Celebrities and NFTs: why your favourite stars are trying to sell you cryptocurrency

The A-list has moved beyond promoting their latest movie or diet tea, and started shilling NFTs and cryptocurrency instead

From left: Paris Hilton, Matt Damon and Reese Witherspoon have all thrown their weight behind promoting and selling cryptocurrencies and NFTs. Reuters, AFP and AP
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Maybe you noticed it on your morning scroll through social media.

Or, maybe you didn’t, because some of it is subtle, while some is applied like a sledgehammer to your news feed.

But there, among the selfies and hashtags and exhortations to see their movies and buy their latest protein shake/shapewear line/coffee maker, celebrities have been ramping up their rhetoric to persuade us “mere mortals” (more on that later) to jump on the NFT and cryptocurrency bandwagon.

Captain Marvel disappoints the internet

Celebrities have been sharing their NFTs for a while now. But it took a tweet from Captain Marvel star Brie Larson to really irk the Twitterverse.

Twitter is the platform where most NFT chatter takes place, because it supports NFTs being used in profile pictures for subscribers to their Twitter Blue service.

Long considered one of Hollywood’s most down-to-earth stars, and an outspoken advocate of issues affecting women, the actress’s tweet, “#NewProfilePic – got a @FlowerGirlsNFT by @VarvaraAlay”, sparked a storm of criticism in her comments, from accusations she was promoting a “Ponzi scheme” to concerns about the environmental impact of NFTs.

Larson’s post followed a recent episode of The Tonight Show in which the host Jimmy Fallon and guest Paris Hilton showed off their recent Bored Ape NFT purchases created by the secretive collective known as Bored Ape Yacht Club.

The 77 second-long segment, a glaring non sequitur that followed a conversation about Hilton’s recent wedding, was described as “cringe”, “embarrassing” and “unbearable” as Fallon declared: “We’re part of the same community. We’re both Apes.”

Which celebrities are pushing NFTs?

Along with Fallon and Hilton, the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Bieber and YouTuber-turned-boxer Logan Paul have all gone public with their Bored Ape NFTs.

Back in January, Paltrow changed her Twitter profile picture to her NFT, writing: “Joined BoredApeYC ready for the reveal? Thanks @moonpay concierge.”

Two stars have emerged as the loudest voices in cryptocurrency (the majority of NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain, and Ethereum is a cryptocurrency), and they also happen to be two of the biggest celebrities on the planet.

Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon, who last year sold her media company Hello Sunshine for $900 million, has been positioning herself as something of a cryptocurrency mouthpiece. She alternates between the vaguely scare tactic-sounding “In the (near) future, every person will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?” And the feminist rhetoric of: “Crypto is here to stay. I’m committed to supporting creators who have pioneered the NFT space, and encouraging more women to be a part of the conversation.”

The other celebrity is Matt Damon, a fellow Oscar winner, whose advert for Crypto.com – “The world’s fastest-growing crypto app” – likened crypto investors to aviation pioneers the Wright brothers.

In his advert for the company, Damon drew the internet’s ire for the line: “These mere mortals, just like you and me”, which led him to be parodied on South Park.

Why are celebrities so involved in NFTs?

As with everything in Hollywood, there’s an interconnectedness happening behind the scenes that isn’t apparent to the average fan.

It would take a deep dive and industry-level knowledge of the intricacies of Tinseltown to pull on the NFT/celebrity thread and follow it back to its origins.

In a Substack article by Max Read, the writer points out the links between the stars who are showing off their NFTs, and the powerful agencies that represent them.

“If you pay attention to both the Hollywood trades and the crypto press… you can begin to pick out the contours of an expanding, interconnected, celebrity-based web3 financial-cultural complex,” Read writes. “Did you know, for example, that Jimmy Fallon is represented by CAA, which is an investor in the NFT marketplace OpenSea? And which recently signed a deal to represent the NFT collector 0xb1, who owns NFTs from Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women?”

It's common knowledge that Witherspoon is married to Jim Toth, who was once one of CAA’s most powerful agents.

US journalist Malcolm Harris has dubbed the correlation an “NFT Keiretsu”. Keiretsu is a Japanese term which refers to a group of companies with interconnected business relationships and shareholdings.

Voices of dissent

Former 'The OC' actor Ben McKenzie has spoken out against NFTs and cryptocurrency, while rapper Kayne West has said he won't participate, for now. AFP

Amid all the celebrity NFT chatter, one actor has emerged as a critical opponent. Former The OC actor Ben McKenzie, who more recently played James Gordon in Gotham, has been a vociferous voice against cryptocurrency.

“I’m just a former teen idol standing here (alone?) asking people to consider downside risk and the possibility of fraud,” he tweeted. “I hope I’m wrong, but pretty sure we’ll find out soon enough. Good luck folks – don’t take financial advice from celebs, including me.”

Celebrities who have created their own NFTs include Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Grimes and Emily Ratajkowski, who sold a photo of herself titled “Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution”.

“There’s a lot of dough to be had in our attention-driven economy – if you’re appropriately famous and shameless,” McKenzie wrote in a co-authored column for Slate. “With the advent of cryptocurrency, there are whole new terrains of one’s life that can be monetised for potentially worthless digital tokens.

"But look beneath the froth – past the $500,000 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs and the metaverse parties (supposedly a thing!) – and it gets grim quickly. Every influencer and celebrity (except, maybe, the co-author of this column) seems intent on getting their little piece of the crypto boom.”

McKenzie has an unlikely ally in the opposition space he currently occupies. Rapper Kanye West, who recently took to Instagram to write: “My focus is on building real products in the real world. Real food, real clothes, real shelter. Do not ask me to do a [expletive] NFT.”

But Ye being Ye, there was, of course, a caveat: “Ask me later.”

Updated: February 13, 2022, 5:33 AM
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