ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Fyre Festival - that is F-Y-R-E - was supposed to be the music festival of 2017.
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UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: The actual experience exceeds all expectations into something that's hard to put in words.
SHAPIRO: This promotional video set in the Bahamas promised luxury yachts, beautiful women and a lineup with big names.
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SHAPIRO: People shelled out thousands of dollars for tickets and flights. But when they got to the island, it was chaos. Forget yachts. There wasn't even housing or food. Some people were stuck on the island for days fighting for basic needs. And the promotional tool that hyped up the festival in the first place became the engine of its notoriety as people flooded social media with a real-time account of the debacle. The festival's CEO, Billy McFarland, has been sent to prison for fraud.
And now, this week, two documentaries have come out to shed light on what actually happened. NPR's Linda Holmes covers pop culture and entertainment for us, and she had the pleasure of watching both of them. Hi, Linda.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: OK. Before we get to whether it was actually a pleasure watching these documentaries or not, remind us how Fyre Festival first came to be.
HOLMES: So Fyre Festival was created by Billy McFarland, who had already had a credit card thing that he did with millennials. And they wanted to make this big, giant music festival. They promoted it on Instagram. They had a bunch of Instagram influencers and beautiful models who one day put just an orange square on their Instagram. So that created this visual effect that made everybody say, oh, what's with the orange square? It turned out it was a Fyre Festival promotion. Then they had a very luxurious video with models frolicking on the beach and so forth. So by the time people were about to leave for it, they were pretty psyched.
SHAPIRO: No small part of the enthusiasm for the Fyre Festival story comes from schadenfreude in watching these kinds of people suffer in what they thought would be an exclusive luxury getaway. But explain how it came to be that in the same week we got two documentaries about it. We knew about the Netflix one, and then Hulu surprised us by releasing one before Netflix.
HOLMES: Right. The Netflix documentary we knew about. It was scheduled for Friday. You know, they said, our documentary's coming Friday. Hulu, in the manner of a suddenly released Beyonce album...
HOLMES: ...Just dropped their documentary on Monday. And Monday coincidentally was also the day that the review embargo lifted on the Netflix doc. So just as critics are releasing mostly positive reviews of this Netflix documentary that's coming in a few days, Hulu says, or you could watch the one that's available right now. So they kind of undercut Netflix.
They also made the point at the end of their documentary that the Netflix documentary had as producers two of the companies who participated in putting on the Fyre Festival. So they were kind of saying, you know, there's another documentary, but it has, you know, some ethical issues. And it was really quite clever.
SHAPIRO: That is some cutthroat marketing.
HOLMES: It was cutthroat. It was cutthroat.
SHAPIRO: So you've watched both the documentaries. What do you think? Are they different? Are they both worth watching?
HOLMES: They're both worth watching. I think they are more similar than different. I think that the the Netflix one takes a little bit more of a tick-tock of the collapse of this whole thing. I think the Hulu one is a little more trying to get at big-picture questions. I think it's trying to get a little more distance. Also, the Hulu one for all of - that they were tut-tutting Netflix...
SHAPIRO: Yeah. I was going to say you mentioned the ethical questions surrounding the Netflix doc. The Hulu doc has its own ethical questions.
HOLMES: Right, because the Hulu documentary, unlike the Netflix documentary, has an interview with Billy McFarland.
SHAPIRO: That they paid for.
HOLMES: That they paid for. And this all kind of came out in a piece in The Ringer that was written by Scott Tobias, and he got to talk to both of the directors of the films. And, you know, they acknowledged, at the Hulu one, that they had indeed paid him something for this interview. So that in journalism is not done, just as having your piece sponsored by the subject of it is not done. So...
SHAPIRO: I feel like this whole saga, from the inception of Fyre Festival to the competing documentaries, is some sort of allegory for something, but I'm not sure what. What - (laughter) what's your big takeaway from all of this?
HOLMES: You know, it's really easy to turn this into tut-tutting wealthy millennials who were ready to drop all their money, you know, just because a bunch of Instagram models told them to come play on the beach. But honestly, every generation, I think, has its how-did-you-possibly-fall-for-this story, whether it's pyramid schemes or, you know, the pet rock or whatever. I think everybody has their thing. And I do think the shape of what it was that they fell for was influenced by Instagram.
HOLMES: But it's not that they're any more gullible. It's just that it's a different thing. This is what happens to be the way to get into people's pockets right now.
SHAPIRO: Linda Holmes hosts NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR podcast. Thanks, Linda.
HOLMES: Thanks, Ari.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLAP BACK")
JA RULE: (Singing) Holla back. What do you do when - spit at you? Clap back, we goin' (ph) clap back, we goin' clap back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.