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.
5. It does add some nuance and background, though. This isn’t just 90 minutes of uninterrupted schadenfreude, even though it could have been, pretty easily. There are very few likable people in here, from various flimflam men to rich, selfie-obsessed 20-somethings to everyone who profited off both groups. But there’s a good case in there about how the most-mocked millennial behaviors have been created by the circumstances of the world in the last 20-30 years and how technology has amplified some of people’s worst tendencies. The media loves a good “millennials ruined golf” story or whatever but Fyre Fraud does as good a job as anything I’ve seen about explaining the underlying factors that caused it all — student debt, rising income inequality, living in a whirlwind of constant information — and why it’s not nearly as simple as those headlines.
6. Favorite talking heads, listed in no particular order:
– Various bitter ex-employees. Bitter ex-employees always have the best lines in these things. There’s a guy who worked for FuckJerry who just keeps saying things like “I don’t know why anyone thought it would work.”
– The lawyer who said this:
I mean, yeah.
– Jia Tolentino from The New Yorker, who is very smart and funny and really explains the aforementioned underlying factors in a digestible way, instead of just pointing and laughing at everyone involved, which is what I probably would have done.
– Calvin the VC guy, who sniffed out the fraud early on and tried to warn people. This was nice of him but it’s not why he makes this list. He makes this list because he is incapable of keeping a straight face when he talks about it. He’s giggling by the end of almost every sentence. I respect this greatly.
– Delroy the local bartender/fixer, who really loves talking about how dumb Billy McFarland actually is. Watch his face when he explains that Billy purchased $2 million worth of booze without realizing that there would be $900,000 in taxes to pay on it. He’s going to dine out on these stories forever. Good for him.
7. Because nothing about Fyre Fest can happen without some sort of drama, there’s also this: Hulu dropped this by surprise on Monday to jump ahead of Netflix’s own documentary on the subject. But it gets better: The end of the Hulu doc features some shots at the Netflix one for working with some of the players involved in the festival, including FuckJerry (which now goes by “Jerry Media”). But it gets better: In a breakdown of this drama for The Ringer, Scott Tobias quotes a producer on the Netflix doc who accuses the producers of the Hulu doc of paying McFarland $250,000 for his interview. Now everyone is calling each other a liar and it’s all very messy and ugly and I am as happy about it all as an influencer in a fake-hype video for a festival that will never happen.
8. Fyre Fraud has a lot of pop culture references littered through it and none of them make McFarland and his business partner look great. One person compares them to Michael and Dwight from The Office. Another compares the to Tom and Jean Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. My favorite reference, however, was when they described the Southern District of New York and its team of federal prosecutors as the people depicted in Billions.
Was it followed by this clip of Paul Giamatti screaming at someone? Baby, you know it was.
9. Ja Rule also comes off terribly in this. He appears to be either incompetent or complicit or both, depending on what quote you hear him give. Some make no sense. Others are more damning. One of the funniest parts of the whole thing is a real clip from a show he was on where he denies having much involvement and then turns right around and claims the whole thing was “his vision.” I, for one, expected more from Ja Rule.
10. I’ll just leave this last thing here, free of context, except to tell you that this is not a metaphor.
I really can’t wait for Documentary Now! to do an episode on this one.
‘Fyre Fraud’ is currently streaming on Hulu.