Everything You Always Wanted to Know About ‘Miladys’ but Were Afraid to Ask
These anime-inspired NFTs come with some deeply confounding ideological baggage.
If you’ve spent any time on Crypto Twitter over the past few months, you may have noticed a strange new presence on your feed – an army of tiny, anime-inspired avatars, plastered across an array of fresh accounts.
You know these portraits when you see them: bug-eyed, uncannily lo-fi and rendered at the notorious three-quarter angle associated with so many “profile picture”-type non-fungible token (NFT) projects.
Yes, these are NFTs – a set of 10,000 generative icons unified by a single style – but they’re also something more: the start of a never-ending internet rabbit hole, an inscrutable ideological universe replete with high theory and “anti-woke” Substack newsletters.
This is the Milady Maker collection, an art project courtesy of a mysterious online collective called Remilia. Unlike your typical NFT project, Miladys (it keeps the “Y,” in the plural) exist in a world apart from the rest of Web 3.
You’ll find no “WAGMI” slogans here, no allusions to the distinctly pre-teen aesthetics of Bored Apes or Stoner Cats. Miladys are where the polytheistic religion of Vedism, kaomoji callsigns (a particularly DIY flavor of emoticons), rave culture, venture capital and the downtown New York podcast ecosystem intersect. They’re also involved with Urbit – an audacious project to rebuild the internet (and computing itself) from scratch – which, in its current form, mostly functions as a slower version of AOL Instant Messenger.
The point, as far as I can tell, is that nothing coheres; The anime egirl imagery and allusions to the accelerationist philosophy of writers like Nick Land feel like right-wing dog whistles, and yet the Remilia crew insist they’re beyond cancellation. It’s edgelords all the way down.
Here’s a deeper look at the Milady phenomenon.
What’s a Milady?
First and foremost, Miladys are NFTs, financial instruments with their own discrete value. The cheapest Miladys will cost you about $2,000 before fees, though they’ve historically sold for much more. Thanks to an online hype cycle, the average selling price for a Milady in mid-April was around $6,000.
That name, “Milady,” is a riff on “m’lady,” an expression of courtesy that has come to be associated with fedora-wearing gamers and faux-chivalrous “nice guys” in online forums.
The art for these 10,000 profile pictures was designed by a Remilia member called “Milady Sonora,” or “Milady Sonoro.” As with most of the people behind Miladys, they’re completely pseudonymous.
The mastermind behind the project (and the self-identified “CEO” of Remilia) appears to be “Charlotte Fang,” also known as Charlie or Charlemagne.
In an October essay titled “Milady Maker: Notes on the Design Process,” Fang outlines the schematic behind the traits assigned to each Milady. Miladys with rarer items (clothes, accessories, skin colors) are assigned a higher “drip score,” from “SS” tier down to “Normal.”
Some have criticized the decision to use “SS,” rather than just “S,” given the shared initials with the Nazi paramilitary organization, though Fang has denied any such connection. (Fang initially agreed to an interview with CoinDesk, but backed off.)
While the collection was launched last fall, it remained isolated from the broader crypto sphere until the spring, when Twitter-brained influencers and venture capitalists developed a fascination with the tokens. The rarest Milady in the SS tier sold for 15 ETH (around $45,000 at the time) in March, around the time that Miladys were starting to see a public resurgence.
The crypto venture capitalist Tom Schmidt, who currently rocks a Milady as his Twitter profile picture, told me he was attracted to the Milady aesthetic.
“I thought they were cool and cheap,” he said. “That's pretty much it.”
Of course, that’s not all there is to the project. Remiila faced backlash after the initial launch of the collection, once traders discovered a strange quirk in one of the Milady accessories: Some of the avatars in a spin-off collection (“Milady, That B.I.T.C.H.”) were wearing shirts bearing the word “Treblinka” – as in the Nazi concentration camp.
Schmidt argued that even if Miladys are associated with some unsavory ideas, they can still be reclaimed by the community of investors.
“Pepe has followed a similar route from being sort of hardcore, borderline white supremacist, 4chan people into being this fun representation of internet culture,” he said, referring to the cartoon frog once ubiquitous on internet forums. “I think Miladys is going through a similar phenomenon, where it's almost being repurposed or recaptured from whatever it was associated with initially.”
Angelicism01, egirls, Nick Land and network spirituality
Understanding Miladys means grappling with its slogan: “I long for network spirituality,” a kind of mantra among Remilia acolytes and members of downtown New York City’s burgeoning alt-lit scene.
It connotes togetherness – maybe something like a singularity, or the cosmic unification of the Third Impact in the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion – but it’s also, ultimately, gibberish, a cultural signifier more than a coherent statement of purpose. And in its refusal to actually mean anything at all, it’s more or less emblematic of the Milady vibe.
Though Remilia borrows heavily from Japanese streetwear culture, Milady Maker is a New York-centric phenomenon. The group has held three Milady Raves, all based in the city. I attended the first, at the tail end of last year’s NFT.NYC, and distinctly remember hearing Radiohead’s “Idioteque” over the speakers at some point during the night (cops shut everything down after an hour or so).
Milady Maker’s connection to New York also lends credence to the idea that its origins are, if not entirely grounded in edgelord, shock-value politics, at least somewhat reactionary. A recent Vanity Fair article traced the shape of the city’s “new right,” a scene more indebted to Nick Land and the right-wing blogger Curtis Yarvin than to the MAGA crowd. For these people, Catholicism is cool, family values are in and accepting money from Peter Thiel is a kind of aspiration. Angelicism01 and Land’s collected works (“Fanged Noumena”) are urtext; Barrett Avner’s Contain project, Honor Levy’s Wet Brain podcast, and the array of Instagram meme accounts ending in “-cellectuals” are sites of interpretation.
It’s no surprise that Miladys have taken hold among this crew; cypherpunk libertarians and crypto guys are sick of “woke culture” too. (Angelicism01 even sells NFTs of its own.)
But Remilia has been accused of more than just edginess and online trolling. Critics have drawn connections between Remilia and another, more explicitly bigoted online group: a defunct collective caled Kaliacc. It’s short for Kali Yuga Accelerationism, referring to the Vedic concept of the Yuga Cycle, which has sometimes cropped up among right-wing factions. The collective’s website still links to one of its old Twitter handles, “Ariosophy,” a nod to Nazi ideology.
And although Remilia’s official Twitter account did make several explicit references to Miya, Charlotte Fang has pushed back against the allegation. Apparently trying to get ahead of the backlash, Fang wrote a piece last week called “Cancel Miya to me or I’ll f**king kill you,” in which he praised Kaliacc even as he attempted to distance himself from it:
“It is true Miya was an early example of the kind of collaborative, performative net art that interests us, and it is also true much of the content it produced was problematic. But who cares? It’s an artist’s duty to explore and critique the contemporary, even in all its ugliness, and if they determine that critique is best produced in a process of performative embodiment, so be it. You can expect more people and groups in this space to continue to engage with ‘problematic’ realities in ‘problematic’ ways. Good, it means art is back. Cancel culture is dead, disavowal doesn’t belong here.”
“He knows he got totally … caught and has to do damage control,” surmised one Twitter commentator.
Even if Charlotte Fang isn’t Miya, Milady Maker is practically begging you to be offended, to grasp for some coherent ideology among the almost-bigotry and recurrent dog whistles.
I don’t know whether I buy the defense that it’s all performance art, but it’s also clear to me that Miladys aren’t just one thing. In the way Miladys don’t stand for anything in and of themselves (most Milady owners probably don’t even know about Remilia), it’s difficult to assign a single ideology to a scene this multifarious and decentralized.
It comes down to what traders are willing to tolerate. For Tom Schmidt, the controversy is all water under the bridge. For investors like Dom Hofmann, the creator of Vine and prominent NFT artist, the calculus isn’t quite so simple. A few months ago, in the Friends with Benefits Discord server, Hofmann claimed to have bought a few Miladys himself; when he was informed about the project’s origins, he said he sold them.
It’s too early to tell whose lead the market might follow. For now, though, Miladys persist.
UPDATE (MAY 22, 2022 – 23:15 UTC): In the wake of this article, and leaked screenshots from private group chats, Charlotte Fang has confirmed he was behind the “Miya” project.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.
Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk’s longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to consensus.coindesk.com to register and buy your pass now.