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Boy band A. C. E drop first K-pop NFT merchandise collaboration, but fans aren’t happy – here’s what has them upset

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 22/4/2021
Xiah Junsu, Ryosuke Yamada posing for the camera: K-pop boy band A.C.E have courted controversy with their collaboration on the launch of merchandise backed by NFTs. Most of these digital tokens of ownership are linked to a cryptocurrency, the mining of which requirees high-end computers to run non-stop, which uses a lot of energy. Photo: Beat Interactive K-pop boy band A.C.E have courted controversy with their collaboration on the launch of merchandise backed by NFTs. Most of these digital tokens of ownership are linked to a cryptocurrency, the mining of which requirees high-end computers to run non-stop, which uses a lot of energy. Photo: Beat Interactive

Fans of K-pop group A. C. E were upset to learn this week that the band would be launching an NFT trading card merchandise collection, saying it could be bad for the environment.

On April 19, The Worldwide Asset eXchange (WAX), announced it had teamed up with K-NFT, a new company set up to bring NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to the K-pop realm, to release digital collectibles starring the members of A. C. E, a boy band active since 2017.

However, many of the band's fans, known collectively as Choice, were unhappy about the NFTs' launch and A. C. E's collaboration with the crypto merchant WAX.

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An NFT is a unique digital asset that has its own blockchain-based signature that allows anyone to verify its authenticity and ownership. A digital record of the asset is saved on blockchain ledgers that can be read by any individual looking to find out its owner.

They have grown popular among digital artists because they serve as certificates of authenticity. But most NFTs are linked to a cryptocurrency, and critics point to the astronomical energy costs of mining cryptocurrency - which requires high-end computers to operate constantly at full power - as an ecological disaster.

Critics of A. C. E's collaboration with WAX pointed to the energy inefficiency of NFTs. Some estimates say that one NFT transaction can use more than eight times the amount of electricity the average household in South Korea used in the whole of 2016.

A. C. E has previously expressed its dedication to sustainability on multiple occasions, and band member Chan (Kang Yu-chan) has shared with fans that he has a reusable water bottle to reduce his personal plastic usage. In January 2020, the band was honoured at the 12th Korea Environment Service Awards.

Several fans who spoke with the Post were concerned about A. C. E being associated with NFTs given their reputation for being energy inefficient. All expressed concern that issuing NFTs would harm A. C. E's reputation, and several said they hoped the NFT launch could be cancelled.

Madison C., a fan of A. C. E for more than three years, is concerned about how the group's efforts to be sustainable will be seen going forward, and the consequences of a successful NFT launch.

Many K-pop fans around the world are very young. Being encouraged to buy into a system like this without fully understanding it is really risky, so we're hoping it never ends up happening.
Madison C., a fan of A. C. E

"The A. C. E members have proven that they care deeply about the environment, making sustainable choices and encouraging us whenever possible to follow their lead and make sustainable choices as well, so we're worried that their authenticity won't be seen to the rest of the world because of their company's decision to take part in NFT creation," Madison told the Post.

In an announcement about the NFT launch by WAX on Monday, the band's Kim Byeong-kwan said on behalf of the group: "I believe that A. C. E and our fans can explore the NFT world together through this project."

Madison said: "If this were to be successful and other agencies created their own NFTs, we're worried that the impact would be detrimental to the world but also to the fans that buy into them. The average age of A. C. E's fans, Choice, is above 18, but many K-pop fans around the world are very young.

"Being encouraged to buy into a system like this without fully understanding it is really risky, so we're hoping it never ends up happening."

Teppei Koike et al. posing for the camera: K-pop boy band A. C. E have often touted their commitment to sustainability. Their issuing of an NFT trading card collection would seem to go against that. Photo: Beat Interactive © Provided by South China Morning Post K-pop boy band A. C. E have often touted their commitment to sustainability. Their issuing of an NFT trading card collection would seem to go against that. Photo: Beat Interactive

Many fans online questioned the intentions of media agent Danny Lee, the founder of Asian Agent and co-founder of K-NFT, in working with A. C. E on the NFT collaboration, and were unsure how NFTs benefit K-pop artists or their fans. Several fans told the Post they were concerned about Lee, who is based in Los Angeles and works closely with A. C. E's label Beat Interactive, pushing an American NFT merchant collaboration onto the Seoul-based band.

Presented with fans' concerns, Asian Agent directed the Post to WAX and K-NFT for comment.

"WAX was designed from the beginning to be incredibly energy efficient," said William Quigley, co-founder of WAX. "That is why WAXNFTs use a tiny fraction of the energy of (cryptocurrencies) ethereum and bitcoin. In fact, WAX is 125,000 times more energy efficient than ethereum and is already carbon neutral. WAX uses no more energy per transaction than a regular online purchase, much less if you include shipping."

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WAX shared a video to mark international Earth Day on Thursday. In it, WAX explains why it considers its blockchain system is not as energy inefficient as ones used by other NFT issuers.

Blockchain is the technology powering the world's cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and ethereum. Designed to be decentralised and immutable, blockchain can verify and record transactions of any type.

"It's not the NFT itself (that is bad for the environment), it's the blockchain the NFT lives on that matters," says the video, before explaining how blockchains like ethereum, a popular protocol for NFT trading, rely on a network of computers simultaneously using processing power, and therefor electricity, to verify each transaction.

WAX, on the other hand, claims to use a blockchain mechanism that relies on only a limited number of computers on the network to verify transactions, reducing overall electricity usage. WAX also uses credit card transactions rather than cryptocurrency for its transactions.

Denny Choi, the chief operating officer of K-NFT, said: "K-NFT's vision is to bridge the East and West through the power of NFT technology, as well as build a stronger relationship between artist and fans. We prioritise protecting the (intellectual prperty) and rights of the creators, as well as delivering a seamless and authentic product for fans and collectors to own and enjoy."

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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