Rihanna in Toronto (©Arthur Mola/AP)
The tour begins to wind down with rowdy journalists, crazy cash rumors and RiRi's thunder stolen
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
We're on the last leg of Camp Rihanna for Wayward Journalists, and the relief is palpable from all sides. As I write this, we have one more red-eye: from London to New York. Rihanna gives the last of the seven performances in New York on Tuesday night and we are done with visions of turkey drumsticks already dancing in our head.
Monday's show in London was streamed live on YouTube and had been slated to start at 10 p.m. That meant that Rihanna, who, as you may have heard over the past week, tends to go on whenever she bloody well feels like it -- sometimes that's two hours after doors open, sometimes it's four -- needs to get onstage sometime within striking distance of 10 p.m., and she did. She hit the stage at 10:10 p.m. Atta girl! You actually can be on time! Almost!
Though she had a few vocal missteps and there was some weirdness when she stopped a song and angrily called out her band for messing up before starting the tune over, the energy was very upbeat and the audience was the most enthusiastic so far.
More importantly, there's a new economy at play here in the music business, and Rihanna is smack-dab in the middle of it. She stops the show every night (except in Mexico City) to give away a new HTC phone. She is a great saleswoman, declaring that no one, not even she, has this phone with the name of the city she's playing in engraved on the back as well as the logo for her new album, "Unapologetic."
Monday night in London, with the audience watching at home, she went a step further and stopped the show to ask the crowd to give a shout-out to the 7-7-7 sponsors, HTC, Budweiser and River Island. Sponsors are nothing new, but the 7-7-7 tour takes underwriting to new heights (literally). Labels long ago ran out of the kind of dough it takes to put on something like this flying circus, so unless sponsors can come onboard, it's not economically feasible.
As the tour has gone on, there have been crazy money rumors. First rumor of the day? That Rihanna was paid $8 million to light the Christmas tree at the Westfield Mall in the Stratford part of London on Monday. Even the baby Jesus himself wouldn't command that kind of money for the ceremony. We're calling foul on that one.
British tabloid The Sun reported the $8M sum and today also reported that Rihanna has incurred more than $300,000 in late take-off fees for the chartered tour plane. Wow, that's a lot more than late fees for a library book or a video. We have no idea if that's true, but there's certainly been chatter among the journalists on board that there has to be some issue for the flight crew when they show up at the time suggested and then we blow right past that by several hours. Plus, even superstars have to adhere to some kind of flight plan, don't they?
The press is also having a field day with the journalists on the plane. We became the story yesterday after one of the Australian journalists aboard streaked and we all rallied up against Rihanna's ignoring our presence on the plane.
After our little revolution on the 4 a.m. flight from Berlin to London on Monday, all of our moods seem to be lighter. The same cannot be said for the label execs who just might be wondering how this trip, which was meant to glorify all things Rihanna for seven days, has gone so pear-shaped. Instead of stories about the release day for "Unapologetic," the papers, websites, Twitter and Facebook were filled with stories of our antics. As Fuse's Esteban Serrano said yesterday to Gawker, "We were looking for a story, and we've turned out to be the story."
This is not the way any of us wanted this to end. We really wanted time with Rihanna to ask her about the new album, the tour and other projects, but after days went by with no appearance from her or any changes in the nightly performance worth reporting, it sounds like we unintentionally found a way to steal her thunder -- and that's something no amount of corporate sponsors can protect against.
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.