Fyre Festival: The Luxury Music Festival that Went Down in Flames - And in History
Fyre Festival, which was marketed as a luxury music festival on a private island, full of models and elites alike, became notorious as one of the greatest viral scams of 2017. On January 18 of this year, Netflix released their newest documentary, Fyre, rehashing the scandal that led to the six-year imprisonment of a top organizer, multiple lawsuits, and millions of dollars squandered. Thus far, the film has received a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The documentary begins with the conception, marketing, and exponential rise of the festival. It was initially created to promote Fyre’s talent booking app. Co-owners of the company, young entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, chose to market it as a music festival for elites, with luxury accommodations, quality food, and an incredible musical lineup. Headlining acts included Blink-182, Migos and Major Lazer. Promotional footage featured top models such as Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski. The image organizers cultivated was something out of a dream. Instead, festival goers found themselves in a nightmare à la the Grapes of Wrath.
The documentary particularly focuses on the power of influencer-based marketing and the impact they intended their footage to have on the average person. They sought to cultivate an image of exclusivity and luxury while dangling its attainability for the average individual as the light at the end of the tunnel. Ironically, the festival was never attainable, to begin with as organizers attempted to deliver on the bold claims made in adverts, let alone the standards necessary for a festival, within a few weeks.
Rather than luxury villas, attendees found sopping wet tents set up in a gravel lot. The tents themselves were leftover shelters from previous hurricane relief. Organization and information were nonexistent. And rather than the gourmet food that was promised, attendees were treated to slices of cheese on bread. The image of that meal went viral on Twitter, with thousands watching the disaster of the festival unfold as attendees voiced their anger and dissatisfaction on other social media platforms. The festival was quickly "postponed." Flights were then cancelled, attendees inundated the local airport, and local workers sought after the pay they never received.
Following the conception and marketing stage, Director Chris Smith guides the storyline towards the panic among organizers as failure becomes apparent, the event and the social media storm, and the disastrous aftermath.
The central character of the documentary is McFarland, who is currently serving a six-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to fraud earlier this year. The documentary briefly touched on his history of fraudulent ventures, such as Magnises. The business was centred on a card subscription service with lofty claims, many of which he failed to deliver.
Smith paints him as the charismatic conductor of his own destruction as McFarland flippantly ignores the warnings of his team members and doggedly pursues a facade of success and luxury in his quest to finagle further funds for the festival.
Interviewees describe McFarland as an "operational sociopath" whose inherent charm and incessant positivity allows him to "sell anything." Among the poignant moments in the documentary is event producer Andy King's recollection of McFarland asking King to "take one for the team" and perform oral sex on a customs agent so as to bypass payment for the import fee for the event's water supply.
Maryann Rolle, local restaurant owner and last-minute caterer of the event, sat for a tearful interview in which she described the pain and abandonment she felt in the hands of organizers and McFarland. She was forced to spend $50,000 (£38,136) of her own savings to pay the employees who aided her with the event. Since the documentaries release, she’s posted a GoFundMe page to which sympathetic audiences have donated $211,809 since January 14.
As the film's tagline boasts, Fyre Festival holds fast the crown of "the greatest party that never happened."