My Thoughts After Watching the Fyre Festival Documentaries

"I got into my car to drive across the island to take one for the team. And I got to his office fully prepared to suck his d*ck." -- Andy King 2019

Back in 2017, I remember hearing something trending on Twitter about a festival-turned-nightmare called the Fyre Festival. While the people (mostly young, wealthy social media influencers) stuck at the festival were documenting the chaos, people on Twitter were having an absolute field day. There were plenty of hilarious memes and jokes about the festival, with many even touting the mishap as “first world problems” and a “social experiment” created by rapper and Fyre Fest co-founder Ja Rule.

Initially, I didn’t really think much of the festival other than it being some meme-worthy Coachella-gone-wrong. However, after watching both documentaries released by Hulu and Netflix, I got a deeper insight on what actually happened and who was involved. I also became aware that the festival did much more damage than scam a bunch of rich influencers—it mercilessly exploited innocent island locals and proved how dangerous of a grasp that social media influence has on our tech-obsessed society.

The documentaries unfold the motives and ambitions of then 25-year-old Billy McFarland, entrepreneur and mastermind behind the Fyre Fest disaster. By using models with powerful social media influence such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, word about Fyre Festival blew up and it quickly became a widely sought-after event, with 95% of the tickets selling within 24 hours. Even though people were readily dropping hundreds of dollars on these tickets, no one really knew much information beyond what was advertised in the promo video and the enticing “orange tiles” popping up in their Instagram feeds. To those who bought tickets, the promo video seemed to be all the proof they needed to ensure themselves that the festival was legitimate. Even festival attendees who were even a bit concerned about the vagueness of the event figured that “everything would be taken care of”...Yikes.

Meanwhile, Billy McFarland and his team were struggling to actualize the luxurious island festival they showcased in the promo. With just months to develop the festival grounds, many of the perks promised in the promo—cozy villas, first-rate dining, and an incredible music lineup—became impossible to obtain. Even the exclusive island that was initially rented out for the festival (and was where the promo was shot) was reclaimed, leaving Billy to scramble for an island to hold the festival, which ended up being a Sandals Resort parking lot on the shores of Great Exuma Islands (not what the festival-goers were promised AT ALL).

It only gets crazier from there. Despite more problems and setbacks popping up, Billy simply kept the show rolling. While his team grew increasingly worried that they wouldn’t be able to deliver what they promised to the paying festival-goers, Billy relaxed and spent time zipping through island waters with his jet ski, even mere days leading up to the day of the festival.

What the documentaries also uncover was that McFarland also committed serious wire fraud in order to come up with the larger-than-life budget the extravagant festival needed. He would convince businesses to invest, claiming that he had stocks to the tune of $20 million when he really had no more than $1500. Now, it’s one thing to consistently maintain a lie to thousands of people that they paid for a luxurious Coachella-level experience, but to eagerly commit federal felonies for the sake of a shady music festival is reaching a completely different level of disillusioned reality.

But the wildest thing had to be what one of Billy McFarland’s staff members was pushed to do for the sake of the event. With four 18-wheeler containers of Evian water being held up at Customs for $175,000, Billy asked Andy King, his event producer, to do the unthinkable—bribe the customs chief with oral sex to release the water. As horrible as defrauding investors is, I think this truly revealed that Billy was willing to manipulate, exploit and use anyone or anything (including those close to him) to get whatever he wanted, no matter the cost or consequence.

I think the documentary was disturbing not only because it revealed the dark, twisted motives of Billy McFarland, but also because it showed just how our overly reliant our society is on social media influence. Whether it’s a Youtuber promoting a product or a model instagramming their time at a festival, we are constantly being sold an item or an experience that we are being influenced to purchase, regardless if the product is even legitimate or qualitative. As social media continues to play an increasingly powerful role in our daily lives, it worries me that even after this documentary, influencers still hold an immense amount of power in swaying our decisions and, ultimately, distorting our realities.