To promote her new album, Unapologetic, Rihanna has set off on an ambitious globetrotting tour that will hit seven countries in seven days. Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Rosenthal is on the plane with a small army of fans and assistants, and an extravagant amount of champagne.
Much has been made of the conditions on the Rihanna plane, which have been as grim as we say, our coping tactics way funnier than the lazy jokes people make at our expense. (No, we didn't expect to hang out with Rihanna and gossip about Drake. We simply felt there should be a reason for us being on this plane with her and seeing these seven shows, and there apparently is none. Also, shouts to those who think their experience would be at all different from that of the 200-plus people who are voicing their frustration. You're wrong, but shouts to you.) The fact is, as this whole thing has spun out of control, many of us – the journalists looking for something or anything to do, the fans who skipped out on their jobs for a week because they were promised something they never got, the label reps doing their damnedest to just get us to the next city – have put a bright face on a bad situation. This has been our Vietnam – when this is over, we'll never talk about it again.
What happened last night didn't come out of nowhere. We've all been awake for nearly a week, taking disco naps (voluntarily and not) when gravity becomes too much. In a grand tradition stretching back five days, we stepped off the bus to Berlin hours later than expected, though far earlier than Rihanna. We haven't seen the sun since leaving Los Angeles last Tuesday. So, of course it was dark. Of course it was cold, and of course a giant balloon outside of the venue said – in 20-foot lettering – "DIE," a poor omen if there ever were one. Rihanna walked out onstage around 11:30 p.m.; the Berliners, who packed themselves into this sweatbox for hours just for the chance to see her, booed. She forgot most of the lyrics to the first verse of "Don't Stop the Music," again. I decided to stop taking notes because I already saw this exact show in another city.
We were finally freed from the venue (some of us are more anxious to leave Berlin than others) and corralled into the airport. There was a weird energy among everyone while boarding; I told Billboard's Erika Ramirez and Fuse's Jason Newman that it seemed like something was about to pop off, though I imagined it would somehow involve the fans bum-rushing the cockpit from the very back of the plane and emerging with DJ Congorock's head on a stake. (I quite like him, but you can't reason with a Navy member going through PTSD.) Based off of everything we'd written over the course of three days, friends back home texted us, imagining our plane rides in the same vein as Lord of the Flies or Con Air; to suddenly go from civilized to primal no longer seemed that far a jump.
It all started when one of the flight attendants stayed in the front of the cabin too long before take-off, sprinting the entire length of the plane as the ground left us, a blur of blue and red. She made it safely to her seat, slamming into the back wall. The fans started clapping; then everyone else joined in. Then the four guys that make up the team from FuseTV began chanting "B-Roll! B-Roll! B-Roll!" an semi-inside joke about the camera crews constantly walking up and down the aisles and filming people looking into space. The plane still hadn't leveled off when an Australian shock-jock radio host ran through the entire plane naked, covering up his front end while he loop-de-looped each section. We all stood up like we were doing the Wave. More chants: "Rih Rih! Rih Rih!" turned into "Save our jobs! Save our jobs!" which evolved into "Interview!" and then "Just one quote!" because of a lack of bargaining power. People sang songs; the Australian guy thankfully didn't break out his harmonica or his bum-n-balls again. Def Jam execs initally emerged from the very front of the plane, eyes as wide as their mouths, with one of them mouthing, "What the fuck?" No one had any clue, but it felt great: some of us had forgotten what genuine smiles felt like. (Even Steve Bartels, the president of Island Def Jam, seemed to be having a good time, chatting and pouring up cognac while sitting on an armrest. This was his first 777 experience.)
All of the tension that had built up seemed to dissipate; I now can't wait to see this documentary that I'd been dreading. Last night wasn't a mutiny so much as a much-needed visit to the chiropractor; we were all drunk on laughter (and empty bottles of wine) at 5 a.m. Word swept through that Rihanna was going to say something, to address everyone and thank us all for braving this cruel social experiment. Of course she didn't, which only fed the very-loud and never-ending rumors that she's not on this plane at all. In fact, she was, but she probably never will be again. And that's fine: we seem to be having more fun without her.