February 17, 2019

What Ruined the Fyre Festival

““Honestly I can’t believe this documentary—there’s two of ‘em.” Against the strains of “Build Me Up Buttercup,” this is how the Hulu documentary Fyre Fraud draws to a close. The disbelieving individual in question is Oren Aks of Jerry Media, the marketing firm that promoted Fyre Festival, the stupidest disaster in the annals of millennial hubris. He’s right; there are. Hulu dropped its documentary about the ill-fated festival on Monday, gazumping a Netflix documentary on the same subject slated for release on January 18. Having seen both, the winner of the contest is clear: It’s Hulu, thanks to its exclusive interviews with Billy McFarland, the dodgy entrepreneur who oversaw the whole fiasco. It also does a better job pointing out the secret villain of this story all along: the subtle menace of social media marketing.

The background is this: McFarland, who first rose to notoriety as the proprietor of Magnises, the credit card–meets–social club startup, dreamed up a celebrities-for-rent app called Fyre. The idea was that regular people could pay famous people to hang out with them. Ja Rule was on board as a partner, and the app was valued highly. McFarland and Ja Rule then tried to promote the app through a luxury music festival in the Bahamas in the spring of 2017. Due to horrendously poor organization and a cash flow problem that escalated into wire fraud, the event was a catastrophe.

High-paying customers were met with sodden mattresses in FEMA tents, rather than the opulent villas they were promised. There was zero entertainment, when performances by Blink-182 and others had been advertised. Pictures of sad cheese sandwiches in styrofoam containers soon spread across the internet, delighting those who had been wise enough not to be taken in by dreams of a “yacht brunch party” on the island of Great Exuma.”

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