Image: Universal Music Group art
Universal Music Group (UMG), the powerhouse label that represents Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Jay-Z, has announced that it’s forming an NFT band made up of cartoon ape JPEGs “owned” by some guy. There’s been a lot of wild news about NFTs the past week, but none has depressed me, a fan of another band (a real one) made up of cartoon apes called Gorillaz, as much as news of this NFT-based band. The band is called Kingship and it’s been formed from four NFTs from the Bored Ape Yacht Club and one spin-off. NFT collector Jimmy McNeils is providing the apes “which consists of a Mutant Ape and three Bored Ape characters, including rare Golden Fur and Bluebeam Apes,” according to a press release from UMG.
Kingship has produced no music and it’s unclear what kind of band it will be. This is, first and foremost, an exercise in branding and marketing. “Through music and events across the metaverse, we will bring the Apes in Kingship to life by building communities and utility, and entertaining audiences around the world,” Celine Joshua, founder of 10:22PM, the UMG label behind Kingship, said in the press release. A heavy focus on branding is common in the music industry. Boy bands like New Kids on the Block and NSYNC were the creation of talent managers who sought out talent and molded them. But music was still integral to the creation of these bands. For Kingship, the music is completely secondary to the brand and the investment club. Joshua told CoinDesk, “Before you even hear a single note, you’re gonna know what they eat for breakfast.” Owners of BAYC NFTs will get early access to Kingship’s music (I guess?), she told CoinDesk, as well as future monetization schemes like NFT drops.For what it’s worth, even some in the crypto community seem to be eyeing up Kingship warily. “Awful idea,” tweeted Coin Center communications director and crypto commentator Neeraj Agrawal. Meanwhile, Will Gottsegen at CoinDesk called Kingship “all schtick.”The most ready comparison to Kingship’s whole deal is Gorillaz, a virtual band created by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett in 1998. The supergroup inhabits a fictional universe that’s explored in comics, music videos, and cartoon shorts. It’s also been producing certified bangers for more than a decade. The difference there, of course, is that Gorillaz was a creative project that first and foremost aimed to make music and art, and that ruled. I have the heart of a right-clicker and I’ve laughed off much of the JPEG NFT craze as it’s uncoiled in all its horror over the past year. The space is awash in obvious scams directed at separating fools from their money. But Kingship feels different. It feels like something cooked up by the comically greedy record executives in Josie and the Pussycats. It’s also hard not to see this as some overreach in the NFT space, and maybe even an articulation point. Even as NFTs continue to sell and new projects proliferate, the market has undeniably cooled from its summer peak. And if that’s not enough, then there’s also Jimmy Fallon buying a Bored Ape NFT. If Kingship fails to take off in any meaningful way, it may well be another nail in the coffin of JPEG collectibles, specifically. The technology underlying NFTs is interesting, but using it to generate shitty images of lions and apes that go on to lead digital lives as a music-less “band” is the worst possible use of it.