Justin Bieber "bought" an NFT for $1.3 million. But he didn't pay for it.
Inside the shady world of celebrity NFT shills
A few days ago, a series of breathless media reports appeared claiming that Justin Bieber had purchased a “Bored Ape Yacht Club” (BAYC) NFT for $1.3 million (500 Ethereum). The stories focused on the huge amount of money spent, noting that Bieber had apparently paid 3-4 times more than the NFT was “worth.”
This purchase was part of an NFT buying spree by Bieber, as the BAYC purchase was one of ~20 purchases he made on the OpenSea platform in the course of a few hours. In addition to BAYC, Bieber also bought NFTs from the Doodles, World of Women, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, and several other projects.
However, there’s a catch: Justin Bieber didn’t pay for any of them!
Following the Money
While there are many valid criticisms of blockchain technology, there is one indisputable benefit: Since all transactions are immutably recorded and public, tracking money through the system becomes trivial. In the case of Justin Bieber’s NFT purchases, it was easy to identify his wallet once he made his purchases public.
Below is a diagram of the flow of Ethereum (the cryptocurrency used to buy NFTs) to, and from, Bieber’s wallet:
On January 29th, 916 Ethereum (~$2.4 million) was transferred to Bieber’s wallet (0xe21dc…) from wallet (0x51f48…). Prior to this, nearly 3000 Ethereum had been transferred to (0x51f48…) from the inBetweeners NFT project wallet.
These were internal transactions, demonstrating that whoever controlled (0x51f48…) also controls the InBetweeners project wallet. In turn, the Ethereum in the inBetweener’s wallet came from hundreds of NFT “minting” transactions, where individuals paid Ethereum to obtain inBetweener’s NFTs.
Tl;dr? The money to buy Bieber’s NFTs didn’t come from him- it came from selling InBetweener NFTs.
InBetweeners and Bieber
So, what is the connection between Bieber and the InBetweeners project?
Well, on December 15, 2021, Bieber announced that he had “copped his first NFTs,” all of which were from the inBetweeners project:
Of course, he didn’t pay for any of these NFTs. They were all gifted, free of charge:
It appears that Bieber is connected to inBetweeners via an artist named Gianpiero D’Alessandro, who has designed merchandise for Bieber, Snoop Dogg, and others.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that wallet (0x51f48) is registered on OpenSea to Gianpiero himself:
The inBetweeners project leans heavily on its Bieber connection. In the past, Gianpiero and other team members have promised that owners of inBetweener NFTs will be given special access to Bieber’s events. However, in a recent “Town Hall” meeting, the inBetweeners rep dials down the expectations, saying that:
... the best case scenario was we can get Justin Bieber to post... we are pushing him, but we don't want to be too pushy... Justin can do whatever he wants to do...
The rep also denies that the inBetweeners project is paying for Bieber’s endorsement, saying that:
…what we are avoiding is paid promo, we think that dilutes our brand... we haven't paid a huge influencer to post about us.
These comments contradict what we observe with Bieber’s supposed wallet, as all of the money in the wallet came directly from inBetweeners sales.
It is also worth noting that prior to the big Bieber news, the inBetweeners team had been heavily promoting their project on social media and group chats on Discord. At least one person reported first seeing inBetweeners mentioned by a network of obvious Twitter bot accounts:
Is Bieber’s wallet wash-trading inBetweeners NFTs?
Over the last 24 hours, wallet (0xe21dc) purchased five inBetweeners NFTs for between 1-1.5 Ethereum ($2400-3600). This is 2-3x the cost to mint an inBetweeners NFT:
This, despite the fact that the funds in this wallet all came from minting fees from inBetweener’s NFTs. Clearly, the point is to keep the hype flowing…
Why this matters
Based on the evidence, there are two possible explanations for Justin Bieber’s recent NFT “purchases:”
Bieber does own wallet (0xe21dc). He was paid over $2 million by the inBetweeners project. He then proceeded to spend millions on NFTs, including overpaying for a BAYC by 3-4x
Bieber doesn’t control the wallet. The inBetweeners team (Gianpiero, others) are buying and selling NFTs in wallet (0xe21dc) to generate hype and.. somehow drive up demand for inBetweener NFTs?
In both cases, this spells trouble for Bieber. If (1) is true, he has never disclosed any financial relationship between himself and the inBetweeners project. This is a clear violation of FTC rules:
If the latter case is true, this means Bieber doesn’t actually own the NFTs he’s been touting on social media as his… meaning that he’s lying to his fans. Which one is it?
*Note: An earlier version of the story included a short section about whether wallet (0xe21dc) was connected to other NFT projects. These tokens were likely airdropped into the wallet in an attempt to hype them. This section was removed.