After the release of Beyoncé’s 2016 audiovisual album Lemonade, fans of the singer went into a frenzy. While many were left in awe of the artist’s project, others felt sympathy for the superstar, who, throughout the album, chronicled her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity.
Unfaithful partners are not unique to stardom, but a specific subset of Beyoncé’s core fans, often referred to as the “Beyhive,” launched themselves on a hunt for Jay-Z alleged lover. Eventually, the Beyhive zoned in on the rapper’s former business partner, Rachel Roy, and launched a deluge of social media insults and threats on her and her daughter.
Clearly, this was a case of fandom gone wrong.
But digital identity is evolving, and with it fandom itself. Web3 technology enables fans to interact with each other, media, content creators, and even the celebrities they adore — all in a more interpersonal way. By envisioning fandom as a two-way street, both the fans and creators could enjoy more humanizing experiences. In addition to these, there could also be incentives that fundamentally transform the way we think about the concept of celebrity itself.
Fandom has evolved in the last century
A fandom is best defined as a group of individuals who have feelings of empathy and camaraderie for one another because they share a common interest. Today, many fandoms are full-blown subcultures, with their own way of speaking, dressing, and acting.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Once, fans could only converge in person or online in chat rooms, but social media provided new channels for people to communicate, offering new ways to empathize and relate to each other. This, in turn, even gave rise to superfans. And these devout lovers of their own unique interests found they no longer needed to operate in silos.
Throughout the 2010s, fans were empowered to share their fandom on social media for all to see, even gaining the ability to follow the daily lives of their peers and idols. From Justin Bieber’s “Beliebers”, to the “Weebs” and “Otakus” of anime fandom, and even devotees of the Fifty Shades Of Grey film and book franchise, fandoms went mainstream thanks to platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.
The power that social media affords us to quickly and efficiently communicate with people all over the world has now been distilled even further. And after nearly two decades of stagnancy, the concept of fandom is getting a major facelift in Web3.
As artist Dave Krugman stated in a previous interview with nft now, similar to how social media opened up new channels for fans to communicate, the blockchain has made it possible to create a close tie between fans and creators. “In the age of interconnected creative communities, the name of the game is incentive alignment. If the things that benefit my audience also benefit me, we are able to create a social symbiosis,” Krugman said.
How have fandoms changed in Web3?
In Web3, fandoms are manifesting by way of NFTs. While the jury is still out on whether gaming and other forms of entertainment could yield the same community-building results as digital collectibles, the NFT space has become a stomping ground for art and tech fandoms.
A lot of people think Bored Apes is only cool because they can make you rich. But the reality is that this isn’t really the case. While there is much to be said about the earning potential of NFTs that brings consumers into the space, the community aspect of the non-fungible ecosystem has continued to give greater meaning to the blockchain-based microcosm.
Regardless of gains and losses, Web3 users choose to engage with each other via Twitter and Discord not just to swap trading tips, but to make friends, share culture, root for their common interests, and feel like they belong. This is exactly why Bored Apes and other membership-based NFT projects have gained such prominence.
Of course, while BAYC certainly sets the highest example of the community-building possibilities in Web3, it’s just one fandom erected through the use of generative avatar (PFP) NFTs. There are countless other project and collection-centric fandoms that have come into being through NFTs.
For fans of music, whimsy, and bright, colorful characters, the Doodles fandom exists. For those who opt to spend their time consuming fantasy-based content and playing Dungeons & Dragons, there is Forgotten Runes Wizards Cult. Even for those who anchor their love for culture in the real world via streetwear, sneakers, and fashion, RTFKT provides a home. But to really get into the nitty-gritty of Web3 fandoms, we need look no further than the music NFT sector.
The importance of a two-way connection
Considering the tight-knit nature of musicians and their fans, perhaps it’s no surprise that Web3 has helped many music artists bootstrap a community. Even in Web2, SoundCloud, blogs, and Twitter provided artists and listeners with a way to engage one another, creating a rudimental two-way street of communication.
But in Web3, these conventional communication channels have substantially widened. Crucially, this change is reflected in the evolving roles of creators and consumers. Now, musicians are incentivized to do more than simply drop music and wait for fan feedback. On the blockchain, they can derive real-world value from their fans by selling ownership of their music and reaping the benefits alongside their community.
Web3 music fandoms work in two parts. First, fans can show their support for their favorite artists by purchasing their music in the form of NFTs. Doing so means that fans can place a monetary value on the love and support they would otherwise send out to artists by listening to their music on streaming, buying merch, attending shows, and posting about it on social media.
Second, artists can circumvent the red tape and antiquated systems of the legacy music industry via blockchain tech while maintaining ownership of their music and sharing that ownership with fans who buy their NFTs. This can happen on a small scale from a digitally native Web3 newcomer, or on a large scale from established acts like, say, Avenged Sevenfold (see the video below).
Either way, in a Web3 fandom, fans can directly pay artists for shared ownership of their music, effectively placing a bet on them to grow and become more popular, rather than just sending track links to their friends in hopes of turning them into fans. On the other hand, fans can also purchase music NFTs as collectibles, the same way you could a CD, or a poster for your wall. Or they could do so just simply to support artists out of the goodness of their hearts.
Again in the words of Krugman: NFTs can create a financial tie between creator and collector that aligns their priorities. “When someone owns a digital asset that I created, the value of that asset is tied to my own creative success. Thus, our incentives are aligned at a deep level — we share a common goal, and that creates a healthier connection between the community and the creator,” he said.
This model, as described by Krugman, is palpable within the sizeable fandom surrounding Web3 music and music NFTs. Inside this general subculture, there are individual fandoms centered around music NFT platforms and Web3 music artists. In contrast to the aforementioned traditional fandoms of Web2, there’s a give-and-take present in Web3 communities. There is no “BTS Army,” because instead of a central group that moves as one, everyone in a Web3 fandom has a voice, and gets to maintain their individuality.
In the new media environment of Web3 fandom, devotees can do more than simply gossip and update one another on how great and what’s next for an artist — in the often vain hope of one day getting some one-on-one interaction or social media mention from their idols. Instead, they have the opportunity to engage directly with their favorite artist as a member of a community with more equal footing — as a partial owner of an artist’s IP.
Consider this updated model of fandom in the context of the Beyoncé anecdote. What if Beyhive was a Web3 community? A community with direct access to Queen B herself may never have signed off on such vindictive measures.
Sometimes, fans and fandoms act contrary to the beliefs of the artists they idolize. But perhaps all they need is a reality check from these idols themselves. With Web3, this accessibility is not only possible, but encouraged. And thanks to Web3, fandoms have a shot at undergoing a new evolution.