Rihanna in Mexico City (©Marco Ugarte/AP)
The superstar's promo odyssey mingles party cheer with media frenzy
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
The sun never sets on the Rihanna empire -- at least not while there are more than 150 journalists chronicling her every move on the 7-7-7 tour.
Today, we're in Sweden, having flown overnight to Stockholm right after the Toronto show. The 7-7-7 tour stands for seven shows in seven countries in seven days. The grand effort is a promotional ploy to push Rihanna's seventh album, "Unapologetic," which comes out Nov. 19.
The journalists are from 37 countries, and as exhausting as the early days have been, some of the crews traveled for more than 24 hours before the tour officially started to come aboard at the entry point in Los Angeles. Here's the perspective on the trip from a few of my colleagues.
Juliana Rasul is a reporter for Singapore's The New Paper. Rihanna has performed in Singapore twice; both times were small shows. Like most of us, Rasul hopes to bring back some insights about what it's like to be a superstar on this stratospheric level. "What's she like in person?" she asks.
But her efforts to find out have been stymied by the fact that Rihanna is giving no interviews on this tour -- a fact we all knew beforehand. Other than two passes through the main cabin by Rihanna, our interaction has been scant, though she's proved remarkably good-natured when people have stuck video cameras in her face and asked questions. "It's a little disappointing to not get the face time and yet be part of the same trip," she says, but notes that she is getting a good feel of the rock star experience in general, including traveling on a charter, and "the champagne, the gifts and the food is pretty good. Plus, it's not easy on no sleep."
Because of otherwise limited access, even something so mundane as Rihanna waiting to get her luggage with the rest of us poor schlubs in Toronto becomes a major filming opportunity. Esteban Serrano, an on-air host for Fuse, and his crew are among those rushing after Rihanna like a hunted animal every time she makes a move. More than anything, it's out of fear of missing that one moment that could be TV gold. No, he admits, there is nothing inherently fascinating about Rihanna getting her luggage, but it's all about access.
"When she was giving champagne out on the plane, she went down one side, and when she came back up the plane, she gave the outing's mission statement," he notes. "If we had only shot one side, we would have missed that." And the mission statement to us on the plane? "Everyone on the plane is part of the party for the 7-7-7 tour." Serrano says Fuse's mission statement is to capture as much as possible. "It's basically like shooting a reality show," he says.
Jeff Rosenthal, a freelancer who is covering 7-7-7 for Rolling Stone, says he's been surprised by how quickly supposed "journalists" have turned into rabid fans, meaning not just the camera crews that follow Rihanna's every move, but the other embedded journalists who try to get as close as possible and turn into total fan boys and fan girls at every sighting. "They are willing to drop everything and attack Rihanna with cameras. People who are normally very cool," he says. "It was like a physical lurch when she moved down the plane. It's crazy how you can be at this level and be so star-struck."
He thinks it says less about Rihanna's megawatt star power and more about popular culture and the 24/7 news cycle that makes it seem like we already know her and want to document our proximity to fame. As for what he's learned about Rihanna so far, he says, "She seems less manufactured than I thought she would be." At the same time, he praised her fine media training for her ability to move through the scrum with a certain ease.
Amund Bakke Foss, who's covering the proceedings for Norwegian newspaper VG's magazine, VG Helg, brings up a good point: If we're all here on Rihanna's record label's dime, how can we pretend to be objective? And it's a valid question. Many pure news-gathering outlets, such as The New York Times or The Washington Post would not have someone on a trip like this, or, if they did, it would be on similar terms to those for Bakke Foss: His Norwegian newspaper is paying for his hotel rooms, and since it's impossible to calculate his share of the private plane, the paper is making a lump-sum payment to Island Def Jam.
But for the rest of us, are we here as part of the Rihanna propaganda machine? The answer is a qualified yes. This week we are. While the idea is to be as objective as possible within the circumstances, to criticize feels a little bit like insulting your host.
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.
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