NFTs have seen a recent boom during 2020 and 2021, and more and more influential figures are joining in. The last couple of months have seen their fair share of new players. In April, tennis champions Naomi Osaka and her sister ventured into the NFT marketplace with an autographed art collection. In May, models Emily Ratajowski and Cara Delevigne entered the NFT sphere, the latter with a vagina-themed NFT. They join the likes of actress and singer Lindsay Lohan, rapper Snoop Dogg, skateboarder Tony Hawk, and “Monty Python'' writer and actor John Cleeese. The main question now appears to be: will NFT art move beyond trend status and if so, what is going to happen next?
An NFT (a non-fungible token) is built on a blockchain and can be bought with cryptocurrencies. All transactions, sales, and transfers related to a piece can be found in the blockchain, so if you own a piece of art, proof of your ownership will be embedded in the artwork itself. With NFTs, gone are the days of right-clicking and saving, technically taking ownership as you did so. This is particularly important for artists, and also for a model and activist Emily Ratajkowski, whose first NFT sought to go further and establish ownership of her own image. The NFT, titled “Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution,” features Ratajkowski posing in front of painter Richard Prince’s Instagram post of an image of herself (he’d taken this image from her public Instagram without her consent back in 2014 for his “New Faces” series, which he then sold in a gallery). She wrote on Twitter that the internet has frequently been a place where a woman’s image can be exploited and widely distributed without her consent and that instead, it should be “a place where women can share their likeness as they choose, controlling the usage of their image and receiving whatever potential capital attached.” As a model, Ratajkowski is by definition a muse to both fashion designers and photographers. In her NFT, she takes back the power to frame herself. She’s a muse who redefines herself by the terms of her own gaze.
“Mine”, Cara Delevingne
Similarly, model and actress Cara Delevingne’s NFT takes ownership of her own identity, but in a different way. For her, the part of herself that is most hers is her vagina. She takes a chance to celebrate it in her and anonymous artist Chemical X’s NFT (Delevingne is a fan of NFTs and has bought a Chemical X NFT herself), which is a short video accompanied by a short piece of writing penned by her. The many possibilities attached to NFTs, several of which Delevingne’s NFT takes advantage of, are what makes it so alluring to Mari Osaka, a tennis champion and sister to Naomi Osaka. Of the Osaka sisters, Mari, in particular, sees great promise in NFTs. She has recently retired from tennis and worked with Naomi to depict the different shades of the four times Grand Slam winner’s personality in the five artworks created for their “The Colours of Naomi Osaka '' collection. The result is a loving, brightly coloured celebration of her sister and an invitation for her fans to get to know her better. Mari has said that when NFTs emerged as a possibility was the moment she began to see digital art as a real opportunity, and believes they are here to stay. “Considering almost anything can be an NFT,” she told an interviewer, “I see digital art playing a role but I also see animations and real-life items, it’s a huge list of almost anything you would want.”
The music industry is also taking note of NFTs. For musicians, it has been estimated by Billboard that on average, 75% of their regular income comes from concerts, yet the pandemic has seen most of them cancelled. In this panorama, NFTs became an increasingly viable option to increase musician’s income and continue to connect with their fans. Canadian alt-pop star Grimes has been particularly successful, she released her first NFTs in February of this year and is now one of the best-selling NFT artists in the community. In March this year, Kings of Leon became the first band to release an album as an NFT, as well as on traditional platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. The NFT version includes tokens that unlock special features such as limited-edition vinyl and front row seats in future concerts.
Shawn Mendes is another high-profile musician who has joined the NFT scene. Mendes was encouraged by his manager to try NFTs and launched a line of collectable wearables (for example, Mendes’s signature Fender guitar) for avatars with the avatar-making company Genie in February as an effort to empower young digital artists. Genies CEO Akash Nigam believes that NFTs are here to stay and maintains that avatars are among “the best vehicle[s] to get people to comprehend” NFTs. Two months later, Genie, who has also built avatars for Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Cardi B, acquired Warner Music Group as a client, opening the door for more musicians to enter the world of NFTs. Genie is even looking to go further, presenting the digital avatar as a form of self-expression, similar to the alternative digital life of The Sims. For this, they aim to target a younger market.
NFT art has slowly seeped into mainstream life, into the celebrity-sphere, sports-sphere and music-sphere. And it keeps getting wilder. Almost anything is being made into an NFT, from Taco Bell taco-themed gifs and images to a tweet from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is an NFT. Viral classic memes from the early 2010s are being reborn as NFTs. A ‘Disaster Girl’ meme NFT sold for $500,000 at an auction held at the beginning of May. The dictionary Merriam-Webster auctioned its definition of an NFT as an NFT two weeks ago. Last week, Fox announced that American writer Dan Harmon’s new project, known for creating and producing NBC’s Community and co-creating the animated series Rick and Morty, would become “the first-ever animated series curated entirely on the Blockchain.” Even Paris Hilton, a long-time crypto enthusiast and self-described “undercover nerd”, is actively taking part. Hilton collaborated with crypto artist Blake Kathryn to create her first NFT drop back in April and for her, NFTs are vital because they give power back to creators by removing traditional gate-keepers that might have kept them from being discovered in a pre-NFT world. She has said: “We’re definitely living in the golden age of the creator, so I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
Nobody seems to know for sure what the future holds for NFTs. But while the hype may have dissipated somewhat, the community of artists behind it and the celebrities who have begun adopting it are not slowing down any time soon.