A self-effacing singer of tearful torch songs from West Lothian in Scotland who is only one album into their career and a controversial and button-pushing rapper from Detroit, Michigan who is 11 albums into their career have, on the surface at least, very little in common.
Yet both this week have jumped firmly onto the NFT bandwagon, in part fearful of being left behind but equally wanting to see what (if anything) the sale of non-fungible tokens can do to amplify their art and reflect their personalities.
“Eminem” (actually comedian Pete Davidson) was the prism through which Saturday Night Live attempted to explain what NFTs were at the end of March. Then on 20 April, Eminem posted the clip on his Twitter account with a chin-scratch emoji and later that same day retweeted a tweet from Nifty Gateway (one of the main marketplaces for NFTs) revealing that an Eminem NFT was coming on 25 April. Carrying on the only-communicating-in-emojis theme, Eminem added a lightbulb icon.
A few days later, he posted details of the NFT on his official site, giving the whole undertaking the umbrella title of Shady Con. There will be “original instrumental beats” that will be baked into the “limited-edition and one-of-a-kind NFTs”. There will also be action figure NFTs but, ahead of launch, it was unclear if these would be physical objects sold as part of an NFT or if they would be digitally incarnated.
An animated video teaser played on past characters (his parody of Robin from the 1960s Batman TV series, his hockey mask and chainsaw-wielding serial killer look), suggesting the NFTs will stretch across his career.
These references to old characters is where the parallels between Eminem and Lewis Capaldi are most explicit. Calling his experiment with the digital tokens the Fat Sexy Collectible Card Experience, Capaldi has confirmed what exactly will be on sale on 30 April. They will include seven different holographic collectible characters that fans will know from his very unserious social media posts.
The digital cards – sorry, the Fat Sexy Collectible Cards – come in five coloured tiers: Bronze; Silver; Gold; Obsidian; and Red.
“All of the cards that will be available are VERY VERY limited,” his site says. “There’s less than 60 of the ‘Obsidian’ cards for example and only ONE ever of the big lovely sexy red fucker!”
They all offer specific rewards which become increasingly rare the higher up the tiers you progress. These include digital rewards such as access to his digital vault and inclusion in a group that can vote on future rewards for the NFT owners. They also include real-world rewards such as tickets to shows (by lottery for the lower tiers or guaranteed for the highest tiers) and the chance to win one of five test pressings of his debut album. The sole purchaser of the Red collection is guaranteed tickets to shows for life, one of the five test pressings, a visit to the studio as he writes his next album and more.
Capaldi had announced in late March that he was cancelling all shows for this year to concentrate on writing and recording his second album, so the NFTs could be seen as an interim solution for fans until the album is finished and new shows are booked in.
These are very busy NFTs, but the Lewis Capaldi one seems to be taking a “more is more” approach – trying to simultaneously make things limited-edition in a way that does not exclude fans while simultaneously emphasising the scarcity of the top-tier items.
There have been mixed results here for musicians trying to, firstly, make money from NFTs and, secondly, testing the creative possibilities of NFTs.
Grimes was one of the first to make a significant splash, making an estimated $6 million from the sale of 10 different digital artworks, but was soon overtaken by 3LAU who made $11.6 million from his sale.
Kings Of Leon, meanwhile, had to extend the deadline of their NFT sale, suggesting fans were not quite clamouring to buy what they were offering.
While this is all taking the old model of “selling things to fans” and applying it to the relatively new and buzzy context of NFTs, one artist has their eye on a much bigger prize and a much bigger type of disruption. Rapper and singer Doja Cat has just launched her own marketplace (called Juicy Drops) to sell her first collection of NFTs.
Amid all the disputes in the streaming world about what artists get paid (or do not get paid), much of the power imbalance comes from the fact that artists are often signed to labels who then negotiate licensing terms with streaming services. The artists are ultimately at the financial mercy of a series of different contractual terms along this chain of command.
What Doja Cat is experimenting with here is more akin to what United Artists was seeking to do for actors, directors and screenwriters in the early days of Hollywood – manoeuvring themselves into a position of much greater control over their creative endeavours. It is, the argument runs, better to own the product and own the store.
NFTs might be the hyped format and money-spinner du jour, but there is a possibility – albeit a slim one – that it could just end up putting greater power in the hands of artists at a time when they need it most.