As with every cultural phenomenon, it’s difficult to predict which ones will tip and why they do. Why Harry Potter? Why Banksy? Why Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive? There are answers there, but they’re largely subjective. In the NFT space - one of the most explosive moments in contemporary art - which boasts a boom or bust mentality, has been channelled and curated so well by Bored Ape Yacht Club that they have emerged as unexpected leaders in this market.
To say ‘unexpected’ might sound unfair, or that they have no merit on the throne. That’s not true. It’s just that, at face value, it’s difficult to fathom exactly why cartoonish depictions of apes ended up being one of the hottest NFT collections in the world. There’s two ways to understand their success, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. That’s the quite literal sense of ‘what’ people are buying and ‘how’ the team devised the right strategy to transcend the level of others in the sphere.
Before we delve into further detail about those though, it would be remiss to ignore who the team behind these NFTs are. Yuga Labs, named after a villain in Zelda, developed a concept around the term ‘ape’ that’s thrown around in the Reddit and Twitter worlds of crypto trading and general tech.
Building on this narrative, Yuga Labs envisioned a bunch of these apes who had cashed in on the meteoric rise of crypto over the last several years who’ve effectively become bored with their lives. They have money, but not much to do with it. This insular and exclusive culture is automatically aspirational for those on the outside. For people who did or might want to make some money in this expanding and intimately linked field of crypto and NFTs - what better way than manifesting your inner ape than buying into these tokenised art collections?
So, what are they? Bored Ape Yacht Club tokens are both authenticated NFT art and a membership to an exclusive club, with access limited only to owners of the art. Drawn up in a ‘ramshackle’ manner that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Yuga Labs hoped to “convey a spirit of irreverence and absurdity”. With everybody and their pet cashing in on the NFT boom, these guys have staked their own claim by a combination of self-mockery and a genuinely novel idea that's thoroughly fleshed out.
This yacht club that token holding members gain access to is run down, situated in the heart of the Everglades - a place for likeminded apes to gather. Now the ‘how’. Building on their fairly light-hearted framework, Yuga Labs wanted to steer clear of the predatory pricing structures that have become prevalent in the space. NFTs can be good investments. They can also just be hastily thrown together and largely meaningless pieces of overpriced digital art.
A microcosm then for the art world at large, Yuga Labs bucked the trend, “By putting every NFT holder on equal footing with each other once, and by giving owners full commercial usage rights over their NFT, we set the stage for the community to be able to flourish beyond our wildest imagination.” Bolstering this, the crew of 11 have made their narrative as immersive as possible, combining digital and physical experiences through events like scavenger hunts and the possibility to own merch too.
Growing up on MMORPGs, the team know about the power of digital immersion, but also the mechanisms and manner that can translate over into the real world, “teaming up with strangers to get at rare items hidden away in dungeons. The metaverse is very real to anyone who lost years of their life (and made lifelong friends) in World of Warcraft, Everyquest, Star Wars Galaxies, Runescape etc.” This experience, unbeknownst at the time, was the perfect primer for the crossover between the crypto space and the gamification of valuable digital assets - in both creation and consumption.
With collectors like Serena Williams, Neymar Jr., Steve Aoki and Stephen Curry, BAYC epitomises the mercurial rise of the digital art sphere and the transcendent power of engaging creative work that can snowball on the back of hype. That's because they've created something genuinely interested, by giving potential buyers the possibility to become a part of something that, in some way, truly represents them.
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