Fyre: The Greatest Scandal in Recent History


Hunter Neuman, Sports Editor

Netflix had many new releases this new year, including several platform-exclusive “Netflix Originals.” While Bird Box was undoubtedly the biggest smash hit to come out of this new wave of original content, another film stood out: FYRE: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened. The documentary gave new insight with exclusive footage, detailing how the festival came to be, and how it ended in devastating failure.

Billy McFarland was a young entrepreneur who created a new app named “Fyre.” This app was supposed to help consumers book an artist, or artists, for an event or party, and revolutionize the industry of booking artists. He decided that in order to draw the attention of more consumers, a festival was needed. This is what sparked the idea of the Fyre Festival—a festival that would promote the available artists on the Fyre app. This festival would not just be a simple festival but a luxury festival on an isolated island in the Caribbean. With the help of his business partner and rapper Ja Rule, Billy began marketing for this campaign in December of 2016.

Ja Rule and McFarland advertising the festival

McFarland marketed the Fyre Festival through social media. He paid many influencers (models/celebrities) such as Bella Hadid to draw attention to this “luxury festival.” McFarland brought them all down to the island where the festival was to be held and shot a promotional video showing models partying on yachts, resting on the beach, and swimming in the Caribbean water. The final wave of advertisements had all of the models post an orange square on Instagram, with the caption saying “come join me at Fyre Festival.” Kendall Jenner even posted an advertisement, which she was apparently paid $250,000 for.

Although all these advertisements were made, the festival did not fulfill anyone’s expectations. First of all, Fyre’s commercial advertised the island McFarland wanted to host the party on as one of “Pablo Escobar’s islands.” The current owner of the island did not take kindly to this and kicked McFarland and Ja Rule off the island. After moving to Grand Exuma, Fyre continued to market the island as an “isolated getaway” when, in reality, their location was a part of a large island. This was just the first of their failures. Another setback they had was the time to plan the festival. While most festivals are planned about a whole year before they occur, the Fyre team only had around three months, which caused a huge dip in quality.

Fyre gave consumers several housing options: a tent that was supposed to be reminiscent of a Coachella luxury tent, a condo for bigger parties, and a yacht where you and your friends would live with a model. While the prices were exorbitant, the “luxury” tents, condos, and yachts did not live up to their descriptions. The tents turned out to be hurricane survival tents, which were uncomfortable dome-like “homes.” Anyone who ordered a condo or yacht ended up having to live in one of these tents, but no one could sleep in them. The food wasn’t any better either. Attendees were promised amazing meals, while in reality all they had for dinner were cheese sandwiches. Shortly after these catastrophes, the festival was canceled. Even after the cancellation, the “festivities” hadn’t ended yet. Most people had bought plane tickets home for once the festival was supposed to end. It was canceled only after the first day, leaving many attendees booking the first flights back home. Not all attendees could book these flights, which left many stranded in the airport.

While all of these failures may seem terrible, these weren’t the worst things that occurred during the festival. McFarland didn’t only produce a fraud of a festival, but he also took money from investors and his employees. For example, McFarland told investors that he was booking several well-known artists, such as Drake, who ended up never being booked. McFarland also used several of his employees’ credit cards to help fund the festival, and many of these employees are still in debt. The laborers who helped prepare the tents and the festival were never paid, which forced the people who brought them to McFarland to pay them. Maryann Rolle ran the catering for the festival, and when her workers were unpaid she was forced to use $50,000 of her own life savings in order to pay them. While Rolle eventually was given over $100,000 due to a GoFundMe page made for her, the majority of the workers were never paid.

Overall, Billy McFarland is a master of fraud. His charisma was able to deceive both his consumers and employees, which shows how deceptive he was. In the end, the Fyre Festival only damaged careers and hurt relationships. While festivals such as Coachella and The Governor’s Ball are considered fire,
the Fyre Festival turned out to be nothing more than the ashes of a festival that could’ve been.