In brief

  • Now every SNL viewer knows what an NFT is.
  • NFTs are verifiable digital scarcity… Handy for artists!
  • The craze for tokenized digital art is only growing.

Saturday Night Live did a skit about non-fungible tokens last night, proving that the latest craze in digital art and collectibles has well and truly entered the pantheon of pop culture. 

The skit starts with a sunny establishing shot of a prestigious building on an American campus. Cut to a classroom where US secretary of treasury Janet Yellen (not really) finishes addressing a classroom of bored economics students and opens the floor to questions. A hand shoots up. It’s a student dressed as Batman’s sidekick Robin. A beat drops, sounding suspiciously like Eminem’s ‘Without Me.’ 

“Now what the hell’s an NFT?!” raps Robin, played by SNL cast member Pete Davidson. Then three minutes of NFT-related gags ensue. “Everyone’s doin’ it like Gronkowski” Davidson raps, referencing the $1.6 million dollar sale of digital trading cards minted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ tight end. 


At one point a pseudo-Morpheus (yes, from The Matrix) jumps on the beat and starts describing some hilarious and thoroughly believable NFTs. Don’t just take our word for it though. You can watch the video now on YouTube. 

What the hell is an NFT?

There have been decent digital distribution models across the arts for a while. Streaming giants like Netflix and its competitors cover the film industry, Spotify and Apple Music fight tooth and nail for your money over in the music industry, and Kindle occupies the relatively unchallenged space of digital literature. But how has visual art, something which is traditionally not a mass-producible product, navigated the new digital market?

It hasn’t… Well, until the advent of NFTs. Art’s value stems from its non-fungibility. You can trade a copy of a music album for another copy of that music album. Music albums are therefore fungible. But you can’t trade the Mona Lisa for another copy. If you did, someone would surely be getting ripped off. 


Enter NFTs. Thanks to the Ethereum blockchain, which allows for the drafting of smart contracts, anyone can tokenize their artwork and make the sale of it non-fungible. It’s all hinged around blockchain’s distributed ledger system, which enables artists to specify the scarcity of their work within the terms of the token, to be safely logged on Ethereum’s secure cryptographic ledger. 


If Da Vinci were alive today, he’d no doubt be itching to explore the NFT craze.

Decrypt recommends…

We’ve covered NFTs for a long time here on Decrypt. There’s a new generation of digital artists who are operating almost exclusively in this digital economy, but it’s a strange economy. 

The SNL skit satirizes a craze where anything can be tokenized, including, according to Chris Redd’s Morpheus: "GIFs of Ron Funches eating Lunchables. Or pics of Colin Jost's face, very punchable.” The NFT world is very much like that. When Twitter founder Jack Dorsey tokenized his first tweet on the platform—the first tweet ever—he made a quick $2.9 million from the sale

But there are some genuinely cutting-edge artists creating digital assets right now. Digital artist Beeple, real name Mike Winkelmann, created one image every day for 5,000 days and sold the tokenized collection as EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS. In a landmark auction for both NFTs and Christie’s auction house, EVERYDAYS sold to NFT collector Metakovan for $69.3 million.

And not far behind Beeple are some exciting new artists, at the forefront of which is 18-year-old Seattle artist FEWOCiOUS, who made $370,000 on their birthday this year on NFT auction house Nifty Gateway. 

Also, there’s Los Angeles artist Refik Anadol, who has wowed the public across the globe with his exciting machine-generated data paintings. In an interview with Decrypt, he vowed to tokenize every single future piece of work as an NFT. 


So there you have it: NFTs are really taking off. And it’s a confusing, often overwhelming world of heroes and antiheroes… But then, was art ever any different?

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