Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’, a work of art that consisted of nothing more than a banana taped to a gallery wall. The piece sold for $ 120,000, prompting the artist to create a second and third edition, which also generated six-figure sales.

“Whether it is affixed to the wall of a fair stand or displayed on the cover of the ‘New York Post’, its work requires us to question ourselves on the valuation of material goods, explains gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin. “The show is as much a part of the work as the banana. Cattelan, meanwhile, claimed to have spent an entire year working on bronze and resin versions of his sculpture before realizing that “the banana is meant to be a banana.”

No less unusual – but considerably more interesting – was Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” a 2015 album the hip-hop supergroup released in a limited edition of one and auctioned off for $ 2million. of dollars, with the stipulation that it could not be marketed until 2103.

The winning bidder turned out to be Martin Shkreli, better known as “Pharma Bro”, the former hedge fund manager who infamously acquired the license to manufacture an HIV drug and increased its price by 4000%. Shkreli would later brag that he did not intend to listen to the album, but simply bought it to “keep it away from people”. Shortly after, he was indicted for securities fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison. The federal government subsequently seized its assets, including the album, which was sold last July for $ 4 million.

Unsurprisingly, the Wu-Tang members venture into the non-fungible universe both individually and collectively. The group plans to release a 400-page book about their legacy in the form of NFT, while Method Man is releasing a series of NFT comics featuring exclusive artwork and unreleased music. Elsewhere in the hip-hop world, Death Row continues to release its 30th anniversary NFTs, while Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons has released “Masterminds of Hip Hop,” a series that encodes previously unreleased recordings of artists ranging from Chuck D and MC Lyte to Big Daddy Kane and Grandmaster Caz.

But perhaps the most intriguing offer right now is a freshly created NFT by Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist group whose image of agit-prop may seem incompatible with such entrepreneurial ventures.

The group recently released “Virgin Mary, Please Become A Feminist,” an NFT that combines hand-drawn images by co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova with an original scanned copy of her two-year prison sentence for staging a protest. anti-Putin in a Moscow cathedral.

The new NFT follows a series of tokens from the group’s “Panic Attack” video, the first of which sold for $ 187,000, which the group donated to a domestic violence shelter in Russia.

As Tolokonnikova said at the time: “I am always looking for ways to support our militant art without being involved in institutions. NFTs are good because they claim digital art is art, and they actually show that there is value in something that no one can touch.

As 2021 wraps up its final quarter, a growing number of artists see NFT as a more viable medium than You Tube, Facebook and Spotify combined. How long that will continue – for the Pussy Riot, Kings of Leon or even Nyan Cat – remains to be seen.


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