The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.
Working in journalism, you get a lot of emails. Like wouldn’t-wish-on-your-worst-enemy inbox totals. (As of this writing, mine is 35,101.) After a while, none of them are surprising; you just become Cypher in The Matrix watching the characters flow across the screen, deciphering their meaning. This week, one arrived with a very troubling message: I’m too old for this shit.
That’s not what it actually said, of course. What it actually said was: “Def Jam signs digital avatar music group The Whales.” Upon opening it, I learned that the label whose works I’d been consuming since the days of tape decks, the one that signed Jay-Z and Slick Rick and the Beastie Boys, has cut a deal with a group of cartoon whale characters created by a Web3 company called Wagmi Beach. It’s a partnership between the label and The Catalina Whale Mixer, which Billboard says is “a collection of 5,555 NFT avatars on the Solana blockchain.” In layperson’s terms, a long-revered record company just signed a bunch of digital collectibles to make music.
Please understand, it’s not that I find this concept confusing. I grew up in the age of the Gorillaz. But what’s baffling is that, as of yet, there is no Damon Albarn. The press release promised an “all-star cast” of writers, producers, and performers but named none. Instead, Wagmi cofounder Alec Lykken provided a statement declaring that Web3 signaled “a fundamental technology change that will alter how music and art is consumed by generations to come.”
Sure, but what music? Def Jam has connections to the biggest artists in the world, and I’m sure it will find some folks to actually make a solid record, but this has to be some metaverse version of putting the cart before the horse. The press release didn’t even say what genre of music The Whales would make.
This isn’t meant to pooh-pooh an idea just because it’s full of buzzwords and light on concrete details, but if Web3 truly wants to revolutionize art, it also ought to make some. Yes, dadaists will argue that anything can be art if you say it is, but a band without music is something else. It’s hard to imagine Rick Rubin going into the studio with a bunch of digital collectibles, even if they are made by folks with some really great ideas about their vibe.
On this, I want to be proven wrong. Maybe The Whales are the next Gorillaz. Or, at least, maybe they can hire Albarn to make them sound like they are. Maybe they can do every concert in Fortnite and never give out autographs. Maybe I’m the one who is obsolete.