Simplicity. Integrity. Meaning. Purpose.
Apart, these are empty buzzwords. But together, they’re something more: S.I.M.P., an online commandment, and the meme at the heart of a new NFT project called IreneDAO, which has become a case study in how crypto is monetizing a certain kind of obsessive relationship between fans and content creators.
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Structurally, IreneDAO resembles most other pricey NFT collections: a limited set of pictures tied to tokens on the Ethereum blockchain, all sort of the same, but sort of different. DAO is short for “decentralized autonomous organization,” an online investment club based around cryptocurrency; the tokens grant buyers access to the DAO.
This one, in which Zhao holds up the word “simp” on a sign, recently sold for 4 ETH, or over $12,000:
Simp, of course, isn’t just an invented acronym. Merriam-Webster defines it (sorry) as “a stupid or foolish person,” sort of like a “simpleton.” But for a more precise definition of “simp” as it’s used in this context, we’re better off turning to Urban Dictionary, an online compendium of slang terms, which frames it as an explicitly gendered concept.
Online, it refers to a certain kind of hardcore fan (usually a man) who goes out of their way to lavish attention on the object of their fandom (usually a woman). It was originally used as an insult, since the psychology of “simping” can border on the obsessive, though simps have since attempted to reclaim the term.
When the sticker pack took off, SO-COL decided to turn the images into an NFT collection.
Like so many other NFT projects and online get-rich-quick schemes, IreneDAO managed to capture lightning in a bottle. The rise of so-called meme stocks like GameStop and AMC set the stage for this sort of thing at the dawn of the 2020s, putting real value behind viral jokes. For Zhao and Tang, the self-conscious “simp” mentality is part of the brand.
Simp psychology has already proved lucrative for other influencers: a streamer named Belle Delphine famously sold her bath water to fans for $30 a jar, and Stephanie Matto recently caused a stir with her “fart-in-a-jar” NFTs, which she’s said can be redeemed for actual farts in actual jars. On the streaming platform Twitch, subscribers regularly tip their favorite gamers and commentators in the hope of getting an on-air shout-out.
But even if the success of IreneDAO is absurd, it’s indicative of crypto’s ability to quickly capitalize on hype and turn fandom into cash. Belle Delphine announced her bath water sale in 2019, well before NFTs hit the mainstream; would she have done things differently in the NFT era?
In the case of IreneDAO, though, things appear to have worked out. In a recent Q&A session on YouTube, Zhao explained that SO-COL could mark the beginning of a sort of “social finance,” or SocialFi, application. It could work a little like a social token, where fans purchase creator coins as a form of investment in a star’s popularity.
“Irene DAO is just a proof of concept for SO-COL," she said, "because people [are] really skeptical about this fan economy, and whether it’s really gonna be bullish in the Web 3 ecosystem.”
It may collapse, as NFT projects often do. But as long as simps exist, and fans continue to shovel money toward influencers for a little attention, crypto will remain a tantalizing cash grab.
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