Brenna Sparks wills herself to try new things.
Equal parts adult star and crypto evangelist, she's not the kind of Las Vegas denizen who never hits the strip. But when asked if she wants to take the High Roller, the city's 550-foot tall Ferris wheel with a serious view, the thought clearly petrifies her.
Still, she insists we go.
It’s fitting, as Sparks embraces the highs and lows – both in life and in crypto. In an email following our meeting, she writes about how she believes crypto is getting stronger and stronger.
That said, Sparks is admittedly a bit of a newcomer to crypto, best known as an advisor for SpankChain, one of a handful of projects that have raised funding via an initial coin offering and released tokens designed to power a protocol in a bid to disrupt the adult industry.
But her work has since taken her to unexpected places.
Take the promotional stunt she took part in this year that involved the bitcoin price and a body part that’s not known for its role in crypto conversations. Let's just say that she encourages others to try new things.
That applies broadly, too. Sparks boosts what's known as the decentralized internet, a term that’s come to refer to a time when the intermediaries we know today – think Google, Amazon, Facebook – have been replaced by code owned by no one and operated by users.
"I don't believe in the current ideas people are pushing for adoption. I'm hoping to go and do my own thing and focus on mass adoption," she tells us.
But we're going to have to wait to see what she wants to do.
If there’s a plan, Sparks is shy about saying it. "Right now, it's all about keeping crypto people in crypto. Many just want to leave,” she says.
For example, she’s shot one sexy-but-educational video aimed at helping viewers buy their first cryptocurrencies, but she still hasn’t published it. She's convinced her work can do more good when the market gets out of this funk.
She adds: “It's only when things have calmed down that you focus on bringing new people in.”
The downside of the down
Still, when she does, it’s safe to say Sparks just might bring the very thing that’s made her such a compelling figure in crypto in 2018: a message about what it means to be a real user.
Sparks will be the first to tell you she's not a trader, but she's acutely aware of aspects of blockchain that go beyond the technical. When the price goes up or down, that impacts Sparks, who holds roughly 75 percent of her wealth in crypto.
"I do earn a good living outside of crypto. ... I think this enables me to really be aggressive with investing and not get shortsighted by Lambos and tickets to the moon," she wrote CoinDesk. "I don't drive and rockets scare me."
But it’s not just skin in the game (and in the crypto videos she plans to make) that yields Sparks' crypto fandom, it’s the way that she uses both experiences to truly connect with followers.
Half-playful boast, half-trolling, it’s an example of how Sparks is able to connect with the sentiments of a community and channel that into her work. At the time, the price of ether was hanging perilously above $100, the threshold seen by many as what opened the floodgates to its meteoric rise – from just a few dollars to over $1,000 – over the course of 2017.
In that sense, she's showing solidarity.
But if fans are feeling down, Sparks has had a year that resembles our Ferris wheel ride, one that began on the up and ended on the down: SpankChain is closing the year amidst layoffs. It's sad, but unavoidable in her mind.
Still, Sparks doesn't seem rattled by that, at least compared to her reaction to the Ferris wheel.
As we got ready to board she looks up; she’s very clearly scared. (The High Roller is basically a bunch of small orbs attached to a giant machine. The orbs rotate on the wheel as it turns, but so slowly that, from the inside, you can't tell.)
Like the blockchain, thinking about how this cleverly engineered ride works can be painful. Also, like the blockchain, the High Roller doesn't stop for you to figure it out. You get on board while it's still moving, as we do, with maybe a dozen tourists, as the prior group exits out the other side.
At first, Sparks was the only one to avail herself of the small bench in our compartment. We sit there talking about crypto and, unlike everyone else, she is studiously not looking out the window.
But by the time we got about a quarter of the way up, she starts to peak. We reach the top just as night has fully fallen and Vegas looks like the Milky Way pressed into the earth, and soon Sparks is tweeting out a video about the view.
That's how she said she always is, though. When something scares her she's terrified before she does it. Then, it’s as if she's been doing it her whole life.
But what about Sparks’ life? Certainly, we don’t get much of a glimpse of it in her videos, though we see everything else, or in her tweets, most of which are a mix of travel, life and crypto, though never in a way that’s (and this is a little ironic) revealing.
It turns out, we have her ex-boyfriends to thank for bringing Sparks into its ranks.
"The type of guys I typically go for," she tells us, "are typically nerdy."
This is early in our conversation, at a shop for toast and coffee that Sparks picks because of its pink interior. We started our day together there. When she showed up, she had no idea we'd go over 50 stories up riding a glass-enclosed bubble on a wheel.
She shows up exactly on time for our 1:30 p.m. meeting, arriving in a red baseball cap and a t-shirt under a light space-themed jacket, solo, in an Uber. Her eye makeup is 100 percent on brand but otherwise... Sparks does porn, but she doesn't front like a star.
That’s no doubt because she wasn’t always one, at least back when the first crypto boyfriend showed her bitcoin in 2009. Another one showed her ethereum, in 2017.
For more about those guys, just hunt the internet. She talks about them in several interviews. Just be sure to add "crypto" or "ethereum" to your search terms.
In past conversations, though, she says that she's never had the problem with banks that other adult stars have had, but that changed this spring.
"I believe we shouldn't have banks," she told us.
It's not hard to understand why. One day, her bank accounts were shut down because bankers found out she was doing porn.
"I was up front that I was a stripper," she says, when setting up the account. Then later she got into doing adult video and that's what they didn't like, she said.
She tried to withdraw her money as soon as they shut it down, but they wouldn't give it to her immediately. Not until she took it to Twitter and her fans brigaded the bank on her behalf.
"I posted on Twitter and they gave me money back in 48 hours," she said.
But she connects her experience with the bank to other roadblocks she's hit.
For example, she's currently on her third Instagram account, because she keeps getting kicked off for posting stuff that's too sexy. She knows other stars who have been kicked off of Twitter, too, because they failed to understand the nuances of its rules around adult content.
Woman of the people
But if that’s why she believes in crypto, Sparks has her own theories on why she’s made such a connection to the industry, too.
"Crypto needs a face. They need someone who can be general," she said.
She says this several times as we speak and in a follow-up email. Satoshi's facelessness turns her off. She likes Vitalik, but she only sees him reaching techies.
She wants someone who can speak to the masses and for the technology. As she put it, she wants kids to be accidentally buying crypto when they are playing with mom's cell phone – because it's that easy.
She also wants the technology to fix some of its weird gaps. "One of my biggest fears in using crypto (especially in the earlier days) was sending transactions. There were times when something happened and the money just never went through and got lost," she writes.
Neat new applications that give people better ways to make money are great, but Sparks' insight about normal people is that they want to know they aren't going to stupidly lose money before they try a new way to use it.
And in the developed world, the current system works fine for most.
"A lot of normal people don't know what it feels like to have your bank close on you," she told us. Sex workers do, but they're still reluctant to try crypto's solutions. She feels consciousness needs to be raised before minds can really change.
“Before a sex worker can even begin to look into cryptocurrencies, they first need to see what's wrong with the current setup and need to grow to hate it before they can be passionate about the solution,” she says.
So, could Sparks parlay her people-first insights into a bid to be that relatable face for crypto?
She's cagey on that point. Instead, she gives a nod to Andreas Antonopoulos, who she believes starts in the right place with his critiques of the present system. But could she be a leader later on, when the market's ready for her to make her move?
"Maybe," she tells us as we ride into downtown Vegas in a Lyft, but she looks away, reluctantly.
It’s tough to tell again if she's distracted by the impending Ferris wheel ride still ahead.
Whether or not it’s something she’ll harness, it’s clear there’s an opportunity.
Her pro-crypto message has distinguished her from the ocean of adult performers out there, no doubt helping her earn her a nomination for "Crossover Star of the Year" in the XBiz Awards (up against Stormy Daniels, who has also had quite a year, to say the least about the most).
Her ventures into new experiences were not limited to the blockchain: She did a bunch of new varieties of porn this year. She did porn in VR (she got an award nomination there, too). She did her first ASMR video (talking softly for people turned on by girls talking softly).
Looking ahead, she wants to satisfy her fans desire for Web3 inspired content. For example, crypto cosplay, but she just has to figure out what that means first. She might start simple and troll some crypto Illuminati with racy tape, she told us. All that remains to be seen.
But her big crossover moment culminated this summer, with the stunt we mentioned above: Sparks invited an engineer for Via, a micropayments cryptocurrency, to visit her in Vegas from the Netherlands and – there's not really a euphemism for this – eat her ass.
The engineer, who just goes by Romano, had never done it before, and the internet had decided that crypto markets would pump if he did. It quickly became referred to as a "prophecy."
The so-called prophecy of Romano doing this thing he did not find appealing managed to become part of the Smimem vs. Bogdanoff YouTube meme – which, for anyone who doesn't know about this, is pretty fun. Wade in.
Romano told CoinDesk the whole thing started with a conversation on Twitter where other guys dared him to go there with someone – anyone. He told CoinDesk via Twitter direct message:
Unrelated to the dare, Romano became Twitter friends with Sparks because he and others had convinced her to buy some via. "She checked the viacoin block explorer to see if it arrived, which impressed me," he told us.
So as she got pulled into the dare, he asked her if she knew a Vegas denizen he could engage in the act in question with. She told him he might as well do it with her, because they were friends and, to paraphrase her telling, having some guy eat her ass a bit was basically just another day in the life of Brenna Sparks.
She doesn't just will herself to do new things. She gets others there, too.
When it went down, the act lasted a few seconds. He did it, fellow porn star Bobbi Dylan witnessed it and it was done. Then they all hung out in Vegas.
Just Be Real
In other words, Sparks will go where few might venture to sell the world on this new technology.
She’s long crypto, but refuses to shill for any particular coin – not in this market. She really seems to buy this vision; crypto isn't just her porn niche. It's her niche. She told us about coins she's promoted, but she asked us not to repeat them – Sparks wants people to make their own picks now.
We spent about seven hours with Sparks, talking about porn, crypto and life. As far as we can tell, the Sparks in her videos is the genuine Sparks. She's really that bubbly. She laughs all the time. And she really wants crypto to disrupt everything.
She likes her fans. She's bummed out by haters, but she's quick to point out that no one ever talks smack to her face.
"It turns out that there are a ton of misogynists in the crypto space, which I found to be very disappointing. Aside from that, the overall popularity has benefited me far more than it hasn't," she told us.
Despite the negatives, she thinks bridging porn and crypto has been rewarding.
"I went from being a homebody girl to someone surrounding themselves with very influential people trying to change the world and trying to get my input on matters. My growth has been demanding more from me faster than I can keep up with," she confessed.
All we asked is that she ride on a giant Ferris wheel, a huge metaphor in the heart of her adopted city for the process that made her one of 2018's most influential in cryptocurrency.
At first, she was terrified. Halfway through, she was totally into it and by the time we got off? She was talking about where we could go get dinner.
She faced the idea, embraced the experience, and she was over it before we were through. Will it be the same for Sparks with crypto?
Probably not. Unlike the ride on the Ferris wheel, Sparks has made it through the fun part and she's still here. As she later wrote:
Art by ChibiFighters (@chibifighers)
Photos by Brady Dale for CoinDesk
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