Snapchat hosted an extravagant New Year's Eve party for over 5,000 employees and guests at the L.A. Live complex in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday night. Drake and Diplo both performed at the event which reportedly cost at least $4 million for the venue alone.
Despite building his fortune on the social media app, however, founder and CEO Evan Spiegel was determined not to let people use Snapchat at the party.
So Snapchat employees avoided their own social network, and used a rival one instead: Instagram.
The event was meant to be an "offline" experience where guests could live in the moment, free from the pressure to post on social media.
Prior to the event guests were told time to leave their phones at home and tickets were emblazoned with the words "no photos."As guests checked into the party, those who had brought their phones were told to hand them over as staff carefully applied red and white striped tape over the camera, theoretically to prevent them from recording. Silver bracelets were strapped around guests wrists also with the words "no photos."
It’s an ironic twist, given that Snapchat is all about sharing photos and video.
To ensure no content was posted to Snapchat specifically, the company blocked all snaps coming from Microsoft theater and the surrounding venues where the party was being held and stripped the location from its "Snap map" feature that normally allows users to view real-time snaps by location.
Once guests were inside, however, many ripped the tape off their cameras and began chronicling what attendees described as an alcohol-soaked carnival.
The party sprawled across a large open courtyard flanked by bars and restaurants Snap had rented out including Katsuya, Lucky Strike, Tom's Urban, Conga Room, and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. Those who dined at the latter were treated to a fixed menu of steak, salad, and cheesecake for dessert. Servers dressed in circus-like attire snaked through the party and distributed an unlimited supply of champagne and mini cupcakes.
Diplo held court on top of a massive 105-foot DJ tower where giant electronic clocks ticked down to midnight. Below him attendees partied as men dressed in silver sequined tanks with disco ball helmets gyrated on the dance floor.
Employees were allowed to extend up to three invites to the party and it was packed. A-list guests like Kevin Durant mingled with those in attendance. Dress code was formal but plenty of Los Angeles creatives donned sneakers, jean jackets, or brightly colored shirts.
In between drinking and dancing guests were invited to play games like NFL Blitz and Beat Mania.
The Drake concert began after 9 pm. Spiegel had box seats with a prime view of the stage while Snap employees and their guests crowded up front to get close to the star. The rapper delivered encouraging messages about 2018 before launching into his set.
"356 days is a very long time," Drake said in between songs. Anyone who has "even a half or even a fourth of the health that you want" should be grateful.
Some employees who still had their cameras taped over captured songs via video then uploaded the clips to Instagram stories.
Even Drake himself couldn't resist documenting the event on Instagram. Before taking the stage he uploaded a video to Instagram Stories that panned over the party from above.
As the clock approached midnight guests gathered on the outside plaza. A giant, bright Snapchat ghost was suspended from a high pole, presumably to be to dropped at midnight. While the clock ticked down 2017's final moments, hoards of guests whipped out their phones to record the moment.
Midnight struck and red and white confetti poured down on the screaming crowd. One attendee who had hoisted herself on top of a man's shoulders cried out "2018! 2018!"
"New Years Eve is very overrated, but this event was dope," one guest posted on Instagram shortly after midnight.
Snap's New Year's Eve party was not the first time the company has attempted to host an event devoid of social media.
The "no photos" policy is strictly enforced at most company gatherings. In December, Snap held a holiday party for staff at its New York City office at the Beekman hotel and went through similar measures to prevent employees from distributing content from the event.
"I'm pretty sure anyone who posted from a party would be fired," one Snapchat employee said regarding the company's policy. Snapchat is also notoriously secretive about its internal affairs.
"New employee orientations begin with a Fight Club-like list of forbidden topics of discussion. And internal projects blossom out of nowhere — and vanish suddenly — without explanation," Business Insider reported in 2016.
While hosting a fully "offline" party in 2017/2018 can be seen as broadly in line with Snapchat's original emphasis on privacy and ephemerality, the idea seems to work much better in theory than in practice—especially for an event with thousands of attendees.
The fact is, it’s nearly impossible to create a large scale social media "safe zone" in today's tech climate. Broadcast-focused social networks like Facebook and Instagram have preconditioned an entire generation to reflexively package every notable moment of their lives for public consumption, and Snapchat's New Years Eve party was no exception.
Snapchat tried to stave off this urge by hiring roaming photographers to take professional pictures. The company also set up tons of photo booths where guests could pile in for printable photo strips and vintage-style polaroids to take as memories.
But still, within minutes of the party's conclusion guests flooded Instagram with photos and videos from the party, many hashtagging their content #SnapchatNYE. 15 second videos from the Snapchat event dominated the public Instagram story feeds of all venues where the party took place for 24 hours after the affair.
Some guests even went through the trouble of re-uploading their photos and videos to Snapchat. One well known YouTuber named Kong Pham re-uploaded his entire Instagram story to Snapchat the minute he was far enough away from the venue to do so.
Overall, Snapchat employees said they had a fantastic time ringing in the new year with friends and colleagues. But despite the fact that Spiegel covered the talent fees for the event personally, some said the company spending millions footing the bill for a giant party seemed egregious in light of Snap's recent financial troubles.
The company's stock price has been volatile since its IPO last spring and its valuation cratered in November after its third quarter earnings call revealed that it had missed its financial targets and user growth had slowed.
The venture-backed company lost a total of $443 million in the third quarter of 2017 and has struggled to successfully monetize its user base.
Snapchat also denied employees a cash bonus this year, offering stock options instead, which one employee said was like being told they could buy a lotto ticket.
Nevertheless, several employees woke up on New Years Day still in a daze from Sunday night's event.
"Helluva party," actress Cerina da Graca posted on Instagram.
"Honestly, I'm still recovering and trying to recall the night myself," an employee said.