It was supposed to be the greatest music festival the world has ever seen. Instead it turned into one of the most spectacular failures the world has ever seen. Fyre Festival promised its attendees a luxury weekend in a picturesque Bahaman island featuring a bevy of buxom babes and beloved music acts only to deliver absolutely none of that. The story of the disastrous Fyre Festival is now the subject of the Netflix documentary from Jim & Andy director Chris Smith, Fyre. It’s an engrossing and comprehensive look at an unprecedented fiasco, one that is illuminating and darkly hilarious.
Billy McFarland was a wunderkind entrepreneur, having built up his reputation through his credit card for millennials company Magnises. McFarland attempted to book rapper Ja Rule for a private event and after going through a few intermediaries was finally able to meet with the rapper. That’s when McFarland gets his next big idea – an app that will allow high-end clients to book musical acts called Fyre. The young entrepreneur secures financing and hires a team to develop the app with Ja Rule entering into a partnership. To further boost the profile of the app, the team proposes holding a music festival. McFarland takes the idea and runs with it. He wouldn’t just do a regular old music festival. Oh no. He’d throw a massive bash on a private island once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. This is the genesis of the Fyre Festival.
Smith and his team interview people involved on all levels of the Fyre Festival debacle. We hear from members of the app development team, the marketing department, as well as those who sunk their money in McFarland’s boondoggle. That combined with lots of footage of the behind the scenes planning give Fyre a striking level of depth, like looking at the detailed plans of a controlled demolition. Not everyone involved in the planning of the Fyre Festival was aware of the level of fraud underway, but the warning signs were there and many willfully turned a blind eye.
Even though most of the logistics of the event hadn’t been planned out, McFarland was ready to unleash his media blitz. His plan to drum up interest in Fyre Festival was simple – hire famous models and social media influencers to hype up the festival. Models Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski appeared in a video advertising the festival, the two among many models in bikinis beside the crystal clear waters of the Bahaman island. Kendall Jenner was, according to one person interviewed in the documentary, paid $250,000 to post about the festival. One day along, a number of models and influencers posted coordinated posts about Fyre Festival. The gambit worked. Fyre Festival had sold out in a flash.
Watching Fyre is like watching a disaster movie without special effects. You see all the pieces fall into place before the impending disaster. The people involved give you the sense that as the date of the festival got closer and as the amount of unresolved issues mounted, they were like the scientist in a disaster movie that nobody listens to until it’s too late. McFarland oozes unearned arrogance and internal emails featured in the documentary illustrate just how indifferent he was to any issues brought his way.
In the run up to the festival, people who had purchased tickets flooded the festival’s social media accounts with issues about unresolved questions. The Fyre team took the steps to screenshot the legitimate complaints, delete all negative comments, and then shut down commenting completely. Ignorance is bliss. Issues concerning water, food, and lodging were all mounting and remained unhandled. Then as festivalgoers arrived, the bottom fell out. Chaos reigned. Between social media video and interviews with festivalgoers, Chris Smith brings the audience right into the heart of darkness that was the Fyre Festival, an orgy of chaos and unfulfilled promises.
Every aspect of Fyre has you shaking your head in disbelief at the hubris of McFarland and the gullibility of consumers and investors. As much as McFarland is a smooth talking fraudster, everyone involved had their own culpability in the sham festival. Ja Rule, obviously sensing a P.R. nightmare, tries to soften the disaster that had just occurred. At one point the rapper rebuts someone who said the company committed fraud by saying, “That’s not fraud. That is — I would call it, uh, false advertising.” Call it what ever you want, Ja. It’s still fraud.
The social media influencers who were paid to drum up interest in the debacle took the money without asking questions. Promoting a fraud through willful ignorance really highlights just how insidious this culture of influencers really is. They’re people available to the highest bidders, unburdened by moral or ethical standards when it comes to whatever they’re peddling as long as the swag keeps coming. Hopefully, the millions who watch this documentary on Netflix will walk away with a more skeptical attitude towards what’s being pushed and who exactly is pushing it.
The clusterfuck known as Fyre Festival will be talked about for years to come. Billy McFarland is currently a convicted felon serving a six-year prison sentence. However, the man leaves behind so much more than a legacy of a conventional fraudster. His scheme defrauded thousands and left behind a trail of pain for so many people in America and the Bahaman island where his festival was supposed to take place. People worked tireless hours for no pay. People paid thousands to attend a festival that never happened. Director Chris Smith exposes the long con of the Fyre Festival and its felonious founder in a wild true story that is almost too brazen to be true. And yet it’s all true in its own darkly comic and tragic sense.
An infamous music festival that never was, the debacle known as Fyre Festival is examined in director Chris Smith’s fascinating documentary Fyre, exploring just how everything went so perfectly awry.