Any and all things related to NFTs sound like a word salad. After all, how could an obscure acronym unite Urs Fischer, Grimes, Bhad Bhabie, Calvin Harris, and Kate Moss? But the more NFTs have become inescapable, the more Paris Hilton—a trailblazer if there ever was one, and an early adopter of NFTs—has been proven right.
If you were to ask Hilton what on Earth a “non-fungible token” means, you’d hardly be the first. She’s quietly—and quite surprisingly—been one of the community’s foremost devotees since March of 2020. “They all call me the OG,” she said with a laugh on the phone from L.A., referring to her new crypto family. Hilton was careful to wait until she was fully immersed to drop her own official NFTs, in collaboration with the artist Blake Kathryn.
How exactly did Hilton create them? And what really is an NFT, anyway? Here, Hilton benevolently offers an explainer—she’s doing her best to spread the gospel—and shares an exclusive early glimpse at the four that’ll go live on Hilton’s go-to NFT site, Nifty Gateway.
You’re clearly super into all this—you just named your dogs Crypto and Ether.
Yeah, they’re tiny teacup Pomeranians. My fiancé’s last name is Reum, so I thought it’d be really funny and cute to name her Ether Reum—so if you put it together, it’s Ethereum.
You got into NFTs back in March of 2020. Back then, I didn't even know they existed.
Most people didn’t. I got approached by Cryptograph because they wanted to do something where 100 percent of the proceeds would go to charity for food and housing. I decided to draw whatever came to my mind, so I just got my iPad and drew my kitten Munchkin. [It sold for $17,000.] That was the beginning, before this whole NFT craze blew up. It's exciting—I had no idea that it would accelerate the way it has. I've always prided myself on being an innovator, a pioneer, the first at doing things. So this is just another area in which I've done that.
Have you been keeping up with it since, or just now that they’ve hit the mainstream?
After my painting launched last year, I just realized the power of the technology and how it can empower and inspire people, especially creators. I became a student of the game, talking to industry leaders, joining Clubhouse chats, researching, listening to podcasts. People have been talking about NFTs since last year, but the mainstream media only picked it up a few months ago.
Why do you think they’re so appealing to artists?
I really see them as the future of art. Before, art was all about, you know, if you could get to the Gagosian gallery or get into Art Basel. There wasn't really a space for digital art. So they've really opened up this whole new world; even if you're not a big name, no matter where you're from, if you have an internet connection and you have talent, you can come through and do something. Just like that story with [the digital artist] Beeple. He was this guy living in South Carolina—married, kids—and he was an amazing artist, but only sold his pieces for, like, $100. And now he just had a big sale, at $69 million. That wouldn't have been possible in the traditional art world before all this. It was only possible because of NFTs and the blockchain and this whole new way of doing art.
So, it’s super exciting for so many artists now to get recognized for their talent and cutting out the middlemen. Even with music—it’s not about a record label that’s only going to promote a certain type of artist. It’s now the people who decide. Also, I think for collectors, it’s much less intimidating. You don’t have to fly to Hong Kong or Miami. You can literally collect from the comfort of your home. It’s just so much fun.
Will you continue to be into traditional art, alongside NFTs?
Yeah, of course. I love all art. I love paintings; I love collages; I love sculptures. I love to make physical art as well, but now I'm learning this whole new world of digital art, which is so much fun because it's just so different from what you can do with a paintbrush. You can make it moving, in 3-D, with sound. Some of the pieces people are doing really blow my mind. I started collecting on Nifty Gateway and it's just so fun.
So, to help others discover them, let's start with the basics: What is the blockchain?
It's basically where everything is laid out. NFTs are a file type, like a JPEG or PDF—those are the ones that live on your computer or your server on your phone—that live on the blockchain. But in contrast, when you mint an NFT on the blockchain, then you have the token that can't be meddled with, so you can't make a copy of it. It can't be a counterfeit. It's all managed by the blockchain, which makes everything public. Every single time it's sold, it's already all out there for the public to see. So even when the artist does sell it on a secondary market, they always get a certain percentage of the sales, which is amazing for them.
So what is an NFT?
It stands for non-fungible token, which is a digital token that's redeemable for a digital piece of art, an experience, or even a physical object that's connected to the blockchain. It's very hard to wrap your head around because there's so much that goes into it. But when you really think about the technology and all that, it's actually simpler than you think.
Yeah, I think it's the word “fungible” that really throws people off. How do you buy them?
There are a lot of different platforms—I've been reading about so many new ones—but the ones that are my favorite so far are Nifty Gateway and Origin. Basically you sign up, get some digital currency, and either buy art during a drop or on the secondary market where people resell.
So once you buy an NFT, do you just pull up the file whenever you want to look at it? Would you ever get a display screen?
I was actually researching the best display screen all weekend. It's such a new thing, but a couple of companies are doing it. These pieces are so cool, and I can just imagine them hanging all over my house. Almost like The Jetsons, you know—this is the future. But I love having them on my phone, and that people can go through my collection or anyone else's gallery. You can do virtual art shows where people can bring their works into the metaverse, which is really fascinating.
There's only one copy of each, right? So if you have it on your phone, do you not have it on your computer too?
You can. I just made a separate Instagram account dedicated to my NFTs. You basically have the ownership, which is different than just having a screenshot or a copy. It's not the same thing.
Right—couldn't I just screenshot one of your Instagrams? What's the difference?
There's a certain certification of a digital blockchain, which people can see on the blockchain. So a screenshot isn't the same thing, because you don't have the ownership. It's hard to wrap your head around, but think about the people who spend millions of dollars on a baseball card or a baseball bat. When you really think about it, all it is is a piece of cardboard with jet ink, a baseball bat that someone touched. How is that different from an actual, real piece of art that's digital?
Can people still see that it's certified when you upload it to a platform like Instagram?
People can see where it came from if they look it up on the blockchain. A lot of people just do it to showcase other artists, without having any ownership of it. And these things increase in value, and people can sell them or trade them.
How are NFTs different from other forms of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin?
Well, cryptocurrency refers to digital currency built on the top of the blockchain, whereas NFTs are built on the blockchain audience. Instead of being associated with digital currencies, they're associated with art experiences or items.
What's the difference from Bitcoin specifically?
There are a lot of different types of cryptocurrencies, and they're all different. There's Bitcoin, there's Ethereum, which my dog is named after. Origin just came out with their new coin. My friend has the whale coin as well. So there are a lot coming out, as well as social currencies and social tokens, that are separate from Bitcoin.
Do you use any of the other ones?
Yeah, back in 2016 I became friends with the founders of Ethereum. We started talking about cryptocurrencies and right after that dinner, I went and bought a bunch of Ethereum and Bitcoin, because I saw them as the future of currencies. And today, I think the numbers that are happening are really proving that.
What kind of stuff did you buy with the others?
I've just been keeping them, because I really see it as a long-term investment. I think Bitcoin is at its highest peak right now. It just keeps going up.
How many NFTS do you have at this point?
Something like 37 so far.
Can I ask the most you've ever paid for one?
Hmm. I don't want to brag about money, so I don't want to say, but I've received gifts from people that are six figures.
What are some of your favorites?
I really loved Grimes's very early, very cool drop. Pak has an exhibition up with Sotheby's and Nifty Gateway, which I think is just amazing. It's a moment in history to see Sotheby's getting into digital art with this iconic, mysterious OG. And then there's FriendsWithYou—they did a really cool collab with Diplo. And, of course, I think Beeple is amazing.
Have you talked with Grimes about NFTs?
We've hung out before. I haven't talked to her about NFTs because I haven't seen her since, probably, 10 months ago, but she's very cool. Very interesting, very interesting.
Are you getting any of your friends who aren't in that world into NFTs?
Oh yeah. A lot of my friends see me really talking about it and saw that my drop is happening, so they're like, How do I get into this? Some of my DJ friends have done really cool drops, like Diplo. It's cool to see so many people coming into the space.
You must be fielding a lot of requests.
Definitely. A lot of people are asking to collab with me. There are some amazing collaborations coming up soon.
You got into all this so long ago. Why wait until now for your first official drop?
I really wanted to learn as much as possible, all there was, before I completely dove in. There's a lot to learn, and this is just the beginning. This is going to really be revolutionary, and it's going to be around forever. And I wanted to collaborate with the right person.
How do you make an NFT?
NFTs come in all different forms, so you make whatever art you want to make. So with mine, I was so excited to partner up with Blake Kathryn because I really wanted to work with a female artist. I just believe there aren't enough female artists and collectors in this space. I've been such a fan, and she knows my aesthetic so well, so it was the perfect match. I made my mood board, and we've been working together for the past several months, just going back and forth. We did four pieces for Nifty Gateway that all have a different story to them. I wanted to make it personal so that my fans or whoever gets these really has a piece of me.
Once you've finished whatever the NFT is, do you just go to Nifty Gateway and upload it?
Yeah—whoever you're working with will mint it and basically do all technical things behind the scenes and then it's ready to go up.
Are you involved in that? Do you know how the minting works?
I'm more of a creative person who comes up with the art. I think you need to be a coder to do that. But Nifty Gateway does that for everyone.
Do you know how to code?
Not yet, but I'm a fast learner and I'm sure I could learn—I'm the type that if I really wanted to, I could.
Tell me more about the NFTs you made with Blake.
One of them is dedicated to [Hilton's dog] Tinkerbell, because she was just such an important part of my life and I really wanted to memorialize her. She was the OG, icon, my best friend, my other half, such a big part of my life, so we have her in her glory, which is really cool. And then another piece is a sculpture of myself because I'm obsessed with avatars and that cool, futuristic vibe.
The other two pieces are what my bedroom would look like if I lived in the metaverse, the digital world. It's very feminine and this safe space, because art has always been really healing for me. I wish I could live there—it's so beautiful. And then the last one is what the metaverse would look like outside my window, with a little hummingbird. Right before she passed away, my grandmother told me she would always be there watching me, and that she was going to be a hummingbird. Every time I'm back in Palm Desert, where we used to live together, this hummingbird is always following me around, which is very strange because hummingbirds are usually very shy. I just know that it's her. I wanted to pay tribute to her as well because she was such a big part of my life. They're all actually 3-D, so this is just the sneak peek.
How much are you pricing them at?
I'm not involved in that process. I haven't even asked about it because that's not why I'm doing this. I'm doing it because I really want to share my platform with another female artist and bring NFTs to the mainstream and get people around the world talking about them. It's to help the whole movement, not just myself, because I feel digital artists are finally getting the credit they deserve. I want to be an innovator and pioneer and use my voice to really shine a light on this.
As a woman, but also someone with your background, like starring on The Simple Life, do you feel respected in the tech and financial spheres?
Yeah. I love this whole community. Everybody has just been so kind and warm. They're like, you've been into crypto longer than most of us. I've always been an undercover nerd, and I feel like I finally have found my people. They're just smart and brilliant and creative and fun and cool, and they get me.
I feel like you and Grimes are at the forefront, but do you know any other celebrities who are really into NFTs?
I'm mostly paying attention to the artists. I think some celebrities are starting to come in, but I don't know. I think some people don't have the right intentions, and the community can spot that right away. I think you're going to see a lot of people trying to do it, but they need to have good intentions and not be greedy—to want to help the community grow. And that's just not what this is about at all.