Memes typically have a short lifespan, but some classic image macros are making a big comeback. The people who accidentally became famous through memes like ‘Bad Luck Brian’ and ‘Disaster Girl’ are now auctioning their original images for impressive sums—in some cases, more than half a million dollars. How does this work? A blockchain-based technology called non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
An NFT is a piece of art or content that also works as its own digital certificate of authenticity. NFTs, like cryptocurrencies, have a unique signature stored in the blockchain, a distributed digital ledger that anyone can see, but no single person can edit.
Changes to the blockchain are made collaboratively, through a distributed network of computers that log the change when an NFT is sold or traded. Just as every crypto transaction has a permanent, verifiable record, so does every NFT transaction. When you buy an NFT of a meme, you have both the original, unique image and the data to prove that you own it.
Because the blockchain’s data is distributed around the world, it’s almost impossible for one person to alter it maliciously. This means that individuals can put a lot of faith in blockchain-based records.
The auction of ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’ drew in 200 of the cryptocurrency ether (ETH), worth more than $500,000 at the time this article was written. Because the value of ether is so volatile, however, it could be worth significantly more—or significantly less—within just a few days.
One of the first memes to go on market was also secured one of the biggest payouts for a meme to date. A unique NFT of the popular ‘Nyan Cat’ GIF sold for 300 ETH, currently worth a little less than $770,000. Chris Torres, the creator of the meme and its unique token, has since lent his NFT expertise to an informal network of other meme ‘originators’—the creators or subjects of popular memes.
Some of those originators have gone on to secure large payouts of their own. ‘Disaster Girl’ sold for 180 ETH, currently worth around $462,000. ‘Bad Luck Brian’ drew in 20 ETH, which is a little more than $50,000.
Most of the people who have sold memes of themselves have relatively mundane plans for the money, like paying off student loans or donating to charity.
All of these NFTs were sold through the same app, Foundation, a platform for NFT auctions and trading. To date, the platform has hosted around $53 million dollars in sales of more than 43,500 NFTs. In the last seven days alone, users have already sold another 687 NFTs.
NFTs have enabled the sale of memes to work like classic art auctions. This could bring the prestige of traditional art to the world of digital media, which people have taken less seriously in the past. The proof of ownership that NFT offers could also lend an air of exclusivity to new art. Each NFT creates a unique copy of some digital media, while most copies of online content are typically indistinguishable from one another.
NFTs also let artists take a commission of every sale of their NFT after it leaves their hands. Popular NFTs that continue to sell could provide a steady stream of income to some artists as they move around the web.
According to some in the art world, this technology could help digital artists make a living in a digital landscape plagued by piracy and art theft. Others, however, have criticised the technology, citing environmental concerns about the high energy consumption of blockchain trading.
Some experts predict that the NFT craze will die down before long, though, so it may not leave a lasting impression on the art world.
How big the NFT trend will get has yet to be seen. The market is growing fast, however—NFT sales topped $2 billion in the first quarter of 2021. There were also twice as many buyers as there were sellers, suggesting that there is serious demand for new NFTs. This could be a positive sign that the NFT market will continue to expand quickly.
From NFTs to vaccine tracking, the past few years have been a monumental year for blockchain technology. As NFTs show, the blockchain has the potential to disrupt almost every aspect of life—including art.
Cara Delevigne is auctioning off a piece of art about her vagina. Yes, you read that correctly. On Friday 14 May, the English model and actress announced the news in an Instagram video where she stood naked, narrating a monologue about her vagina. The unique NFT made by Delevingne herself, famous for her appearance in Suicide Squad, in collaboration with Chemical X Lab, will go up for digital auction on 22 May 2021.
In the video about her NFT release, she stated, “My first word was ‘mine’. To me, that means something that is most mine, my vagina. I own it. It’s mine and no one else’s. I choose what I do with it. And no one can take that away from me.” And to be honest, I fully support her, and you should too. Not only is she tapping into the lucrative NFT market to be rightfully rewarded for her creative work, but she’s also breaking stereotypes concerning body image and ownership—all while raising money for environmental causes, LGBTQIA+ communities, anti-racism causes, and the list goes on!
If somehow you’ve missed the NFT craze, we’ve already covered how the technology is the innovative future of digital ownership—it could be a gamechanger for all forms of the creative industry, from fashion all the way to struggling writers. But if you don’t fancy going down the rabbit hole, let me briefly explain NFTs for you.
A non-fungible token, NFT for short, is a unique digital token encrypted with an artist’s signature, which acts as a verification of ownership and authenticity and is permanently attached to the piece. It allows for original versions of content, anything from memes to tweets can be sold as cryptocurrency—similar to how traditional pieces of art can be auctioned off for insane prices, often by absurdly rich out-of-touch art critics.
But thanks to NFTs, the once out of reach art marketplace is now accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection—meaning you can be in with a chance of digitally owning Delevingne’s vagina monologue. That being said, these NFTs are selling at high prices, so don’t go thinking you’ll be able to buy a digital Mona Lisa with some spare pennies you have lying around any time soon.
Despite the eye catching and thought-provoking nature of her art, there’s also a number of reasons that sets it apart from the crowded NFT market. First, in light of how damaging cryptocurrency can be to the environment—a reason for why Elon Musk pulled Bitcoin from Tesla, causing market prices to plummet—Delevingne’s NFT will be the first in the world to be minted on Bitcoin rather than Ethereum, using no new energies to create it. Delevingne’s edition is the first in a series that will repeatedly feature NFT artworks from Fatboy Slim, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, and the electric duo Orbital.
The money raised will go towards a good cause too. Delevingne’s work will be in collaboration with Chemical X to benefit her foundation, The Cara Delevingne Foundation, an organisation that supports women’s empowerment, environmental causes, LGBTQIA+ rights and tackling institutional racism while also offering COVID-19 relief. The official Chemical X website notes that “Cara’s support for women and girls and the LGBTQ community is one of the driving forces behind her foundation and her decision to make this artwork with Chemical X.”
Lastly, Delevingne’s art is a statement on body ownership and image, setting an example for young women who are struggling with these issues themselves. The artwork couldn’t come at a better time, as women’s rights and the #MeToo movement are at the forefront of our public discourse, highlighting the deep gender inequality in our society. In an interview with the Evening Standard, Delevingne noted, “I want this to remind people of how incredibly powerful they are, what a beautiful thing their bodies are and to take pride in that.”