Fyre Festival Was An Even Bigger Shitshow Than We Thought
"A couple of powerful models posting an orange tile is what essentially built this entire festival. And then one kid with probably 400 followers posted a picture of cheese on toast that trended, and essentially ripped [it all] down," says Mick Purzycki, one of the men behind Fyre Festival, in a new Netflix documentary.
In December 2016, images of a perfectly filtered beachside paradise filled with the world's most famous models began to surface on Instagram. Soon, the likes of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid were posting an orange tile to their feed along with the invitation to join them at Fyre Festival.
Not since the Titanic sunk to the bottom of the ocean on its maiden voyage has a globally anticipated event ended in such an "elephant of a cluster-fuck" - the words used by a navy seal surveying the situation not long before guests began to arrive on Exuma Island.
What the guests—who had laid down thousands of dollars to attend—were greeted by when they landed in April 2017, including disaster relief tents and sand poured thinly over concrete, became the laughing stock of the internet. Fyre tells the inside story of how the promise of a good time turned into "Lord of the Flies with Instagram's top influencers".
The stage is set from the opening minute, with footage of breathless youngsters describing their excitement: "All these models, like, in the Bahamas!" and "Literally, I was excited".
In the middle of the maelstrom is Billy McFarland, an adult frat boy with a bee-stung face whose clout in the business world comes from creating a millennial credit card called Magnesis, and proclaims of the festival: "We're selling a pipe dream to your average loser." McFarland is the perfect millennial villain, a remorseless narcissist on a hover-board who promises you the world then worries about it, well, never.
With collaborator Ja Rule - who in a moment of delicious irony early in the documentary calls Billy his "partner in crime" - he goes about assembling Fyre festival with all the misplaced gusto and incompetence that Donald Trump is currently putting into the construction of his beloved wall.
The pair bluster on while the days until the festival tick down, ignoring warnings from everyone around them and firing anyone who challenges them. When 350 guests have nowhere to stay the night before the festival, McFarland still refuses to cancel, while those who do arrive re held at a beach bar for 6 hours while he paces around still trying to salvage the unfinished tents and stages.
Social media the world over tuned in to watch the horror show unfold in tweets showing the drenched tents and, yes, the famous cheese on toast takeaway box. While the images seemed like a too good to be true reality show - "The Hunger Games for rich people" is how it was memorably termed during schadenfreude-fest on Twitter - the documentary delivers an unexpectedly impactful message about who else got burned.
It's hard to feel sorry for rich kids who dropped $12,500 on a luxury tent in the hope of swimming in the same sea as Bella Hadid, or influencers like Kendall Jenner who was paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post promoting the festival, or Billy McFarland trying to shout above the crowds of revellers who want his head on a stick. But it's easy to feel for a Bahamian restaurant owner who cleaned out her savings to pay the workers she employed to cater for a festival which never paid her. The story of Fyre festival is littered with people who became collateral damage in Billy's desperation for the glory of throwing Woodstock-on-sea.
But while Billy may have been the con-artist that scammed thousands, Instagram was the platform that let Fyre spread and helped his "pipe dream" to be packaged as reality. "You can't differentiate between what was real and what wasn't," says one Fyre Media employee about their boss - a fitting criticism of the platform that built him up and brought him crashing down.
'Fyre' will air on Netflix this January.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.