Mutiny on the 777Tour Express

Mayhem On Rihanna's 777 Tour: How Journalists Became The Story
MTV Style's embedded reporter takes us behind the scenes as fatigue and lack of access to the pop star fuel unrest on global, seven-day tour.

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.


The Guardian provided a great summary of Why This Plane Trip Was Doomed To Fail (According to History).

...Equally likely, they had forgotten the curse befalling many a pop junket that mixes pop stars, journalists and aeroplanes.

This is typified by the infamous fiasco that ensued in 1970, when 150 pop hacks were flown to New York's Fillmore East to see once hotly tipped Brit pub-rockers Brinsley Schwarz. Alas, the plane broke down over the Atlantic, the journalists ended up at Shannon airport, calming their shattered nerves with a free bar, while an old drug bust meant two of the band were detained at the Canadian border. The few sozzled journalists that made the gig slated it as "an expensive disaster", and it took the band 34 years to clear their £30,000 record-company debt.

It was a similar farce in 1998 when I was among 100 journalists flown to Copenhagen to meet Barbie Girl hitmakers Aqua, and plied with vodka. The drunken questions at the press conference were wildly inappropriate; the gig – with the band dressed as skeletons – was like a surreal acid trip. Some journalists failed to make the flight home, and were never seen again – which is pretty much what happened to Aqua's career. (excuse me but this journalist has obviously not heard the pop masterpiece that is MEGALOMANIA, smh.)

Lately, it seemed Iron Maiden's metal singer-cum-professional-pilot Bruce Dickinson had overcome the curse by flying hacks in the band's own Boeing "Ed Force One" himself without crashing the aircraft or banishing Maiden to obscurity. However, the airline he was working for went bust.

So the question the hacks still aboard the 777 may want to ask Rihanna – if she ever comes out of the panic room – is: "Are you feeling lucky?"


Rihanna 777 tour plane late fees 'have cost almost £200,000'
Rihanna has accumulated a bill of almost £200,000 ($318,363) in late takeoff fees for her 777 tour plane, it has been claimed.

The singer - whose new album Unapologetic is due out today (Monday, November 19) - has been flying fans and reporters around the world on a specially-chartered plane, and is visiting seven countries in the space of seven days for gigs and public appearances.

"Rihanna delays going on stage, which throws out the whole schedule," an insider is quoted as telling The Sun. "It's a reaction to the fact that every second of her time is accounted for by organisers. She likes to be in control.

"Her team have been making frantic calls throughout the night to the airports. Every hour that goes by she has to pay for flight clearance on runways, and also incurs costs of the private airport teams, customs, baggage handlers and security. The tour will end up costing her a fortune.

Rihanna will switch on the Christmas lights at Westfield Stratford City in East London at 5pm today.

It was reported last month that Westfield bosses were prepared to pay the star as much as £5 million ($7.96 million) to secure her appearance.

[If you really want to read more about sweaty journalists being pissed at Rihanna, click here.]Mutiny on the jet! Journalists break down and frighten the pop star's crew as 'Unapologetic' junket gets real.

Rihanna is in the midst of her 777 Tour, bringing 250 press and fans along with her band and crew on a chartered plane around the world, performing seven shows in seven countries in seven days — all in the name of promoting her November 19 album Unapologetic. Does that sound as insane as it sounds fun? It totally is.

In the last post I predicted mutiny and it was a joke. But sweet baby Jesus, I fucking called it. It actually happened, on the most brutal travel leg of the tour. Because everyone was sad at not seeing Rihanna more than one time and onstage even though she is like 35 feet in front of us, but also, because everyone was completely twisted out their minds.

We left Paris at 1 p.m., landed in Berlin at 5 p.m., were shipped on busses directly to a large room attached to the club that, oh yeah, was a power plant during the Third Reich. Dark. After about five hours of waiting — blessed downtime, imbued with the impending light insanity — Rihanna took the stage at E-Werk, a hulking warehouse club perfectly suited for '90s raves, but not so hot for seeing an artist from 6,000 feet away. Because she was late, the Germans were tee-raaaaaaashed by the time she came on. One exceptionally wasted blonde with the projection of an opera singer tried to start a sing along to "Diamonds" and then transitioned into "Like a Virgin," the only reason being that she was completely intoxicato. She was behind 2,000 people in the back and it was almost certain that Rihanna could hear her from the stage. The show was pretty great, as usual — they are completely unvarying, even down to the conversational script, but other than her perhaps-drunk performance in Toronto, the consistency applies to the quality as well. At least she is changing her outfits which ps, hallelu hallelu to her stylist Mel Ottenberg. Tonight Ri gave Caribbean medical marijuana realness in a mesh weed tank and white doctor's coat. Topped with black cat-eye shades and a brick lip, she looked like Jessica Rabbit.

The flight to London left immediately after the show ("immediately" a.k.a. three hours later) — the 333 tour, a.k.a. three shows in three countries in like, three minutes. Shortly after the plane took off, everyone in coach lost their collective minds simultaneously. Psychologists will study the footage for years to come.

It all started with a lot of booze and the condescending chant "B-roll," mocking the copious mushy camera dudes taking shots of the most boring shit like people sleeping, signs, and luggage conveyer belts. (My theory is that at least tonight, they were overcompensating for being so wasted at work.) You could hear the collective snap as people just began chanting and clapping, screaming, until all the crazy unified into a single plane-sized globule. The "B-roll" chant evolved into "RIHANNA," as there has been a general discontent with the dearth of any interaction with the star beyond that first day. That chant evolved into "SAVE OUR JOBS," and then "GIVE US A HEADLINE" and finally, "WI-FI."

Has anyone at any riot ever chanted, "Wi-fi! Wi-fi! Wi-fi?" They have now. IF NOT RIHANNA, IF NOT WI-FI, THEN WHAT? Concerned label officials and Rihanna bandmembers emerged from first class, bewildered, a couple having apparently just woken up and looking like they were going to blow a gasket. It was compete chaos. Then the harmonica Australian that I predicted was going to be the first to get duffed in the event of a revolution actually diffused everything. He emerged from the bathroom and streaked the entirety of coach, racing up one aisle and down the other, just as Rihanna once had whilst pouring our first-day Ace of Spades. I can never unsee his ass, I buried my face in my blanket to not look at his balls, and then I puked into it from coughing too hard. I was sober. Did I mention I have pneumonia, also? Anything you read about annoying incessantly coughing girl is unequivocally me, and I hope they get what I have.

To be fair, we knew what we were getting into when we signed up for this junket — I told everyone I was going to die beforehand, just in case — but the reality is so much fucking realer, you know? But also, a hearty lick my balls to all the band dudes who think we're just experiencing "real life" on the "real tour road." I have been on various levels of tour for a decade, from shitty smelly dudes in a van to fanciful tour bus status with your pal Omarion, and this is not like that! Even in a crappy van you can sleep.

Anyway, we ultimately did not see Rihanna. But Tanya, one of the plane's excellent flight attendants, brought back a bottle of cognac. "It's Jay-Z's," she said. I asked her if she'd ever experienced anything like a riot or mutiny on a flight but before I could finish she said, "You don't even need to ask. No." Now we are in London after a 14-hour bus ride. HOLLER AT ME!