After seven days that, while displaced from the “real” world, personally felt more like seven weeks, Rihanna‘s insanely ambitious 777 Tour came to an end on Tuesday (November 20), and was capped off with a sweaty, Jay-Z-attended gig at New York City’s Webster Hall. Decked in all white, Barbados’ good girl gone bad bumped and grinded appropriately, and turned out a performance that did what it was meant to do: whip her hardcore fans into a frenzy upon her album release. Immediately after, news serendipitously broke that Rihanna’s lead Unapologetic single “Diamonds” had officially topped the Billboard Hot 100.
If you’ve been following the journey from day one, you know that this promo blitz kicked off innocently enough in Mexico City, but began to wear down the nerves of many journalists and fans alike along for the mile-high jaunt by the time Airforce RiRi hit Paris. The sleep-deprived group of 270 soldiered on to Berlin as the frazzled passengers, annoyed by the utter lack of on-board interaction with the pop singer (despite what label Island Def Jam had assured several writers, including myself), reached a breaking point on the delayed-as-usual, middle-of-the-night flight to London. And so a comical riot (dubbed forever after as “Occupy 777″) broke out around 3:30 a.m. Fuse’s Esteban Serrano worded it best: “We were looking for a story and we turned out to be the story.”
There is some discussion online about the journalists who took part in 777 being ungrateful whiners. I’m not going to counter that because, quite frankly, if you weren’t there, I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Opinions are opinions, and, hey, we’ve all got ‘em.
What I will tell you is this: I wasn’t give a week-long vacation where I expected to clink flutes of bubbly and do the “Gangnam Style” dance in the cockpit with one of the world’s most successful pop stars; I was on assignment, working, many days for 24 hours nonstop, and had agreed to do the trip because I had been told ahead of time by IDJ that the singer would be engaging us with something akin to a “press junket.” That didn’t happen. And it was disappointing from a professional standpoint.
Perhaps the biggest letdown was the lack of fan interaction by the singer on board. I would have really loved to have seen Rihanna spend some time with the 30 or so contest winners on the jet. Talk about an early Christmas present! I mean, I’ve been a music geek since I was a pre-teen, and I certainly never got to do anything this potentially-cool with an artist I adore.
Rosie Rivera, a San Fransisco fan on the flight, excitedly told me on Day One, “I didn’t have enough vacation time to take [the trip], but I said, that’s okay, I’ll go without pay. It’s worth it.” Later in our conversation, she added, “[Rihanna]‘s so genuine and real. I’m grateful that we get to see that in person.”
Unfortunately, fan enthusiasm on the plane started to dwindle as the journey went on. In the end, it all does seem like a squandered moment where Rihanna could have really shown her “Navy” that their commander knows how to do her followers right. But disappointment is part of life, and I’m at least proud of the coverage I was able to put together. While I had to make a little go a long way, hopefully readers were able to chuckle at my own mishaps as well as click through all the concert photos and snaps of Rih’s two brief appearances in the main cabin.
Blog diva Necole Bitchie put it to me this way in London, while we were all lying on the floor of one of the many “holding rooms” we were herded into for lengthy stretches of time: “The trip was over-glamorized. You know how Meek Mill has [an album called] Dreams And Nightmares? That was the epitome of this trip… I wanted it to work out, because it was such an amazing marketing idea. It was just executed wrong.” She then joked, “Beyonce would never. Ever!”
BET Centric’s Justin Joseph told me in London, “We did, what, three countries in one day [at one point]? That was intense. And I knew that part. But for me personally, I would not have noticed it if I was getting the coverage that I needed. It felt as if we were supposed to just be okay [with the fact] that we were simply here. That’s where I feel like there was a disconnect with what was presented and what actually happened.”
Just before Rihanna’s Webster Hall gig last night, I Skyped in to HuffPost Live for a chat about the trip. Aside from the Australian DJ who stripped off and ran buck-naked up and down the aisles of the plane during the journalist riot (an incident that caused Spin’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd to vomit into her blanket), the thing everyone seems to be curious is about is whether or not I’d do the trip again. “[Rihanna] got all the press she wanted,” I told hostess Alyona Minkovski. “I think from her reps’ points of views there were maybe some mistakes to learn from. And I think the next time it happens, it’ll probably happen more efficiently.”
So would I take part in this type of thing again? Hell, yeah, I’d go again. Those mistakes I alluded to had to do with the behind-the-scenes disorganization on the part of the label and, perhaps, their own disconnect with the artist’s management. That said, this type of large-scale promotional campaign can be improved upon. (Tip #1, record labels: hire a tourism board worker or tour guide specialist to tag along and coordinate; don’t leave in the hands of in-over-their-heads marketing dept. chiefs inexperienced with travel planning for a group this size.)
At any rate, with Unapologetic on track to mirror the chart position of “Diamonds” — a #1 album being a first for Rihanna — it’s not unforeseeable that there will be another artist who takes part in a similar endeavor at some point.
Favorite Rihanna Moment On The 777 Tour: During our revolution on the plane, many of us were loudly mimicking, in unison, Rihanna’s on-stage banter in the lead-up to “What’s My Name.” (“What did you call me? WHAT did you call me?”) Following that, the song was axed from her set list for the remainder of her engagements. RiRi got the message. Still, at the eleventh hour, she walked into the lions’ den on Tuesday morning and finally fielded a few questions, which had to take guts.
Least Favorite Moment: Realizing that the singer had the time to party into the early morning hours with Diddy, Pharrell and Cassie — not to mention go out and buy sexy lingerie — in Paris, but, for the most part, basically slept through her obligation to chat with the passengers she invited along all week long.
Favorite City We Hit: Berlin. Up to this point, we weren’t able to explore any of the cities, because any downtime we had anticipated got eaten up by a myriad of delays on a daily basis. Still, while my poor colleagues, like Rolling Stone‘s Jeff Rosenthal, were being “gifted” with a backstage tour of Rihanna’s dressing room — where they encountered not the singer, but her potato chip bag — I ditched the group at the Berlin venue, E-Werk, met up with my friend O-Jay (of pop act Real McCoy), later smuggled him into the show and we proceeded to drink copious amounts of alcohol. A much-needed reprieve.
Favorite Quote From A Fellow Journalist: “If all the other writers hadn’t been so nice, I would have cried more than two times.” — Emily Zemler, MySpace.com.
Favorite Quote Overall, From A Weary RiRi Fan Along For The Ride: “It was like fun torture.”
Follow Idolator on Instagram (at “Idolator) to catch more of Robbie’s photos from the 777 Tour.