There are few things in this world that fascinate me more than Fyre Fest, the colossal failure of a music festival that left hundreds of wealthy people and social media influencers stranded on an island in the Bahamas in 2017. I’ve read everything about it. I will read everything about it. It was such a perfect storm of ineptitude and bad intentions and somehow Ja Rule was the public face of it all. The only thing in recent memory that comes close, at least in the realm of hilarious public failures, is the Juicero (the very expensive machine that squeezed packets of juice you could squeeze with your hands for free), but the Juicero’s failure was not documented by influencers living out the Lord of the Flies in the Caribbean. No contest.
Thankfully, there is now a documentary for me (and you) to consume. I’m sorry, documentaries, plural, as Hulu’s Fyre Fraud dropped this Monday by surprise to leapfrog Netflix’s upcoming Fyre. This is wonderful. I haven’t been this excited since Netflix made a documentary about the Canadian maple syrup heist. I watched the Hulu version of the story and, to the shock of no one, (especially me), I have some thoughts.
The time has come to talk about Hulu’s Fyre Fraud.
1. Fyre Fest was a two-week music festival in the Bahamas, kind of like a tropical Coachella. Or, at least, that’s what it was marketed as. Beautiful people frolicking on white sand and swimming in clear blue water, big-name acts performing every night, the place to be for people who care very much about being in the place to be. In reality, it was a terribly planned/borderline fraudulent boondoggle that took place in a gravel lot near a Sandals resort. It featured no musicians, disaster relief tents instead of the promised “villas,” and cheese-on-white-bread sandwiches as the main source of food. Other than that, it basically went off without a hitch.
You probably remember this, yes? It was an incredible time to be online. Wealthy influencer-types were stranded on the island and posting pictures of pure chaos and everyone sitting at home following it had a pretty hearty laugh about it. It was a mess on every level and it fulfilled me in ways even a compliment from the person I respect most — Keanu Reeves — never could.
2. It was also responsible for one of my favorite quotes of all-time. In a piece at The Cut, a former Fyre employee named Chloe Gordon detailed the ways the festival was, and was always going to be, an unmitigated disaster. We pick up her story with the start date quickly approaching, just as most rational people started realizing it was going to be a mess.
The best idea, they said, would be to roll everyone’s tickets over to 2018 and start planning for the next year immediately. They had a meeting with the Fyre execs to deliver the news. A guy from the marketing team said, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
“Let’s just do it and be legends, man.” It’s perfect. I want to airbrush it on the hood of my car.
3. This brings us to Billy McFarland.
McFarland was the mind behind the festival and a few other dicey business ventures with very legitimate sounding names like Spling and Magnises. He is also a current resident of a federal penitentiary and is portrayed throughout the documentary as — depending on who is doing the portraying — everything from a visionary entrepreneur who got in over his head to a snake oil salesman who also sells used cars that may or may not run on that snake oil he just sold you. The latter is more convincing, especially as the evidence and numerous testimonials start piling up.
McFarland doesn’t do himself any favors either. He sits for an extended interview in the documentary and comes off about as slimy and evasive as you’re probably imagining. Some of that is the editing, which lets the camera linger on him in the silences after he answers a question to make him look even more clueless and shady than he did when he was talking (no small feat!), but most of it is his actual words. Example: He talks about his first “business,” a grade school ruse in which he offered to fix his classmates’ broken crayons for a dollar and hacked into his school’s internet to promote it. He seems proud of it, even today, even though it’s… kind of awful? He’s a charmer and a schmoozer and is always moving forward and I wouldn’t trust him with even one of my broken crayons.
4. It’s not all about Billy and his various schemes, though. A good chunk of the documentary looks at the rise of social media and the way it allowed this particular fraud to happen. Words like “millennial” and “influencer” come up a lot. There’s a hefty focus on how the event was sold despite there being no “there” there. Beautiful promo videos full of pretty people and meaningless buzzwords (“Luxe!”), hype created by the web-savvy memelords from FuckJerry, payouts to big-name people like Kendall Jenner in exchange for posts about the festival, etc. The whole thing was a perfect storm of synthetic FOMO and it reveals all of the moving parts to be kind of collectively gross.