LONDON — It's day five of Rihanna's seven-day, seven-city promotional 777 Tour, and we're in London. We flew here from Berlin this morning after days of no sleep, more time spent on tarmac than in any of the extraordinary cities we've been visiting and four consistently good, but also consistently similar, Rihanna concerts.
By now you may have heard that shortly after takeoff around 4 this morning, our tour plane descended into bedlam, as a large group of passengers (mostly journalists), could no longer contain the frustration that had been building over the past 48 hours or so. If you've been following along, you could probably tell — even positive show reviews were taking on a clipped tone, there was a general undercurrent of "I'm writing about this because I have to, but I am miserable" to many updates.
On Sunday, three reports came up from the frontlines that were far less forgiving. Rolling Stone, Spin and Billboard (the latter which seems to have since been removed) all took off the gloves. But they didn't throw punches — they just reported what has actually been going on here.
It was under something of a dark cloud then that we descended from Paris to Berlin, where Rihanna would be performing at E-Werk, an interesting, historical industrial venue in an otherwise nondescript part of town. There was a separate room set up for 777's passengers, complete with wi-fi and a traditional German meal (roast turkey with mushroom cream sauce, spatzel and green beans), and we took it like Michelin-star cuisine.
Rihanna played her full set list in a mesh tank top with a marijuana leaf emblazoned on the chest and the same over-the-knee boots she sported on her Paris stop. The German crowd was attractive, and the women chanted consistently before the set and in between songs, but they sang along politely when Rihanna was in the spotlight. The room was extremely hot, though, and many journalists (this one included) couldn't make it through the whole set. (Assured that there would be no new Rihanna developments onstage that night, I took an early exit.)
It's important to note here that many of us assumed from the jump that we would have zero-to-little contact with Rihanna herself while on this tour. While she has a reputation for being super-close with fans, the megastar does not have the best reputation for showing up, particularly when press are involved. That was part of the initial draw: to be asked to be in a press corps for an artist who notoriously doesn't seem all too fond of the press? It signified a sea change, or, at least the fact that Rihanna was up to something, and both of those make for excellent stories.
It's for this reason that there was a kind of "what else can you expect" attitude during the first couple of days, with an undercurrent of hope bolstered by her first on-board appearances and the fact that she did show up to the after party in Sweden, even though it was just a few hours before our lobby call to fly to Paris when she did. It wasn't until fatigue really started to take hold and passengers started to do the math and put together that reports on gossip sites that had Rihanna been shopping for lingerie in Paris coincided perfectly with one of the many times we were sitting for hours waiting for our plane to take off. It felt a bit like a slap in the face.
Don't be fooled by the reports that this allows us to sympathize with the trials and tribulations of being a gigantic touring pop star. It doesn't. Our experience, while glamorous, is more or less completely unrelated to any rock star reality. As Spin's Julianne Escobedo Shepherd noted, Rihanna has a massage therapist flying with her, a fact that was made known to us in our day-one tour booklets. The singer is performing grueling back-to-back shows and then staying up late doing appearances, so this trip is surely taxing for her as well, but the fact is that those of us on this plane have absolutely no idea. Rihanna could be as burnt out and exhausted as we are, or she could be completely fine. The fact is we might as well be on totally different planes.
As all of this evolves in real-time on social media; there's little to no time for journalists to even think about writing about this experience as a whole. The fact is that we're all working constantly, even when tweeting crazed missives from our personal accounts — these days, it's all part of the reporting game — and those tweets are becoming just as much a record of this experience as any formal piece that we file with our outlets. Even notorious New York media gossip site Gawker, which does not have anyone on the 777 plane, is getting into the mix, posting tweets from writers like me and my fellow journalists.
Which leads me to the following: As much as it's being reported that journalists are drinking and being rowdy on the plane, there is also a reasonably sized contingent of stone-cold-sober reporters who have more or less been working nonstop throughout this trip. Those are the people you're seeing quoted in all of the coverage of this event. Don't let the jovial nature of the tweets fool you, these are people who care about their careers like their lives depend on them (I am counting myself among those people). We may not be embedded in Gaza, and yes, everyone is acutely aware that, compared to some of the events taking place in the world at large, a bunch of culture writers on a plane is not world-altering. However, as a look into the media cycle at large and the way that celebrity and media are evolving, this is a perfect petri dish.
The journalists have now created their own story, out of themselves, and it's going to be interesting to see how all this pans out.