November 21, 2012


Why (Almost) Everyone Wins on Rihanna's 777 Tour

Kevin Mazur
Kevin Mazur

Fuse has been traveling with Rihanna as part of her 777 Tour, which finds the singer performing seven shows in seven countries in seven days. With the end of last night's New York show at Webster Hall, we take a look back at the successes and failures of the grand experiment.

Rihanna's 777 Tour is now officially history.

The week-long, seven-country trek landed in New York yesterday morning, with Rihanna performing her final show at Webster Hall later that night. Despite rumors of special guests—Jay-Z was in the building, but did not appear onstage—the show was essentially the same as the previous six, but it marked the end of what will go down as one of pop music's boldest and strangest gambles.

Despite everything you heard, though, it was a bet that paid off for everyone, except select fans onboard.

One journalist asked me, "Man, how f-cked do you think the Def Jam people feel now?" Very, very little, I assume. They went into this trip hoping that 150 journalists would cover the event. They came out reading that and then some, as everyone from People to International Business Times to Business Insider picked up the story of the quasi-revolt mid-tour. While promised press conferences never materialized and "waiting" was the main activity, journalists onboard now have another drinking story. ("Oh, you think that’s bad? I was on the Rihanna plane.") And fans, at least some of them, have the story of a lifetime, albeit probably not the one they were hoping for. And Rihanna herself? Well, at least she had fun and would definitely do this again! If anything, Def Jam unwittingly replicated and updated the Stanford Prison Experiment. The only surprise, then, is that we didn't see this coming.

One incident, though, has been sitting with me for a while. After Rihanna's Berlin show, a Fuse cameraman told me about a girl on the plane he heard spewing vitriol about the singer and the tour for much of the set. Aside from the standard, "How come she didn't play this?" laments, there were more specific gripes about feeling left out, being "over it" and ready to board a plane home. When I introduced myself later and began interviewing her, it was like talking to a Stepford Wife who inadvertently witnessed a Mafia killing and feared for her life.

"What did you think of the show?"
"It was great!"
"Are there any songs you'd rather she played?"
"How does the experience compare with what you thought it'd be?"

For some of the fans, the urge to connect with your hero superseded the realities of the event. If Rihanna is flawless, clearly the trip must be too, right? The 777 Tour became as much a lesson in idol worship as media event.

So any Chicken Little predictions that this will have a negative effect on Rihanna's career are short-sighted. Maybe there's some internal future Rihanna boycott I wasn't privy to, but as the present becomes hindsight, the experiential factor for most of the people onboard will outweigh two-hour naps, the daily hours of waiting in airports and tarmacs and Rihanna being present in name only.

Perhaps now is also a good time to put to rest misconceptions and rumors reported as fact:

- No, Rihanna did not have a "panic room" onboard. That was a joke (and a damn funny one) by Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Rosenthal.

- Nobody was trying to sabotage the official 777 Tour documentary. Despite the slight weirdness in perpetually filming people sleeping, her film crew were good dudes. Though I'm curious as to how much of that ill-fated Berlin to London flight makes it into the final cut.

- Australian DJ Tim Dormer, aka the "Rihanna streaker," did not run down the aisles of the plane naked to "protest" her not meeting us. He was having a laugh and, unwittingly, became as well-known as the singer on the trip.

I haven't seen the marketing plans for the 777 Tour, but it's safe to say the heads of Island Def Jam didn't account for the Law of Unintended Consequences. When I spoke to Rihanna's guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, he told me that he thinks this tour will set the new standard for major artists looking to try something different and make a big splash around their album release. Maybe. But there'll be more than a few tweaks needed before a label tries to pull this off again.

Would I do this exact same trip again knowing what I know now under the same conditions? Not on your life. Still, as non-familial bonding experiences get less frequent the older you get, the idea of adult summer camp-cum-prison for a week remains perversely appealing.

Incidentally, Unapologetic is predicted to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 next week. Guess who the big winner is?

Total distance traveled: 15,718 miles