To promote her new album, Unapologetic, Rihanna set off on an ambitious globetrotting tour that hit seven countries in seven days. It ended last night with a show in New York that proved exactly the same as all the others. So, rather than write up the same-old again, Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Rosenthal compiled a list of insights gained from his exhausting trip around the world.
Bigger’s not always better.
As an idea, putting a bunch of media and fans on a plane with Rihanna is great. Fly them all around the world, put them in fancy hotels and provide tickets to her concerts? Incredibly generous. The experience would’ve been perfect, had it been executed as planned. Unfortunately for everyone, it wasn’t.
Every single day, from Los Angeles to London, our group had to deal with unbelievably long delays that wasted time by the bucketload. 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. There were too many writers invited and not enough actual fans. They should have scaled back some– but then, it wouldn’t have been ‘an event.’
This goes for me, as well. (For my first entry, due to a lack of Wi-Fi, knowledge and time, I didn’t fact-check my version of her setlist. Because of that, some readers weren’t able to take me seriously, and rightly so. NB: I like Rihanna’s songs; I just don’t know the titles sometimes.) As for this trip, some of us had very managed expectations. I knew we would be exhausted; I have the text messages to prove it. That’s easy, not sleeping. This wasn’t an issue of “poor us, we can’t hang out with Rihanna and braid the hair on the right side of her head.” The biggest issue, instead, was not knowing whether Rihanna had even boarded our plane or not. If she were to make a daily announcement, short and sweet, we at least would understand our purpose in being there. We’d be bored, but we wouldn’t be left out. Honestly, it’s all about the small things.
Embrace the insanity.
Speaking of small things: had the naked Australian not gone native, and had the massive emotional release not ensued, this publicity stunt never would’ve made headlines. That’s what it was designed to do, right? It would have been a very quiet ride through the air and, therefore, a thud on the ground. I think if anyone were to try something like this again, they’d be sure to try and make it crazy or, well, a type of crazy that could be controlled. An event is not necessarily an event unless you make it an event. If Rihanna had owned the frenzy instead of hiding from it… well, that’s a hypothetical we’ll just have to sleep on.
Feed the animals.
If you’re going to bring a bunch of press onboard, give them something to write about. Give a quote! Show your face! Play the new album over the PA system! (This was all done on the first day, but never again.) Instead, we had to write about the experience of sitting in an idle bus or a silent airplane for a week. We could only write about the same show for so often; we had to somehow differentiate one day from another.
Some interviewed the fans in the back, as if that offered a fresh perspective. Having been seated on a bus with members of Rih’s Navy, I heard them say the exact same things we in the media were feeling: they felt ignored, bored, hungry and annoyed. One of the fans went up to Rihanna’s manager at the after-party in Stockholm and ran down her list of everything wrong with the trip; many on the bus the next morning treated her like a hero. Another woman complained after getting caught sneaking around Rihanna’s section and trying to get a picture. She wasn’t treated as kindly.
This was supposedly Rihanna’s idea to bring the press and fans along, but while on the same plane, you would have thought she didn’t know she was traveling with anyone outside of her team.
If and when the tide turns, be prepared.
Right before the so-called mutiny – with Def Jam hoping to salve the frustration of, well, everyone – we were offered a tour of the backstage area in Berlin, albeit hours before Rihanna ever showed up. We saw the chips that Rihanna would eat; the water she would drink. These were her clothing racks, and here were some people on computers. Some of the fans took pictures, possibly to give proof that they had done something on this trip. They also had supposedly arranged a couple of press conferences on long flights, but they were canceled due to timing for one, Rihanna’s disinterest for the other. Still, the effort was noted: they understood our concerns and treated us like adults; they said they were reading everything we were writing and reacted in kind.
For a singer who claims to be Unapologetic, Rihanna apologized a ton in the past week: she said she was sorry to every crowd she was late for: but never to us until the last plane ride. (As Us Weekly‘s Ian Drew heard, she said, “I know you guys got barely any dirt. But I had to be good. It’s impossible to spend time with everybody, and I’m sorry I didn’t.”) She could’ve handled her shit way before it hit the fan. She didn’t, and so she got covered in it.
Never do something like this again.