Disasters like Fyre festival don’t happen without tremendous backlash. In the first article of this series we examined what happened to the thousands of Fyre Festival attendees who showed up for the first weekend of the festival only to be stranded with limited resources in the Bahamas. Now it’s time to look at Ja Rule, Billy McFarland, and the backlash the festival has received.
Billy McFarland cofounded Fyre media as his second great business venture. His first is called Magnises, and this too has its fair share of controversy. Magnises is a black card for millennials who are too young to order one from Amex. The card cost $450 and offers exclusive membership perks and VIP experiences to its card holders. The application for Magnises focuses more upon familial background and social status then it does on applicants’ credit history or financial situation. Magnises is still around, however McFarland himself has received criticism from the media for being a reckless partier and throwing multiple events that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. His company came under fire in early 2017 for not following through on any of the “exclusive member perks” promised at sign up. In addition to this, there were a series of complaints about customers receiving unwanted charges on their credit cards to which Magnisus reimbursed them the incorrect amount.
Hip Hop artist Ja Rule partnered with Bill McFarland in 2015 to be the head creative and spokesperson for Magnises. The two took their relationship beyond Magnises when they created Fyre Media- a talent booking company that subsequently created Fyre Festival as its first large event. Ja Rule set his sights pretty high for his first real business venture outside of making music. While the artist has collaborated on clothing and shoe lines before, he has never built a business from the ground floor up, and he certainly had no previous experience on the executional side of events. Given McFarland’s questionable business practices and Ja Rule’s lack of tangible business experience, signs were not pointing in a positive direction when the two decided to co-create Fyre Media.
What Ja Rule did not bring to the table in business smarts and experience, he did bring with great influencer power and connections. His connections landed Fyre Media with one of the best promotional teams out there inclusive of Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Hailey Baldwin, who combined, have over 1.1 billion Instagram followers. They too received a harsh backlash from fans and the media for promoting the failed event. All of the models claimed they knew nothing about the festival so “it wasn’t their fault,” but apologized for promoting it via their social channels. Because Kendall Jenner needed one more failed marketing attempt to scar her name.
When interviewed after the festival, McFarland stated that they were simply unprepared to execute the festival given the site was without running water or sewage facilities. In a Rolling Stone interview, he said, “We were overwhelmed and just didn’t have the foresight to solve all these problems…We thought we were making timeframes that were correct. We were a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves. Next year, we will definitely start earlier. The reality is, we weren’t experienced enough to keep up.”
Ja Rule’s response to the disaster was, “I’m heartbroken at this moment…My partners and I wanted this to be an amazing event, it was NOT A SCAM as everyone is reporting. I don’t know how everything went so left but I’m working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded … I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT … but I’m taking responsibility. I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this.”
Two lawsuits have resulted from the failed festival so far. The first is a $100M class action lawsuit and the second is for a measly $5M. The $100M class action lawsuit is against Ja Rule and Billy McFarland for subjecting festivalgoers to “dangerous conditions” at a luxury festival that organizers allegedly knew was doomed. The $5M lawsuit is against the use of almost 400 celebrities to promote the festival without disclosing they were paid by the product.
Ja Rule and McFarland are still publicly stating that the festival will go on next year. Why people would be interested in attending an event whose organizers simply “didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to pull of” is beyond me. Only time and trials will tell if Ja Rule and McFarland are Fyred, or if the show will go on.