Music festivals come and go. The over-saturated market of touring acts who can no longer depend on album sales to make bank, causes these festivals to believe that big money is on the horizon. Much like the seeds that sowed the housing crisis, shoddy investing and sky-high credit with little equity behind the loans, music festivals are the new bubbles. No music bubble was bigger that Billy McFarland’s Fyre Festival. Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, one of two documentaries on the subject, dissects what the hell went wrong.
Directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason guide the documentary partly from McFarland, Fyre Festival’s founder’s perspective and through talking heads. Meant to set the record “straight” and examine how the psychology of millennials (our favorite subject, as of the moment) led to the creation of Fyre Fest and their ultimate duping.
McFarland is a charlatan, a silver-tongue salesman and scammer made for the internet and social-media age. Beginning as a “crayon businessman” tied to the nascent dawn of the internet: when investors were salivating over the next website boom — he later created Spling (a Google+ forerunner and failure), the Magnises card, and Fyre Fest.
College debt, declining wages, and the housing crisis all contributed to millennials’ susceptibility to Fyre Fest. However, laying the blame on some inherent generational glitch would be too rudimentary to be considered serious. Instead, Furst and Nason latch onto the rising power of “Influencers” (social-media figures who are essentially hype men and women for brands, like Kendall Jenner).
If enough big names become attached to your brand, then you become a star. You become an influencer. You hold more power than most politicians. Such lofty heights aren’t new, much as many may assume. At the dawn of the television age, advertisers held as much power as Influencers have today. The difference is the greater insertion of the have and the have nots, the ability to demonstrate that you matter through likes, views, blue-check marks, etc. The advertsiers are no longer working in offices on Madison Avenue. You are the advertiser, through your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Blog. etc. All you have to do is be where the hype is. Just don’t miss out. That insatiable need is where Fyre Fest was born and where the disaster died.
Two components are noticeably missing from the documentary: Ja Rule and the cheated attendees. Yes, these millenials are “white, rich, and spoiled,” but there was still a crime. Inviting young music fans to a gravel pit of an island, conning them into disaster relief tents, conning investors and employees, and artists. Furst and Nason should be applauded for revealing the role Jerry Media and Fuck Jerry, the marketing arms of Fyre Fest, had in the festival as well (read more about their roles in my review of the Netflix documentary produced by these enablers). Still, the Hulu documentary’s main focus resides in McFarland.
McFarland, like most scammers, is a wellspring of genius misused for perilous ends. His frauds led him into the waiting hands of the FBI. The dizzying scale of his ability to eek out every dollar through any nefarious scheme will cause you to wonder if you’re in the wrong racket. Even in “candid” moments with McFarland, he never emerges as forthcoming. You wonder if this documentary is part of his long con. Fyre Fraud, a story of an all-time swindle, should be avoided at all costs by those who were made the butt of this cruel “joke.”