Centuries ago, the barter system was the prevalent form of trade— people would exchange rice for wheat, mangoes for oranges, tea for salt. Those were simpler times…now we have the Metaverse. One of the most famous aspects of the metaverse is NFT (non-fungible token). What is an NFT? Why are celebrities selling them? Is there a yin-yang relationship between celebrities and the world of NFT?
Non-Fungible Tokens: A Dummy’s Guide
Before we get into all of that, a (mini) explainer. Trying to figure out what exactly an NFT is or does has taken precious months of my life, but (very) simply put an NFT can be anything digital. An NFT gives you ownership of the digital content (mostly used for digital art) even while the artist can still retain copyright among other things. Your ownership exists in a digital token in a blockchain.
What does it mean to be non-fungible? Something non-fungible cannot be replaced or exchanged with something else and still hold the same value. For eg. a bitcoin can be exchanged for another bitcoin of the same value.
An original painting by Salvador Dali could be exchanged by another original but it won’t be the SAME painting and hence, not have the same ‘value’— that’s non fungible.
Celebrity Culture and NFTs: A Match Made…Somewhere
NFTs have become wildly popular among digital artistes, gamers, and celebrities. If we divide all the world’s things into currencies, products/assets, and services, an NFT would perhaps fall closest to the second category. And products thrive with endorsements. NFTs have been around for a while, but the interest exploded in 2021 and several took notice of the latest in tech.
The Nyan Cat gif (remastered by the original creator), yes the meme, sold for short of $600,000. Singer The Weeknd has raised $2 million by selling previously unreleased music as tokens. Grimes sold digital work worth $6 million. Closer home, celebs from Bollywood and South Indian cinema have also dabbled in NFTs.
According to BeyondLife.club, Amitabh Bachchan’s NFT containing his father’s poem ‘Madhushala’ sold for $756,000. Limited-edition NFTs of Kamal Haasan’s film Vikram will also be launched on 18 May at the Cannes Film Festival. Superstar Rajnikanth also partnered with Singapore-based NFT marketplace Diginoor.io to launch his movie collectibles based on Shivaji: The Boss.
When the makers of KGF: Chapter 2 launched digital avatars of Yash on the metaverse, the first 500 NFTs got sold in 10 minutes. These characters went live a week before the film’s release on the ‘KGFVerse’.
What Is the Celebrity-NFT Craze?
All of celebrity and influencer culture is fans trying to transition from ‘I want’ to ‘I own’. What is the ‘want’? To support your favourite artist, to own something they created (be it albums, books, or art). With NFTs, there’s also bragging rights. People can buy a Taylor Swift’s folklore cardigan online but knowing that you can be the only one to “own” a signed poster for example would give you immense (for the lack of a better word) clout.
“An NFT featuring a legendary and globally recognized superstar is bound to be a thing of pride to possess... in addition to high possibilities of fetching good deals in the secondary market!”From BeyondLife.club on Big B's NFT collection
Other than wanting to help your favourite artists, aspiration plays a large role in celebrity culture which is what brands have relied on for ages. A celebrity endorsing a product works two ways— sales and credibility for the product and publicity and money (and in some cases image building) for the celebrity.
That is pretty much why NFTs and celebrity culture coming together was inevitable.
Is It All Pointless?
Owning an NFT might seem pointless in most cases: why claim ownership of digital content that can be easily accessed on the internet with the notorious Ctrl C + Ctrl V? Sometimes, it’s about collecting art, sometimes it’s about limited editions items you can use in games but otherwise, what is the point?
Celebrities and influencers not only give fans a chance to ‘own’ something they create but they allow them to buy and sell virtual merchandise and further strengthen their fanbase by providing tangible benefits through access to private screenings, promotional events and personal meetings with their favourite stars.
When Robert Pattinson is the face of Dior, he represents something exclusive, elusive, and luxurious. This works both ways, for Pattinson and for Dior. When Serena Williams is the brand of Nike, the shoe brand is sporty, durable, and reliable because that’s what Williams represents. When Jennifer Aniston endorses smartwater, she elevates the product from just a bottle of water to water designed for excellence.
Does that make sense? Not really, but it works. Because people want the shoes Williams ‘wears’, they want the perfume Pattinson is endorsing, and they want to choose the water Aniston ‘drinks’. Whether they actually use these products or not is immaterial. Why wouldn’t that translate to NFTs? The Metaverse or the Cryptoverse is subject to (perhaps necessary) skepticism especially since its facets are still difficult to understand for a large majority.
So, it’s natural that celebrities like Paris Hilton, Kamal Haasan, or Amitabh Bachchan launching NFTs will add credibility to the tech, at least for their fans. And people talk to people. The more popular an NFT gets, the more it costs, the more aspirational it gets— a vicious cycle as old as time. On the other hand, being part of the new ‘hip’ phenomenon also gives the celebrities…clout.
“Kamal Haasan, set to become the first Indian celeb to have his digital avatar in the metaverse,” “filmmaker Vishal Malhotra to make India’s first-ever NFT crowdfunded film”, “Dinesh Karthik to launch India’s first sports NFT 'Six for the Win’”, and so on and so forth.
That is not to say NFTs aren't used for good, several celebrities and influencers use NFTs to crowdfund for charitable organisations and even donate proceeds to charity. Digital artists, too, have a space to sell their work and make tangible profits with less hassle.
NFTs might be difficult to understand, the metaverse might be getting more complicated by the second, but one thing remains universal and true, celebrities and their endorsements, be it products or an NFT will remain linked, whether we like it (or love it) or not.