Fyre Festival for tweens: the plague of YouTuber-run events

Fyre Festival’s disastrous spirit lives on through hastily planned YouTube conventions. 

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Promoted by supermodels, promising “the best in food, art, music and adventure”, and all hosted on a private beach on an island in the Bahamas, Fyre Festival was branded as an “immersive music festival”, the most luxe festival in the world. The cheapest tickets went for a whopping $1,200, guaranteeing attendees a swish flight to the island, eco-friendly “glamping” style accomodation when they arrived, and world famous musicians, such as Blink 182, to entertain them. 

Instead, festival-goers showed up to “disaster tents” and sparse surroundings, with little to nothing resembling even the most basic festival anywhere to be seen. The gourmet food they’d been expecting turned out to be cheese sandwiches and salads, and several of the planned musical acts cancelled before the “festival” even began. Ultimately, the island became more prison than haven for the rich, young people stranded with very little to eat and, in some cases, nowhere to sleep. The event was such a disaster, and potentially, such a scam, that the founder, Billy McFarland, is facing up to ten years in prison.

The formula for Fyre Festival essentially went like this: Promise glamorous, Coachella-style event. Sell tickets for thousands of dollars. Host it in an exciting, prominent location. Get big-name, mainstream stars to headline. And then, and most importantly, deliver virtually none of it.

Although Fyre Festival was a verified clusterfuck, and utter disaster, its hellish spirit is living on in a new incarnation we all should have seen coming: catastrophically bad YouTuber-run and hosted events.  

The first YouTuber-run homage to the bad planning of Fyre Festival was TanaCon created by Tana Mongeau (3.6 million subscribers). The convention was branded as an alternative to another convention, VidCon, an annual event for creators and fans of video content (largely hosted on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.) The idea grew out of a video Mongeau posted back in April, ranting about her personal grievance with VideoCon for not giving her “Featured Creator” status. Mongeau joked that she should host her own convention in the car park across the street, but what started as a quip about rival event turned into a nightmare-ish, poorly planned reality.

Happening at the Anaheim Convention Centre in California on 22 June, TanaCon attendees began gathering outside the venue at 9AM, unaware that many would be trapped outside waiting for hours. With fans unexpectedly stuck out in the summer California sun, videos of serious sunburns and people passing out in the queue rapidly made their way across social media. Because of the lack of coordination and backed up queues, the event started late. And because it started late, several stars who were scheduled to appear at both TanaCon and VidCon ended up missing their TanaCon slots; meaning Mongeau’s promised celebrity appearances never came to be. The venue also had maximum capacity for 5,000 people, but nearly 25,000 people paid for tickets and showed up on the day, meaning thousands were perpetually stuck waiting outside. And, on top of all that, there were no activities, only shitty merch (a TanaCondom being the most infamous). The event effectively cost many people up to $150 just to stand around in a crowded room. TanaCon quickly became a comedic tragedy.

In the aftermath of TanaCon, you’d think such a catastrophe would never happened again. Hundreds of videos appeared on YouTube covering the event, from big-name accounts (such as h3h3 productions and PewDiePie) to fan channels, including a particularly in-depth three-part series about TanaCon from Shane Dawson (15 million subscribers), which featured Tana Mongeau herself. The videos criticised the disastrous event planning that made TanaCon such a catastrophe and predicted it would ward off others from the same mistakes.

And yet, despite being thought of as the YouTuber event to end all YouTuber events, Mongeau’s efforts have already been matched by a fellow YouTuber in just the last week.

Yousef Saleh Erakat AKA FouseyTube (ten million subscribers), announced on 6 July that he would be hosting a “world-changing” festival at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles called Hate Dies, Love Arrives little more than a week later on 15 July. Calling it a “Coachella-calibre event”, the YouTuber promised performances from Snoop Dogg and Drake, saying his “greater power and purpose” had been “awoken.” Similar to TanaCon, the event was put together in a matter of days, and appeared to be entirely planned and run by Erakat with little outside help.

And, as you might of guessed, the event went almost as badly as TanaCon. On the day, with attendees gathered in the venue, the festival was abruptly cancelled due to a bomb threat (which turned out to be a false alarm.) Attendees were rushed out to a nearby car park, where it suddenly became painfully clear that almost none of what was billed was ever going to happen. None of the promised celebrities were anywhere in sight (with the Drake’s performance entirely fabricated.) Instead of musical acts, Hate Dies, Love Arrives-goers received an impromptu rant from Erakat himself, standing on top of a random car bonnet, largely speaking about his mental health and suicidal thoughts.

Much like Fyre Festival, crowds turned up for something they were sold as a glamorous, celebrity-packed, high-profile event that was never, ever, going to turn out that way.

YouTubers catastrophically screwing up events isn’t anything new. The trend properly began last October with “Hello World Live”, an event that promised “an epic, four hour, immersive live show like nothing on Earth” where fans could pay £99 to “hang out” with the likes of Zoella, Alfie Deyes, and Joe Sugg. However, not only were most paying fans unable to see any of the YouTube stars promised, the vast majority of billed activities (games, baking, etc.) were not even on offer. Attendees essentially paid £100 to catch glimpses of YouTubers in an over-crowded warehouse, to the outrage of parents and kids alike, calling the event a “rip-off.”

But Hello World was an event with actual organisers. Since then, YouTubers have manufactured similar catastrophes without the help of event managers, all on their own. In December, YouTuber Jake Paul hosted two pop-up stores in New York and LA, which had a $10 entry fee (with no guarantee of meeting Jake Paul himself.) While many of the “Jake Paulers” lined the streets on New York for hours, skipping school and travelling across the country to do so, many did not even get into the venue. In LA the event was ultimately postponed (and has yet to be rescheduled.)

Just a month after Hello World was the infamous incident where the Dolan twins (5.9 million subscribers) tried to host a fan meet-up in Hyde Park on what turned out to be Remembrance Sunday. Rather than checking what might be on on a random Sunday in November, the twins went ahead and set the location, announcing the event via Twitter and telling fans where to meet just 24 hours beforehand. Not only did they have zero infrastructure in place to handle the unticketed, unknown number of fans that might arrive, but the had to hastily cancel the event on the actual day. Hundreds still swarmed the park in search of the two YouTubers, unaware that the “event” was no longer on the cards.

The fact is that live events, unlike YouTube videos, cannot be thrown together as hastily as these video stars are used to. Hank Green, one of VidCon’s co-founders, made this obvious point, commenting that “running events is hard” when asked about the TanaCon disaster. In almost all of these YouTuber event cases, major organisational feats are attempted in a matter of weeks or days, promising what usually takes at least a year’s planning to put in place. The YouTubers simply seemed ignorant of the amount of organisation events require. Of all the aforementioned cases (bar Hello World Live, which did involve some professional coordination), TanaCon had the longest period of planning, and that was just 30 days. The Dolans stand out with announcing their meet-up and location just 24 hours beforehand, with FouseyTube in a close second, pulling together his event in just just over a week.

The problem with when these live events don't go to plan is that, unlike Fyre Festival where privileged 20-somethings were screwed over, it's kids who bear the brunt of it. Looking at pictures posted from all of these events, the vast majority of the audiences are visibly primary school-aged, many of whom likely begged parents to take them miles and miles from home just to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars. These events become sunk costs for literal children, and disappoint not rich teenagers, but hopeful, starry-eyed tweens. 

Another oft forgotten fine detail of YouTuber events is that many of these YouTubers are/were teenagers themselves when devising these haphazard plans. Tana Mongeau was 19, the Dolan twins 17, and, although not technically a teenager, Jake Paul was only just 20 while coordinating his pop-up events. These YouTubers are attempting to put on festivals and conventions with no event experience; a fraction of the usual staff usually required and with little time to do it. What they do have is the huge degree of overconfidence that comes from being a teen with millions of fans. A pretty clear recipe for disaster.

In the end, it is slightly ironic that possibly the best piece of advice for these young YouTubers came from the hugely controversial PewDiePie (who has his own extended history of mistakes behind him), in a video reviewing Hate Dies, Love Arrives. “Stop having YouTuber events. Stop. Just stop.”

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.