Fyre Festival was a luxury music festival created to promote the Fyre music booking app. Scheduled to take place April 28 – 30 and May 5 – 7, 2017 on an island in the Bahamas. It was billed as a game changer, the most significant music festival since Woodstock. The event that wasn’t only lasted one day and was the source of much misery for a crop of well-heeled, duped millennials, and the source of much gleeful, internet schadenfreude.
The story is actually quite funny, mainly because none of the would-be participants were seriously hurt. It is a sign of the times, and the unfortunate power of social media over the younger generations. This event was built on the envy of the “life packaging” of Instagram models, or “influencers”, and sold to striving wannabes with money to burn. There were ticket packages valued in excess of $104,995! It proved just how much influence the influencers actually have, and how strong the power of FOMO, fear of missing out, really is.
It was a Collaborative Effort Failure
Convicted fraudster Billy McFarland teamed up with now widely ridiculed rapper JaRule. Their, uh, “work” together looked like a bromance in the promotion. Billy McFarland, millennial himself, is the founder and CEO of the now-defunct Fyre which created the Fyre Festival to promote its booking app. Improbable claims where made. Everyone would be transported to the island by private jets, when the actuality was cramped, low-level commercial planes. They showed rental options of expensive villas that didn’t exist and wouldn’t exist, not with four months of preparation time when eighteen would be the absolute minimum recommended. JaRule is a rapper with lyrics like this: lyrics “It must be the ass / That got me like that / If it get any fatter / Man The Rule gonna have to get at her.” Just take a moment to digest that.
Both Billy and Ja were looking to obtain the same kind of success that lures the rest of silicon valley. App developers who create a product, utilize the buzz and collect piles of venture capital profit before anyone’s figured out how to turn a profit. This is the new definition of success in the silicon valley defined digital world – you have this sort of moonshot vision and you create big buzzy companies. You figure out how to make them work later. Companies like Uber and Google broke all sorts of laws building the behemoths, but once you’re big and profitable, you can just pay the fines and move on.
The fact that this app would Uberize talent booking – benefitting only the app owners and definitely not the talent – would never bother these kinds of individuals
Born of Instagram, It Died By Instagram
The infamous, glossy and super expensive teaser trailer was published on Jan 12, 2017. However, this commercial was the only party that actually happened. McFarland tapped into one the biggest millennial trends, the worshipping of social media stars like Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, Emily Ratajowski and Kendall Jenner, who was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post on the subject. He also hired a social media firm called F*ck Jerry to coordinate their social media onslaught. Erin Bromhead, on monsterchildren.com, referred to the festival itself as a “steaming pile of human vapidity”, and feels that these models are the biggest losers of the whole fiasco. While it’s true that models generally aren’t expected to perform background checks on clients, as Bromhead points out, they were all paid a lot of money to sell a festival they knew nothing about and had no intention of attending.
The commercial created an immediate buzz, and then so did the coordinated efforts of all the Instagram influencers, who were instructed by the Jerry team to post mysterious, bright, scroll-halting orange squares. “Mystery and expensive exclusivity!” cried the Millennials with Money to Burn.
In the aftermath, several of the influencers involved in the promotion have been sued. One, model Bella Hadid, apologized. Jenner deleted her promo post, as did most influencers, who remained silent as the crisis unfolded. Many of these influencers did not initially disclose they had been paid.
Says Mad Chronic Rugby on the YouTube page, “Some people dream of taking rich people’s money. Others take their money, send them to a deserted island, and let them fight over food.”
It Was Such a Train Wreck that we got 2 Competing Documentaries
While Netflix announced that a documentary called Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened would premiere on Jan. 18. Hulu, in a bold move, debuted “Fyre Fraud” unexpectedly… just three days before their competitor’s doc was set to drop. Netflix, as well as Fyre’s director Chris Smith, had no idea Hulu’s project was even ready to go, though they knew it was in the works.
Both versions are entertaining. Hulu had an interview with Billy, looking much slimmer than in all the footage of his previous “party time”, rich frat bro, “drunk on a jet ski” life. However, Chris Smith, the rival documentary’s director, told the Ringer that McFarland demanded $125,000 for an interview, saying Hulu was paying him $250,000. [This makes total sense! He’d insist on making as much as he’d paid Kendall Jenner amirite?]
Since gross behavior and ethics abound in all things Fyre Festival, it’s not surprising to hear that Netflix wasn’t so lofty either. Their documentary benefits from a lot of behind the scenes footage of the creation of the infamous, “I’ve got a bridge to sell you” trailer. This is because they worked with the social media strategists F*Jerry. They make memes for a living, creating and posting content for brands, helping them shape their social media presence. F*ck Jerry was one of the companies involved with the festival (specifically its social media campaign), for their film, gaining access to all of their behind-the-scenes footage and information. We don’t know if McFarland paid them in full for their part in selling the festival to the gullible, but he must’ve paid something. That means they made money twice off something that was obviously an improbable scam to anyone close to it.
Scammers Gotta Scam
Billy McFarland wanted to be the next Zuckerberg, and to his credit, he has both a knack in knowing what his generation most yearns for and in organizing projects to take advantage of this. He founded a questionable in both uniqueness and value company called Spling while still in college. When just over twenty, he founded “black card for millennials” called “Magnises”, which sounds like a play on the condom size “magnum”. The card advertised social perks such as club membership and targeted at status-oriented millennials in certain big cities. The card was made heavier than the norm, so it’d make a sound when dropped on a table.
Scammers also gotta lie! McFarland claimed his Frye Media was worth $90 million. By contrast, authorities allege the company did only about $60,000 in business.
Bill was on bail for fraud charges connected with Fyre Festival and started a brand new scam, selling fraudulent tickets to events such as the Met Gala, Burning Man, and Coachella while out on bail. A January 9 email offered the chance to eat dinner with LeBron for just $2,999, for example. He used the Fyre Festival mailing list and enlisted an employee to be the face of the latest fraudulent campaign for obvious reasons. All marks received emails from Frank Tribble at NYC VIP Access.
This “ultimate used car salesman” had his bail revoked immediately and pretty much landed immediately in FCI Otisville, a medium security federal correctional institution in Orange County, New York. Since arriving at jail, Billy has already launched what is sure to be a dubious, in-prison venture.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Greenberg said McFarland’s short but eventful career showed a “pattern of deception” and “overpromising luxury experiences that were not delivered”. As Sydney Buckbaum reported on his prior schemes for Refinery29, “Whenever he needed more money, he lied to investors to get it,” prosecutors said. “Whenever he wanted more money, he gave it to himself from business accounts. Whenever one scheme began to falter, he hatched a newer and more elaborate one.”
JaRule Must be Smarter Than he Acts
Somehow he’s escaped all legal repercussions and is indeed already onto his next venture, which looks like an exact duplicate of the Fyre talent booking app. Sure he’s been roundly and justifying ridiculed online
JaRule has defended himself on Twitter, saying he’d never defraud anyone and he himself is a victim himself, he’s “all over” both. Billy admits the rapper spent a lot of time on the island. Yet somehow he expected FEMA tents, a construction zone behind a Sandals resort, processed cheese sandwiches, no beach, and no music would satisfy all these rich kids who’d paid for so much more?
When news of the festival’s quick descent into a Lord of the Flies scenario broke on the first and only day, Ja took to Twitter immediately. He said: “We are working right now on getting everyone off the island SAFE that is my immediate concern…,” he wrote. “I will make a statement soon I’m heartbroken at this moment my partners and I wanted this to be an amazing event it was NOT A SCAM as everyone is reporting I don’t know how everything went so left but I’m working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded”. “I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT… but I’m taking responsibility I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this.”
Viral Fyre Festival Restaurant Owner Wants $100K From Ja Rule. He and Billy shipped all the first – and only – arrivers over to an actually existing and functioning resort to get them really drunk. Like many other Bahamians of Great Exuma island, she was left owed a lot of money. Ja Rule’s shrugging posture, when asked about this, says all anyone needs to know.