Everything you always wanted to know about "Miladys" but were afraid to ask

Everything you always wanted to know about "Miladys" but were afraid to ask

These anime-inspired NFTs come with some extremely confusing ideological baggage.

If you've spent any time on crypto-Twitter in the past few months, you may have noticed a strange new presence in your feed - an army of tiny, anime-inspired avatars spread across a number of new accounts.

You'll know these portraits when you see them: googly-eyed, creepily lo-fi, and rendered at the infamous three-quarter angle found on so many non-fungible token (NFT) "profile picture" projects.

Yes, they're NFTs - a set of 10,000 generative icons united by a single style - but they're also something more: the beginning of an infinite Internet rabbit hole, an inscrutable ideological universe full of high theory and "anti-woke" substack newsletters.

This is the Milady Maker collection, an art project created by a mysterious online collective called Remilia. Unlike typical NFT projects, the Miladys (the "Y" in plural is preserved) exist in a different world than the rest of Web 3.

There are no "WAGMI" slogans here, no allusions to the distinctly prepubescent aesthetic of Bored Apes or Stoner Cats. The Miladys intersect the polytheistic religion of Vedism, kaomoji call signs (a particularly homemade variant of emoticons), rave culture, venture capital, and the podcast ecosystem of downtown New York. They're also involved in Urbit, an audacious project to build the Internet (and computing itself) from the ground up. In its current form, it functions mainly as a slower version of AOL Instant Messenger.

The anime-esque references and allusions to the accelerationist philosophy of writers like Nick Land feel like right-wing dog whistles, and yet the Remilia crew insists that they are not to be revoked. This is Edgelords through and through.

Here's a closer look at the milady phenomenon.

What is a milady?

Miladies are primarily NFTs, financial instruments with their own discrete value. The cheapest miladies cost about $2,000 before fees, though they have sold for much more in the past. Thanks to an online hype cycle, the average sale price for a milady in mid-April was around $6,000.

The name "milady" is a variation of "m'lady," a term of civility associated in online forums with Fedora-wearing players and seemingly chivalrous "nice guys."

The graphic for these 10,000 profile pictures was designed by a Remilia member named "Milady Sonora" or "Milady Sonoro." As with most of the people behind Miladys, they are completely pseudonymous.

The mastermind behind the project (and the self-proclaimed "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 scheme behind the characteristics assigned to each milady. Miladies with rarer items (clothing, accessories, skin tones) are assigned a higher "Drip Score," from the "SS" level down to "Normal."

Some have criticized the decision to use "SS" rather than just "S" because the initials are consistent with the Nazi paramilitary organization, although Fang has denied any such connection. (Fang originally agreed to be interviewed by CoinDesk, but then backed out).

While the collection was launched last fall, it remained isolated from the broader crypto sphere until spring, when Twitter-crazy influencers and venture capitalists developed a fascination with the tokens. The rarest Milady in the SS tier sold for 15 ETH (about $45,000 at the time) in March, around the time Miladys began to see a public resurgence.

Crypto venture capitalist Tom Schmidt, who currently wears a Milady as his Twitter profile picture, told me he was drawn to the Milady aesthetic.

"I thought they were cool and cheap," he said. "That's really about it.

Of course, that's not all there is to the project. Remiila faced backlash after the collection's launch, after retailers spotted 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.") wore shirts with the word "Treblinka" - as in the Nazi concentration camp.

The group claimed that the phrases on these T-shirts were put together randomly, using text from various sources. One of those sources, they said, was a newsletter by the pseudonymous blogger and critic Angelicism01, which compared the Milady movement to a "water cooler in Treblinka."

Schmidt argued that even if the Miladys are associated with some unsavory ideas, they can still be reclaimed by the investment community.

"Pepe has had a similar journey, from being kind of hardcore, borderline white supremacist, 4chan people into this funny 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 sort of being repurposed or reclaimed from what it was originally associated with."

Angelicism01, egirls, Nick Land, and net spirituality.

To understand Miladys, you have to grapple with their slogan: "I crave network spirituality," a kind of mantra among Remilia devotees and members of downtown New York City's burgeoning alt-lit scene.

It suggests togetherness-perhaps something like a singularity or the cosmic union of Third Impact in the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion-but it is also ultimately gibberish, a cultural signifier more than a coherent statement of purpose. And in its refusal to mean anything at all, it is more or less emblematic of the milady style.

Although Remilia borrows heavily from Japanese streetwear culture, Milady Maker is a New York phenomenon. The group has already hosted three Milady Raves, all in the city. I attended the first one, at the end of last year's NFT.NYC, and distinctly remember hearing Radiohead's "Idioteque" blasting from the speakers at some point in the night (the police shut everything down after an hour or so).

Milady Maker's connection to New York also suggests that the project's origins are, if not entirely grounded in the shock politics of the Edgelord, at least somewhat reactionary. A recent article in Vanity Fair traced the shape of the "new right" in the city, a scene that owes more to Nick Land and right-wing blogger Curtis Yarvin than to the MAGA crowd. For these folks, Catholicism is cool, family values are in, and accepting money from Peter Thiel is a kind of longing. Angelicism01 and Land's collected works ("Fanged Noumena") are the urtext; Barrett Avner's Contain project, Honor Levy's Wet Brain podcast, and the plethora of Instagram meme accounts ending in "-cellectuals" are sites of interpretation.

It's no surprise that the Miladys have caught on with this group; even cypherpunk libertarians and crypto-types are fed up with Woke Culture. (Angelicism01 even sells its own NFTs.)

But Remilia has been accused of more than just edginess and online trolling. Critics have made connections between Remilia and another, significantly more bigoted online group: a defunct collective called Kaliacc. Kaliacc is short for Kali Yuga Accelerationism and refers to the Vedic concept of the Yuga cycle, which occasionally appears among right-wing groups. The collective's website still refers to one of its old Twitter handles, "Ariosophy," a reference to Nazi ideology.

Some have even claimed that the person behind the persona "Charlotte Fang" is also behind "Miya," one of Kaliacc's two most prominent figures (Miya's Twitter account has long been suspended for a series of strongly anti-gay, anti-trans, and white-nationalist tweets).

And although Remilia's official Twitter account featured several explicit references to Miya, Charlotte Fang has pushed back against the accusation. Apparently to pre-empt the backlash, Fang wrote an article last week titled "Cancel Miya to me or I'll f**king kill you," in which he praised Kaliacc even as he tried to distance himself from it:

"It's true that Miya was an early example of the kind of collaborative, performative net art we're interested in, and it's also true that much of the content it produced was problematic. But who cares about that? It is an artist's duty to explore and critique the contemporary, even in all its ugliness, and if he decides that this critique best emerges in a process of performative embodiment, so be it. You can assume that more and more people and groups in this space will engage with "problematic" realities in "problematic" ways. Good, that means art is back. Cancel culture is dead, disavowal doesn't belong here."

"He knows he's totally ... Caught and needs to do damage control," surmised one Twitter commenter.

Even if Charlotte Fang isn't Miya, Milady Maker practically begs to be offended that you're reaching for a coherent ideology between the near-bigotry and the recurring dog whistles.

I don't know whether to believe the defense that this is performance art, but I also realize that the Miladys are not just one thing. Just as miladys don't stand for anything per se (most milady owners probably don't even know Remilia exists), it's difficult to assign a single ideology to such a diverse and decentralized scene.

It comes down to what dealers are willing to tolerate. For Tom Schmidt, the controversy is water under the bridge. For investors like Dom Hofmann, the creator of Vine and prominent NFT artist, the math isn't quite so simple. A few months ago, Hofmann claimed on the Discord server Friends with Benefits that he had bought a few Miladys himself; when informed of the project's origins, he said he had sold them.

It's too early to tell who the market might follow. For now, however, the Miladys will remain.

UPDATE (MAY 22, 2022 - 23:15 UTC): Following this article and leaked screenshots from private group chats, Charlotte Fang has confirmed that he is behind the "Miya" project.