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What The Tech: Think Soulja Boy’s console looks bad? Get a load of these other celebritech moments

Soulja Boy is once again trying to launch his own branded console, and we’re not holding out much hope. But he’s far from the first celebrity to try his hand in the world of tech.

Recombu reported earlier in the week that Soulja Boy was launching a new games console, the aptly-named SouljaGame. With this news, you might have found yourself scratching your head for several reasons: “Who is Soulja Boy?”, “Did that guy ever make any other songs?”, “Why has he still not had that boxing match with Jake Paul?” are all acceptable questions, depending on your familiarity with the rapper behind the 2007 hit Crank That (and precious little else besides). But some of the better initiated may have had a sense of deja vu – and that’s because we have indeed been here before.

Soulja Boy first released a console back in 2018, but it was quickly pulled after being revealed as nothing more than a cheap Nintendo emulator with his name plastered over it, prompting threats of legal action from the Japanese company. But in a wider sense, we’ve also been here before, over and over, with regard to celebrity tech products.

I’m not just talking about daft endorsements by celebrities in exchange for a few quid, although please allow me to take this opportunity to reference an advert for a jaw-strengthening exercise toy promoted by Cristiano Ronaldo. Now it’s not difficult to make the world’s biggest egomaniac look like a tool, but come on…

No, what I’m referring to here is celebrities who have fully given themselves over to a tech product or service in a way that allows them to claim the success (or more likely its opposite) all for themselves.

The best example of the former is surely Dr Dre, whose Beats headphones were a mainstay fashion accessory for several years, and the allure of which lay mainly in their design and their celebrity name-tag rather than the sound quality. Eventually the brand was bought for $3 billion in 2014, a deal that constituted Apple’s largest-ever buyout and made Dr Dre the richest man in hip-hop. 

But where’s the fun in reviewing success? As a bitter loser myself, I take far more pleasure in seeing shooting stars falling towards mediocrity, and one who fell to Earth with a satisfying bump is none other than will.i.am.

In the first sentence of his product pitch, the Black Eyed Pea bluntly tells us that the smartwatch is “Not a watch. It’s a device on your wrist”, a comment that would have sounded stupid even if he didn’t directly contradict himself and call it a watch mere moments later. The flickering screen of the sub-par smartwatch show notifications and other unremarkable features that display even less ingenuity than his stage name – it’s no wonder the Puls never quite caught on.

Showing the kind of flawed judgement that viewers of The Voice will find reassuringly familiar, will.i.am has continued his odyssey through the world of tech, with bewildering word salads being his preferred manner of explanation, while his interviewers gaze on with pained, sympathetic smiles plastered over their faces.

Yes, it’s fair to say that celebrities are often more limited in their other talents than the ones through which they made their names, but being mega-rich can itself be a superpower – one that can go further than just buying a football club or producing schlocky B-movies.

Evidently playing Steve Jobs in a biopic translated into real-life tech clairvoyance, as Ashton Kutcher has helped to get start-up projects like Airbnb, Skype, and Uber off the ground and into the mainstream. The latter company would have even resolved the central conundrum of his stoner comedy Dude, Where’s My Car?. An even greater example of this is George Clooney’s founding of the humanitarian Satellite Sentinel Project, inspired by his time spent in South Sudan, which employed satellite imagery to flag unfolding atrocities so that rapid responses could be undertaken to stop them.

So although there are far too many cases of narcissistic self-promotion, get-rich-quick schemes and half-baked ideas when the worlds of celebs and tech collide, it’s nonetheless encouraging to see some A-listers leveraging their wealth and star power to kickstart exciting new tech-sphere services or to help those most in need of it, through the transformative power of technology.

But no, George, I still can’t forgive your performance in Batman & Robin.

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