Fyre Festival: A Scam

by The Cowl Editor on February 7, 2019


by Anne DeLello ’20 A&E Staff

The idea: an epic party on a private island where normal people can mix with models and celebrities at a luxury music festival featuring their favorite musicians.  

The reality: attendees stranded on the Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas, scrambling to find a disaster relief tent, wondering where the thousands of dollars they paid had gone.  

The Netflix documentary, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, exposes the founder of both the Fyre Festival and Fyre Media Inc., Billy McFarland, for his fraudulent behavior as well as the details of his downfall.  


Fyre began as a music booking app that would allow anyone to hire famous performers for an event, something that had never been done before. The original group working on the app was McFarland, Ja Rule, M. David Low, and Samuel Krost, which they promoted at the Web Summit of 2016. The intention behind the Frye Festival was to promote the app. Meanwhile, McFarland took this idea and ran with it. 

A key factor in McFarland’s deception was the promotion for the event. The promo video intended to sell tickets by featuring models such as Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber on the island, suggesting that anyone who came to the festival would get to swim in the clear blue waters with models. Hadid and Bieber, along with others such as Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and 250 social media influencers and celebrities, posted an orange tile when the promotional video came out with a link to purchase tickets in their captions.  

If anything can be learned from this, it is the power of social media. The producer of the famous promotional video that put Fyre on the map, Brett Kincaid, stated it was “selling a dream, selling a vacation, selling a concept.” 

Jerry Media controlled the social media for the event until it became clear that McFarland was unable to make Fyre live up to what he had promised. At the end of the documentary, an employee from Jerry Media mused how “a couple of powerful models posting an orange tile is what built this festival.” 

This does not mean that the models are responsible for people losing thousands of dollars or for the damages caused by McFarland’s deception. As one Fyre Media employee contemplated, “How could we ask the models to have the kind of awareness about the festival that I myself didn’t have being an employee of Fyre Media?” Although these celebrities were not directly responsible, it is a testament to how much influence celebrities have and how powerful this influence can be when channeled through social media.  

McFarland was charged with, and pleaded guilty to,  two counts of wire fraud in March 2018 and will spend six years in jail. Many people have called him a psychopath after learning of his actions leading up to the Fyre Festival. 

A lesson can be learned from everyone who bought tickets and even those who did not: do not trust everything posted on social media. The odds are not even the people posting it truly know what they are advertising.