Music's seven-day joke-in-the-sky returns to popular consciousness on Monday, as a label-made documentary of Rihanna's 777 Tour lands on your television. But what picture does the mini-movie paint of Rihanna, her 150-strong army of journalists and third-cabin throng of fans?
It's an exercise in excuse-making. A quick refresher course: During the promotional period for Rihanna's seventh studio album, "Unapologetic," the singer, her label and management prepped a seven-day jaunt around a great portion of the world. In a chartered Boeing 777 (shout out to Delta, whose flight attendants provide some of the most memorable lines in the documentary), the gang, this writer included, hurried its way from Mexico City to New York, with stops in Toronto, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin. Parties followed a few of the performances (as is customary for tours), but, as it turned out, access to the singer did not.
A sense of dread spread through the press cabin of the plane, which I absconded from after the tour's Toronto stop. It was a worst-case scenario, as far as First-World Problems are concerned: An entire press gaggle who had taken themselves out of commission for a week (with no in-flight wi-fi and few opportunities for sleep, the music journos on board could hardly keep up with Twitter, much less file stories or do interviews) and they quickly started complaining.
The reaction of the rest of the Rihanna-concerned world was appropriately one of farce. Jon Caramanica of the New York Times started appending "#FreeTheRihanna150" to his tweets, and the story was basically God's gift to Gawker.
Back to the documentary, which is chock full of Rihanna laconically telling the camera that she "shouldn't" go to the club and then -- act surprised, please -- going anyway. She's tired and obviously in a pickle, but even a very serious Jay Brown voiceover doesn't translate her apparent discomfort into any cause for pity (only the music industry would think a manager's thoughts on his own artist's tour can pass off as some greater truth). Some moments that appear interesting ring empty to those who were there: At one point, Rihanna's spotted waiting for her luggage at baggage claim, which she did, until a handful of handlers collected tens of her valises and trolleyed behind her. This isn't Madonna's "Truth or Dare" (or even Katy Perry's "Part of Me"); it's a Rihanna look-book, somehow made less interesting than the singer's Instagram feed.
The performances shown feature her live voice, which has never been Rihanna's selling point. In my post-tour piece, I wrote that Rihanna is remarkably uninterested in both singing and lip-syncing. The microphone falls away from her mouth as soon as her belt-worthy hooks approach, and when they don't, she sounds like one of your coworkers karaoke-ing her songs. (There's one big exception: She absolutely kills "Stay," which is probably the best song on the album.)
What else makes it onto this saucy look? Not much, except for a few flirtations between a funny but super thirsty Australian radio DJ (yes, he gets naked later; no, it's not that exciting) and Necole Bitchie (if a blogger is the second-biggest star in your documentary about Rihanna…). There is a hug with Jay-Z that is shown at least twice (the same hug!), but he never speaks.
Unless a staid tale of cranky journalists was the goal, the #RihannaPlane didn't exactly work out as planned. It's perhaps fitting, then, that you could say the same about the documentary. Rihanna says she'll never forget the 777 plane, but if she's thinking straight, she should hope the rest of us already have.
Rihanna's "777 Tour" documentary airs Monday on Fox. Check your local listings.