Watching Monday night’s “Rihanna 777” special on Fox was a little like watching home movies from the roughest, most exhausting vacation you can imagine and all you see are shots of the pretty sunsets, cute animals, and none of the footage of the crazy relatives. It was an incredibly whitewashed version of what really happened when the superstar took journalists and fans with her to play seven shows in seven countries in seven days. The special bore pretty much no reality to the truth.
As one of the 150 journalists on the journey, I watched the special with disbelief. It made it seem as if we were all a little sleep deprived because of the schedule, not because Rihanna or other circumstances made it so that we took off at least six hours later than planned every flight and were stuck waiting in the airport each time. Plus, after Rihanna made her foray through the plane on our first flight from Los Angeles to Mexico, she never deigned to talk to the press again until we were on our final approach into New York, the final stop.
I understand that the point of the special wasn’t to show how rough the coddled press had it, but what really struck me was that even as a commercial for Rihanna, the special failed. Say what you will about Rihanna, but the one thing she isn’t is boring and yet as I watched the special, I felt like there was nothing at all compelling about her as a personality or as a performer (although the latter is sadly largely true, there were certainly moments that shone--bright like a diamond--during the shows and yet the editors decided to primarily show footage of songs from “Unapologetic” to prop up the new album’s sagging sales).
A few other thoughts on the special:
*Rihanna addressed how the press wanted her to come back and talk but she needed to rest her voice. And yet she managed to go shopping for lingerie, have after parties until 4 in the morning, drink with her friends, do yoga, etc. We only needed 10 minutes or so once she boarded the plane each day/night and yet we only got it on the first and last flights. The simple fact is she wanted nothing to do with us once she had us captive.
*While I understand that the special, which was to promote Rihanna in all her goodness after all, didn't want to stress how badly she ignored the press, the special could have benefitted from some of the humor that sprung up around her disappearing act, including a MISSING RIHANNA poster, the kind you see attached to telephone poles for missing pets, that one of the TV crews created, as well as the fact that many of us resorted to getting our pictures taken with a cardboard cut out of RuPaul that a journalist from Logo brought on the trip that served as the same role as a Flat Stanley.
*God bless Mike Ruffino, who served as the journalist/talking head for much of the special and gets far more airtime than Rihanna (who apparently didn't give her film crew that much access either). There’s so little substance that he gives some context, as sanitized as it is. Ruffino is a lovely guy, so this is not meant as a slag of him at all, but it was crazy for the rest of us journalists that the Island Def Jam label representatives were so besotted with Ruffino that we felt like he was the official #777 mascot. The rest of us were left to our own devices and could have been left bleeding in the street, but IDJ reps were obsessive about knowing where “Mikey” was at every turn. If he weren’t such a cool dude, we may have thrown him off the plane, but we enjoyed him as much as IDJ did. The bigger question now is if he was there the whole time solely to be used as a talking head since he didn't seem to cover the trip for any outlet, and was he paid by IDJ to be there.
*Yes, Rihanna has very ardent fans, but when two fans outside the Parisian show talk about how she’s one of the best performers ever after we’ve just seen footage of her moving the mic away from her mouth as she should be singing “Umbrella,” it’s laughable. And there’s no footage of the Berlin fans who were furious after waiting four hours for her to come on stage or the Swedish audience who waited for three hours and were belligerent and surly because they’d been served lots of free vodka during the delay. Also, why are we watching band members, who are on Rihanna's payroll, talk about how great it is to play with Rihanna? Are they really going to say anything different?
*Speaking of selective, when Tim, the Australian DJ, streaks, and Ruffino talks about mutiny, the special in no way explained the level of frustration and exhaustion that we had reached after five days of no sleep because we were always waiting for hours to take off and we had nothing to write about because Rihanna’s show was the same every night and she had ignored us for five days. Another week under these conditions and we probably would have resorted to cannibalism.
*The journalists were invited to two of the afterparties that manager Jay Brown talks about, but most of us were too exhausted to even think about trading a few hours sleep for the possibility of getting near Rihanna. Plus, the few journalists who did go were sorely disappointed: they were allowed nowhere near Rihanna who was surrounded by her bodyguards.
There is a fascinating film to be done on the #777 tour and how the wheels came off, and what it says about album promotion and the press as part of the machine, but whatever aired on Fox on Monday had absolutely nothing to do with that.