If you’ve heard of NFTs, it’s probably because you’re bewildered and blown away by the sudden spike of interest (and money) this million-dollar industry is generating. Or, you thought it was the abbreviated version of “Naked FaceTime” (sorry to disappoint but this piece has to do with the former).
NFTs or non-fungible tokens are digital assets whose ownership is recorded on a blockchain. They’re the crypto version of collectibles of everything from exclusive artworks to memes to video game landscapes to music videos to almost any element of internet culture that can’t be replicated, removed, or destroyed. Unlike your old Pokémon cards or even other regular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, each NFT contains a unique encryption that makes it impossible for two NFTs to be traded, exchanged, or even divided into smaller quantities. Most NFTs are traded on the Ethereum blockchain, a cryptocurrency similar to bitcoin that is represented through ETH.
To put it simply, NFTs are akin to priceless museum paintings that can’t be recreated, and have proliferated thanks to a generation that exists on the internet. They’ve also managed to fuel an industry worth $400 million, most of which was accumulated in the last month alone.
From tech investors like Mark Cuban to art world curators like Christie’s auction house to clout-wielding brands like Nike, there's been a gold rush going on in the NFT world since the beginning of 2021. Now, everyone from the glory day’s rock band Kings of Leon to the once-glorious Lindsay Lohan are hopping onto the NFT bandwagon in the hope of selling a high-priced virtual creation of their own. But whether its people swapping formats for an industry projected as “groundbreaking” or those who are just stealing other people’s work to earn a quick buck, NFTs seem to be all anyone with internet access can talk about these days.
So, to help you sound like you know what you’re talking about in this weird, wondrous world of NFTs and blow people away with the monies involved therein, we made a list of the most ridiculously expensive ones ever sold.
“Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” - sold for $69.3 million
A monumental digital collage built by posting one JPEG picture a day for 13 and a half years, “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” was sold for $69.3 million at a Christie's auction on March 11. It’s also the first NFT ever sold at a major auction house, elevating its creator Beeple—a graphic designer from South Carolina whose real name is Mike Winkelmann—to one of the three highest paid living artists in the world, alongside Jeff Koons and David Hockney. While the bid opened on February 25 at $100, its value quickly jumped into millions.
Interestingly, most of the bidders—nearly two-third at the auction—were millennials or younger, according to the auction house. Until this Christie’s sale, the most expensive NFT ever sold was a Beeple work that was flipped by its owner for $6.6 million. But while art experts have touted the NFT as evidence of the artist’s evolution from basic designs to 3D art, critics have also called out this digital artwork for some of its objectionable content. His images have also been called out for sexist and racist undertones, such as an image of Hilary Clinton naked with a penis; another in which Clinton is seeing “feeding” Donald Trump through a tube attached to her crotch; and mosaics featuring sketches of Black men with the caption “Black dude” that stereotype Black culture.
“CryptoPunk #7804” - sold for $7.5 million
Dylan Field, the founder and CEO of unicorn startup Figma, left his mark on the metaverse after he sold his CryptoPunk for 4200 ETH (about $7.5 million), making it the second highest sale so far. First launched in June 2017, CryptoPunks were developed by a two-person team of Matt Hall and John Watkinson, at American Game Studio Larva Labs. These are algorithmically generated 24×24 pixel art images. Field bought his CryptoPunk—a pipe-wielding, teal alien decked up in a hat and sunglasses—in 2018, a year after Hall and Watkinson created and gave away a limited set of 10,000 collectibles.
The first tweet ever - highest bid at $2.5 million
While most of us still haven’t figured out how to become rich through Twitter, the social media platform’s billionaire founder Jack Dorsey is making millions off an NFT of the first tweet ever.
Dorsey announced last month that he would be selling an NFT version of his 2006 tweet on a platform called Valuables by Cent. This tweet, which simply reads “just setting up my twtr” already has a high bid of $2.5 million from Sina Estavi, CEO of Bridge Oracle.
The bid is expected to close on March 21, though no official time has been announced yet. Dorsey has also announced that all the proceeds from the first tweet ever would be converted to Bitcoin and donated to Give Directly, a charitable organisation for its mission that aims to alleviate poverty in Africa.
Axie Infinity Virtual Game “Genesis” Estate - sold for $1.5 million
Nine plots of virtual land on the blockchain gaming platform Axie Infinity were sold for a record-breaking amount of 888 ETH or $1.5 million on February 9, making it the highest NFT sale made in a virtual game. Genesis NFTs are exclusive virtual plots with a “unique aesthetic” and prime position in the Axie universe. The estate was bought by an anonymous entity named “Flying Falcon” and will be used for an upcoming game mode within Axie Infinity that will allow players to build and decorate properties, harvest resources, and battle with their own digital monsters called “Axies.”
Rick and Morty artwork - sold for over $1 million
You’ve probably experiences the Adult Swim series Rick and Morty’s co-creator Justin Roiland’s voice taking you on the most meta trip through space and time, but did you know he also managed to sell 18 of his original artworks for over $1 million? On January 21, Roiland announced that he had sold a collection called “The Best I Could Do” on the NFT auction house Nifty Gateway, making it one of the biggest sales on the platform. “Testing the boundaries of crypto art,” said the artist while announcing the auction on Twitter. Roiland also sold a unique NFT that was called “The First Ever Edition Of Rick And Morty Cryptoart” for $150,000, while his version of The Simpsons was also a coveted cryptoart.
“Hashmasks” - sold for over $16 million
Launched in January, the Hashmasks project is a living digital art collectible created by over 70 artists globally that sold its collection of 16,384 unique digital portraits for $16 million. The most expensive Hashmask was sold for 420 ETH, or $650,000, and features a mystical halo demon that may or may not make it the deal with the devil. These mysterious and colorful artworks are heavily inspired by the bright graffiti-esque movement of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work in 1980s New York. Each mask has distinct features, the most important being skin colour, character, and eye color. But these Hashmasks are unique as compared to other NFT artworks, or even real paintings, since they are unnamed. Each Hashmask owner has the responsibility of naming their art, thus contributing to it creatively. Hashmasks are sold in the open market, and also allow the buyer as well as the creator to determine its value.
NBA “Top Shots” - sold for over $230 million
The NBA’s Top Shots is a blockchain-based trading card system that has generated over $230 million in sales so far. Featuring highlights and digital artwork from the National Basketball Association (NBA) games, this system essentially functions like highly profitable basketball trading cards and came about after the NBA teamed up with crypto creators Dapper Labs in 2019. Currently, a highlight of LeBron James has sold for $208,000, making it the highest valued.
Grimes artwork and music videos - sold for over $6 million
Canadian music artist and resident tech bro Elon Musk’s partner Grimes made over $6 million by selling her artwork and music videos as NFTs. She sold a series of 10 pieces, some unique, and some with thousands of copies on Nifty Gateway on February 28. The highest-selling piece was a music video called “Death of the Old” that involves flying cherubs, a cross, a sword, and glowing light that’s set to an original song by Grimes, and was sold for nearly $389,000.
Hairy by Steve Aoki - sold for $888,888.88
Electronic music artist Steve Aoki collaborated with 3D artist Antoni Tudisco to create Hairy, a trippy purple and blue figure that dances to the tune of Aoki’s music. This NFT was sold on a platform called Gateway for $888,888.88 in February, which not only gives it a wacky value, but also makes it a record sale for the platform.
Nyan Cat - sold for $590,000
As the iconic GIF of a cat floating around space in a pop tart turned 10 this February, its creator Chris Torres decided to auction it off on a platform called Foundation. Now, the cat meme that looks like someone puked up a rainbow is worth $590,000. It has also dethroned Dragon—a cotton-candy coloured crypto cat who claims to have bitten Rebecca Black once, and was sold for $170,000 in 2018—as the most valuable crypto cat. If this isn’t a testament to the theory that the internet truly loves all cats, we don’t know what is.