SINGAPORE - The rise and rise of non-fungible tokens means that NFTs have changed the way people look at digital art.
An NFT is a unique crypto-currency token that can take the form of anything digital, such as a drawing, an animated GIF, a song, an item in a video game or even the first tweet by former Twitter head honcho Jack Dorsey.
While there have been concerns about the massive electricity use and environmental impact of NFTs, more and more personalities are getting in on the action, as they are seen as the epitome of cool.
In Singapore, singer JJ Lin is an avid collector, while model-influencer Irene Zhao launched a collection which generated a $7.5 million transaction value. Rapper Shigga Shay's NFTs sold out in four minutes, while infamous OnlyFans content creator Titus Low has also released NFTs.
Asian celebrities who have embraced NFTs include Taiwanese hip-hop artiste Jeffrey Huang, Mandopop king Jay Chou, Malaysian singer-director Namewee and South Korean musician-artist DJ Koo.
1. Jeffrey Huang
One of the biggest Asian celebrity collectors of NFTs, Jeffrey Huang, 49, has 3,500 NFTs in his public wallet on OpenSea, an online NFT marketplace. These include a large number of the highly coveted Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, which feature a primate with an unimpressed expression, often clad in human clothes.
He bought a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT for 425 Ether or ETH (valued at about $2.2 million at the time) in October 2021 and another for 430 ETH two months later. Both are among the top 10 most expensive and desirable Bored Ape NFTs.
A former member of Taiwanese pop-rap group L.A. Boyz, which were big in the 1990s, Huang is in hip-hop group Machi and is also known as Machi Big Brother.
His entire collection is reportedly valued at about $14 million and he has gone on to found a collective of digital artists and patrons known as Machi X.
2. Jay Chou
An avid collector of art in all forms, Mandopop star Jay Chou has a number of coveted NFTs in his digital portfolio.
However, a few NFTs were reportedly stolen from him in a phishing scam earlier this year. Among them was a prized NFT from Bored Ape Yacht Club, which was a gift from his celebrity pal, Jeffrey Huang. The stolen NFT was later sold for 155 ETH, which was about $710,000 at the time of the sale.
Chou, 43, who posted about the scam on Instagram on April 1, warned his followers to beware of such cybercrimes and said that they were not a joke.
In January, his fashion brand Phantaci launched a collection of 10,000 NFTs called Phanta Bear with EzekClub, an entertainment platform. The colourful cartoon bear NFTs sold out in under 40 minutes after launch, with many of Chou's celebrity friends showing off their Phanta Bears on Instagram.
3. JJ Lin
Another Mandopop star, JJ Lin, has also embraced the virtual world.
In November 2021, the Singaporean singer-songwriter bought a rare CryptoPunk NFT - there are only 10,000 of them - for 125 ETH (worth about $770,000 at the time).
He also owns a prized Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT, which was given to him by celebrity friend Jeffrey Huang, as well as a couple of NFTs from its offshoots, Mutant Ape Yacht Club and Bored Ape Kennel Club.
An enthusiast of all things tech, Lin, 41, is an avid gamer and owns all-Singaporean e-sports organisation, Team SMG. He also dropped a cool $124,000 on three plots of virtual land last year, which could have paid for half a two-room Housing Board flat.
4. Irene Zhao
Singapore-based model-influencer Irene Zhao, 28, made the news in January when her series of NFTs generated a $7.5 million transaction volume within 10 days.
The 1,106 NFTs feature Zhao in various poses that show off her figure with different meme slangs emblazoned across the frame.
These include "Have fun staying poor" and "Take my money", which are currently two of her highest-priced NFTs at US$490,000 (S$677,000) and US$290,000 respectively.
Called IreneDAO - DAO stands for "decentralised autonomous organisation", an online investment club based on crypto currency - the collection made Zhao about $407,000 richer.
According to an interview with Chinese magazine Nuyou's website, Zhao said the rest of the profits belongs to the IreneDAO community.
The success of her NFT collection meant that she could rely less on sponsored posts on her popular social media accounts.
Malaysian singer-director Namewee, 38, no stranger to making headlines, created a stir when he became a millionaire overnight in November 2021 from the sale of NFTs of a song.
Within three hours of release, all 100 copies of Go NFT - which included a song of the same name and 20 photos of banking corporations and large commercial enterprises - sold out, making him $1.1 million richer.
A month before that, the controversial star had released a duet, Fragile, with Australian singer Kimberley Chen. It went viral due to its barbed references to Chinese leader Xi Jinping and sensitive topics such as censorship, Covid-19 and the Uighurs. Both singers were blacklisted in China.
Riding on the popularity of the song, especially in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he later also released 100 NFTs of Fragile.
6. Shigga Shay
Singaporean rapper Shigga Shay, 29, became the fastest South-east Asian musician to sell out his NFTs, according to his music company Drink Entertainment.
The 29-year-old, known for his songs Limpeh (2013) and Lion City Kia (2014), sold out his debut collection of 999 NFTs, titled Spacebars, within four minutes of release on April 13.
Each NFT was sold for US$40 (S$54) through crypto-currency exchange Crypto.com, with total sales amounting to more than $55,000.
Based on the cover of his 365 EP released in 2020, the animated artworks feature a cartoon version of the rapper as an astronaut. They are accompanied by a rap verse he wrote specially for the collection.
He is reportedly working on releasing more NFT collections.
7. DJ Koo
South Korean DJ-rapper Koo Jun-yup, 52, better known as DJ Koo, became one of the most searched names on the Internet after his surprise marriage to Taiwanese actress Barbie Hsu, 45.
The news of Koo's nuptials to his former girlfriend from more than 20 years ago was extra shocking because she had recently divorced her husband, businessman Wang Xiaofei, after more than 10 years together.
Also, Koo did not meet Hsu in person before tying the knot in February while he was in South Korea and she was in Taiwan.
But the multi-hyphenate is not just into music, but is also an accomplished painter and has recently branched into NFTs.
He has released a number of NFTs since the beginning of the year, including ones which were based on his self-portraits for album covers in the 1990s.
Most recently, in April, he released some original artworks based on the tiger, which sold out within seven seconds.
8. Titus Low
Singaporean OnlyFans content creator Titus Low, 22, gained infamy when he was charged with transmitting obscene material by electronic means in December 2021.
He has been barred from the OnlyFans site, which charges subscribers a fee to access adult content, and could face up to 21 months in jail.
However, the enterprising influencer has taken to other social media platforms, such as YouTube and Instagram, and also released a collection of 222 NFTS in February, featuring him in varying degrees of undress.
The NFTs come with popular crypto phrases such as "wen lambo" (a shorthand for asking when one will get rich and presumably buy a Lamborghini) and "to the moon" (meaning the crypto currency's valuation is experiencing a significant spike in price and volume).