Jimmy Fallon officially bought an NFT, and he showed it on national television. On Monday night’s episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon have shared their new Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs – or rather their printed physical copies. Fallon’s is decked out in nautical gear, complete with a captain’s hat and striped shirt. Hilton has furrier red fur and a pair of black shades. The segment was deeply awkward, with lukewarm audience reactions at best. Most of the time, it seemed odd compared to Fallon’s typical fare of promoting celebrity shows and movies, or doing silly games like karaoke. Why were these celebrities talking about crypto late at night?
Hilton and Fallon may seem like an odd pair to discuss blockchain, but Hilton is actually really in NFTs. She’s the reason Fallon even knows what they are. “You taught me what was going on, then I bought a monkey,” Fallon said, in a sort of boast that sounded a bit more like a mea culpa. And if you’ve taken a look at Hilton’s social media lately, you’ll notice she’s increasingly portraying herself as a crypto influencer-evangelist, as well as an early adopter of the metaverse trend ( true Hilton fans might remember that in 2021, she launched “Paris World” in Roblox). the Tonight’s show the episode ended with Hilton announcing her own NFT collection, a collage of GIFs largely about her and her husband called “My Forever Fairytale”. Every member of the public got one for free, and we can only assume they all thought it was definitively a better gift for the live audience than a flat screen TV or whatever Ellen likes to give away.
The short segment is another mainstream recognition of non-fungible tokens by celebrities – and not just those heavily involved in technology. So what’s going on here?
What is an NFT?
An NFT, or Non-Fungible Token, is just a token (sorry, it’s already in the name) that indicates you own a digital item. The main distinction is that it is unique. That’s what fungible means – though you’d be forgiven for thinking these NFTs are for non-mushrooms only. (Please laugh.) Ownership is tracked via the blockchain; each NFT is a unique token on the blockchain. Think of it as a Pokémon trading card. There will be a number of copies of the same card type, right? Corn each card is technically different. These cards also have different values, depending on their rarity and popularity. (You can read more about NFTs here, as well as their impact on climate change.)
Hilton isn’t the only celebrity doing NFTs. Far from there. There’s Lindsay Lohan’s fursona – hated by furs, apparently – and Grimes’ perhaps less surprising “War Nymph” series, in which winged babies wave swords. While these examples are clearly priceless art, not all NFTs skyrocket in price or desirability. That said, a few specific communities have sprung up in the world of NFT commerce, with some creators creating a series of designs that stick to a certain theme and then attract particular attention, much like a series of popular collectibles. (Or Funko Pop.)
Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) is one such collection. (Here you can note that whether or not the digital art is Well seems to have nothing to do with NFT becoming popular or valuable.) The BAYC Collection consists of 10,000 unique digital illustrations of avatar-like monkeys, depicted from the shoulders up – each with a different expression and wearing different clothes and accessories.
Those monkeys are everywhere lately. People seem to be going… [long-suffering pause] shit for them. The brand awareness is so powerful that it has earned BAYC some important collaborations, such as a recent one with Adidas. You may also have spotted BAYC images on Twitter, as shoppers have often turned these digital images into avatars. Or maybe you’ve noticed buyers being grilled by people joking that “stealing” one of these coins is as easy as right-clicking/saving as.
So you’re saying I can steal Jimmy Fallon’s Bored Ape by downloading the JPEG?
Technically speaking, actually owning the NFT simply means owning a “token” to match it (hmm), rather than just the JPEG, which… can be downloaded by anyone, any number of times? We will let you solve this problem.
Why do celebrities buy these NFTs?
Short answer: because they can afford it. Scarcity, speculation, and hype tend to attract a certain type of buyer. The profile of that buyer (or artist) can be a sort of feedback loop that makes the NFT more desirable. The resulting price increases may be soak. Rinse, repeat.
Longer answer: Just like any trendy merchandise, NFTs that are perceived as valuable have become something of a status symbol. A Beeple NFT sold for $69 million at Christie’s, which the auction house said puts Beeple “among the three most valuable living artists,” according to The Verge. Beeple, real name Mike Winkelmann, has reason to be popular. He has around 2.5 million followers on social platforms and is famous for creating and posting new art every day – the NFT is a 5,000 day compilation of it. And what did this lucky NFT winner get? A digital file, and also, as The Verge puts it, “some vague rights to present the image.” The buyer also gained the ability to tell people they have a Beeple NFT. Whoever spent that much on it is probably thrilled to own something made by this cool guy. Fun!
Some NFT collectors also believe these items will increase in value, much like priceless physical works of art. For a number of NFTs, they’ve been right so far. Here’s an animated cube that originally cost $500, but last sold for $17,000.
And here’s where things get even hairier. How do you predict which NFTs will become extremely profitable to resell? I don’t think any of us would have anticipated the popularity of Bored Ape NFTs – let alone the current version of reality where a growing group of celebrities have turned their social media images into ugly illustrations of primates. Deciding which to buy becomes a gamble, in which making money requires finding someone else to sell that NFT to. It’s a “bigger scam,” as Dan Olson put it in an episode of Folding Ideas. Making money always requires someone to be the “biggest jerk” in the chain of buyers, says Olson, someone willing to pay bigger and bigger sums. (Some have made compelling arguments that NFTs are just a tech elite pyramid scheme.) If you’re buying as a “collector,” it’s that price tag that plays into the value of the item. as a status symbol or “flex”.
Add to that the fact that celebrities hold enough influence over popular culture to effectively value NFTs — which don’t necessarily have intrinsic value — and it seems increasingly skeezier. With each additional purchase of Bored Ape (or any NFT of the moment), celebrities are legitimizing the brand more, the idea that it’s attractive, and the idea that we should want to spend money on it. By sharing the Bored Ape, a number of celebrities are even endorsing other cryptocurrency brands, creating this halo of legitimacy shared by the purchases of rich and powerful people. Think of it this way, and Fallon and Hilton’s decision to “share” their NFTs feels more like naked promotion to inflate their value.
Ultimately, it’s a game for the rich; for celebrities who can part with that piece of change as easily as I could buy a bag of crisps. Although the metaphor enough work, because the fries are real and I can actually eat them. It’s depressing how easy it would be to lose a huge sum on an NFT buy that never becomes popular enough to get the money back.
So… why monkeys?
Owning a Bored Ape is “cool” now. Above all, it is expensive! There are a total of 10,000 Bored Ape NFTs, all of which sold out in 12 hours for around $190 each. 10,000 different versions might seem like a lot, but it’s a small enough number to still be considered a limited edition. At the time Fallon bought his BAYC NFT, it was around $216,000, the LA Times reported, in an article that also notes that the value could be even higher on resale given that it “makes the buzz on the show”. (Although, depending on your feelings for Fallon, you could also argue that his interest in BAYC will eventually to diminish its value.) And he’s not the only one buying. Logan Paul bought one (which follows), as do Eminem, Steve Aoki, Steph Curry, The Chainsmokers, Shaquille O’Neal, Gwyneth Paltrowand of course Paris Hilton, among others.
BAYC does other things to keep things interesting for their lucky 10,000. They’ve released a free digital “serum” for Bored-Ape owners that turns their Bored Ape NFTs into “Mutant Ape” NFTs — essentially by simply altering the art to make the primates look like zombie-monkeys — with a “ Kennel Club” line of dogs with traits based on the original apes. As you might expect, purchasing either of these NFT series has become very expensive.
BAYC also likes to refer to itself as a kind of “social club”. They held meetups in California and New York – apparently 5,000 members literally ate bananas together in Manhattan. There’s also a private Discord, where NFT owners can apparently meet and chat, giving it another kind of exclusivity. It’s not unique to BAYC – a number of these high profile NFT communities have them, including one called Pudgy Penguin. We don’t know if any celebrities are taking part, but personally I like to think of Shaq, Eminem, Paris Hilton and now Jimmy Fallon, all of whom are sharing photos of primates. It’s much nicer to imagine a world where these celebrities are legitimately excited about their personal monkeys, instead of just pumping them for possible future resale on a TV show with massive audiences.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that owning the NFT meant owning the “trading rights” to it. This is incorrect, because owning the NFT means owning a token. We have edited the article to reflect this.