Hulu and Netflix’s hot new documentaries “Fyre Fraud” and “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened”, respectively, have brought 2017’s failed music festival back to relevance. The films follow the festival’s co-creator Billy McFarland as he fails to plan, and falsely advertises a non-existent music festival on a Bahamas island as the “cultural moment of 2017”, scamming hopeful attendees by the thousands.
Fyre’s most noteworthy marketing tactic was without doubt the partnership with Instagram influencers. Models such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski all promoted the festival on their personal channels by posting an orange square image and sharing footage. In the meantime, people spent thousands of dollars on tickets for exclusive campsite accommodation, food and transportation – infrastructure and resources that simply didn’t exist. Island locals were hired without ever receiving their paycheck. Not even the bands advertised to perform, Blink-182 and Migos, were present.
Billy McFarland is rightfully facing ten years behind bars for wire fraud, lying to investors and sending false documents. However, the question remains how much responsibility for this mess falls on his team members, marketing firm Jerry Media, and the influencers involved in the promotion of the festival. Agencies like Hadid and Ratajkowski’s IMG Models are now facing subpoenas. Is this fair, considering the influencers likely had little knowledge of how big of a disaster this festival would be? Should McFarland alone bear the responsibility of his failed vision or are those who worked with him just as blameworthy?