Fox’s Rihanna 777 documentary offered a behind-the-scenes look at the turbulent tour. Jean Trinh compares the differences between the video footage and actual reports.
Seven countries. Seven concerts. Seven days.
Rihanna 777—an hourlong documentary that aired on Fox on May 6— depicts Rihanna’s ambitious and controversial tour that visited countries from Mexico to Germany in November 2012, and brought along 150 journalists and 50 fans from around the world for the ride. The tour was intended to celebrate the release of the Rihanna’s seventh album, Unapologetic, and although it started off as a raucous party, it ended with sharp criticism from reporters, who lashed out through detailed, day-by-day articles and tweets, describing the situation as the “utmost hopeless place” and comparing it to “Stockholm Syndrome.”
However, the documentary reveals the other side of the concert tour—how taxing it is for a cultural icon to travel from country to country and perform on intense schedules—and defends the Barbadian crooner from the media. It shows the joy that the tour’s passengers have while opening their swag bags, the energy of RiRi’s live performances, fan and crew testimonials, and even touches upon the infamous “mutiny” aboard the Boeing 777. In the opening moments of the documentary, the group is bubbling with energy, and Rihanna struts up and down the aisles, serving overflowing Armand de Brignac Champagne (also known as Ace of Spades) and cognac to the guests.
The energy of the trip wanes as each day goes by, and rightfully so—it’s a grueling journey since passengers are wrangled from plane to tour bus to concert venues to after-parties. The video shows vignettes of passengers sleeping and also complaining about the lack of sleep. It’s not just the journalists, however. Everyone from the tour’s management team to choreographers and RiRi herself is exhausted, but they insist the show must go on.
The other factors contributing to the grim attitude of the travelers are left out in the behind-the-scenes footage. Meals were hard to come by and decadent booze lost its appeal. “As frequently as they don’t feed us, they keep plying us with alcohol,” wrote Mary H.K. Choi of MTV.
Also absent were other complaints: passengers grumbled about the lack of water, and bathroom and shower breaks—as if it were equivalent to the infamous Carnival cruise that left passengers stranded overseas for days. “A frequent complaint on the trip?” said an anonymous passenger Gawker interviewed. “Some variation of ‘I want a glass of water so badly, but I guess I should be glad I don't, because then I'd have to pee.’”
Much of the reason for the lack of these necessities was due to frequent waiting spells on the tarmac, at the airports, and at the venues. The guests had little time to spend in their fancy hotel rooms. Isla Seat of The Sun reported it took nine hours to get from Stockholm to Paris on a private plane (without even having to go through security or customs), even though that’s a trip that usually should take less than two hours.
Rihanna had arrived on stage 90 minutes late for a number of the shows, and Glamour noted that the Berlin concertgoers at one point got unruly and booed until the beauty showed up. Sugarscape mentioned that in Rihanna 777, the footage shows the flight attendants excited to see the singer’s concert and cuts directly to the performance.
“In real life, we saw the flight attendants leave the venue two hours later when Rihanna still wasn’t on stage, as they had to set up for an early flight the next morning,” wrote Kate Lucey of Sugarscape. “They were gutted to miss the gig. Again.”
The documentary defends the Rihanna team, showing footage of bumper-to-bumper traffic and interviewing members during the first leg of the tour in Mexico City, saying that they’re forced to start late because of the time it takes to corral such a huge crew.
“I want to apologize for being late and thank you for being so patient,” Rihanna told passengers, as reported by Billboard. “This is the first time we've moved this many people, so I'm sorry."
Every journalist on that plane had different opinions on the source of the tardiness. “No one stuck to their call time: contest winners would show up hours late to the buses, unapologetically drunk from the night before; Rihanna went shopping for lingerie in Paris while we waited for her on the tarmac,” wrote Jeff Rosenthal of Rolling Stone. The Sun’s Seat wrote, “Apart from costing Def Jam an extra £250,000 [$327,864] because she went past every scheduled take-off time, it was obvious to all her guests that we were with a woman who doesn’t wake up before midday.”
The ones who had the stamina to stay up late would go to the after-parties to try to catch a glimpse of the star. In the documentary, Rih’s camp is shown throwing after-parties for the passengers, and in reality, although a nice gesture, it was reported that she would regularly show up much later than anticipated. For example, the after-party in Stockholm started at 12:30 a.m., but Rihanna didn’t arrive until 4 a.m. “Rihanna's guests were beginning to feel less royal, a bit slighted,” wrote Billy Johnson Jr. of Yahoo! Music.
The journalists were desperate for an interview, but had little access to Rihanna since the first day she popped champagne with them. It’s not noted in the footage that the promised press conferences didn’t materialize. In fact, some folks weren’t even sure if RiRi was on the plane with them, and someone even started posting “missing” flyers of Rihanna as a joke.
“Whether it was Rihanna's job or not to pander to our expectations, it didn't feel fair to bring 200+ people on board, especially if it was allegedly her idea, for such a touring experience and not be present,” wrote Billboard’s Erika Ramirez.
Rihanna 777 addresses this issue by interviewing more-sympathetic journalists like Mike Ruffino and Janell Snowden of VH1. The video shows Rihanna oftentimes visibly fatigued and crawling up stairs, and she explains her reasons for not doing many interviews. “She was drained,” said Snowden in an HLN interview in the documentary. “In order to pull off this feat of ‘seven countries, seven shows, seven days,’ she had to preserve her voice.”
The disgruntlement of the reporters eventually grew into a “mutiny,” and Rihanna 777 captures some of this, including faint chants of “Rihanna” and “save our jobs” from journalists. A major focus in the documentary was Australian DJ Tim Dormer—famously known as the “streaking guy”—who ran through the entire space naked, saying he “did it for a laugh.” The cameramen interview a woman saying people were expressing their “mass discontent” and another man saying it had to do with jetlag.
It’s not said in the video, but although journalists complained about access, they were never promised interviews with the pop star. “From the start, we were told that it was unlikely that we would get one-on-one time with RiRi, and, contrary to some reports, no one was expecting to be sitting up front with Rihanna while necking shots of cognac, but her continued absence from sight has been disappointing,” reported Glamour.
Regardless of the differing opinions of the passengers, boarding the plane was an experience nobody would forget.
In the final scene of Rihanna 777, Ruffino says, “At the end of it, on the escalator down, one of the great, tolerant fans turned around and said, ‘Hey, it’s better than being in the office all week.’”