Suffering Through 'Rihanna 777,' the Rihanna Plane Documentary

With all the embarrassing stories that emerged from Rihanna's Flying Torture Prison last fall, one might think her management would be content to let the memory of that particular experiment in PR stunting slip quietly into the second page of her Google results. But no. In an effort to provide a counter-narrative to all those Gawker posts, or maybe out of sheer forward momentum, Rihanna's team has now seen its bad idea through to its conclusion with a bland auto-documentary more notable for what it doesn't show than anything that actually happens onscreen.

Billed by a press release as "an inside look at this ambitious and often turbulent tour [GET IT?], from the sound of popping champagne corks on the plane to all the backstage chaos," as well as "her third official long-form video concert," 777 fails on both counts. As a concert film, it lacks the dazzling cinematography of her preceding two and contains only six songs. (I imagine the 77-minute-long DVD version will have a few more.) But to take this film's word for it, we don't want to watch more than five songs, anyway. The costumes and choreography aren't nearly as ambitious as those of her last tour, and I realize it's no secret that pop stars use backing tracks, but at some points she doesn't even try to lip sync to her own voice. If I were her friend, I'd ask her if she's okay.

As for the "behind the scenes" aspect, it's impossible to watch this without thinking about all the horrors that were edited out. No food! No Wifi! No bathrooms! No Rihanna! Some people got mad at the journalists and contest winners for daring to complain when they were being flown around the world "with" Rihanna (who talked to them once at the beginning and once at the end), which is actually the exact goal of a junket: spend enough money on someone, and they'll feel like ungrateful dicks if they write anything negative. This fact of modern celebrity journalism makes it even more impressive that the 150 press people on board reacted with such uniform rebellion. As has been well documented elsewhere, the delirious quote and sleep deprived writers were forced to make their own news, interviewing each other and circulating "MISSING: RIHANNA" fliers in protest.

Some of this did make it in, of course, mainly in the form of "the naked Australian," a radio DJ who became the undisputed breakout star of this documentary by streaking around the plane for a few fateful minutes, and secondarily, by hitting on Necole Bitchie. There are also lots of shots of people looking tired and pissed off, as seven countries in seven days means you don't get to sleep lying down. (Couldn't they have chartered one of those fancy new planes with beds on them?) Rihanna makes a halfhearted attempt at defending herself ("I can't make everyone happy," "I have to protect my voice,") but insists at the end, "I'm glad I did it like this." Well, that makes one of us.

You might think the documentary's camera crew would have better access to its star than the journos, but none of the things you'd actually want to see made it in. What did Rihanna do in Stockholm after she said she knew shouldn't go out, but that she was going out anyway? What did Stella McCartney, Kylie Minogue, and Jay-Z say to RiRi when they were hanging out with her backstage? Under what circumstances was that naked, blunt smoking Instagram produced? These are questions that will never be answered. Instead, we get fans, celebrities, and the pop star herself talking about how great she is, which is both obnoxious and unnecessary, as I'm guessing the primary demo for 777 is not "people who think Rihanna sucks."

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A few people talk about what an amazing and special idea the Rihanna plane was, but nobody ever explains why it's amazing, because they can't. I mean, is there anything inherently cool about placing people in purposefully taxing conditions and seeing if they can still do their jobs, whether they are writing crappy articles or performing hours late for thousands of annoyed fans? And I say that as someone who loves stunt pieces. Maybe Rihanna just likes it when numbers match?

Of course, there's a chance this whole shitshow was designed as an intentional inversion of the sadomasochistic relationship Rihanna has with the press as depicted in her "S+M" video, in which case I take back everything I said. Rihanna is an evil genius, and you should buy all of her albums. Unapologetic, bitches!