Last November 14, Rihanna emerged from the first-class section of her rented Boeing 777 jet carrying two gold bottles of Ace of Spades. “Champagne anyone?” she asked. A sea of hands stretched out plastic cups to receive tiny portions of the expensive Armand de Brignac brut. The first flight of the 777 Tour was off to an excellent start. Rihanna and her personal assistant, Jennifer Rosales, were only halfway done working the press aisles when the singer asked, “Where are all the fans at? I got to get back and see my fans.”

 

It’s not all about champagne and bubbles and blunts. She’s working really, really hard.
—Tyran "Ty-Ty" Smith

 

The 777 Tour—a seven-day, seven-country, seven-show journey—brought along 150 international journalists in addition to some contest winners and four die-hard members of the Rihanna Navy to party in the sky. Designed to kick-start promotions for Rihanna’s seventh album, Unapologetic, ahead of its November release, the tour devolved into a shitshow of delayed flights and acrimonious press relations. From the beginning it was clear which audience on the plane Rihanna was playing to.

Zipping past throngs of thirsty journalists, she headed straight to the back, where a group of her most trusted fans, Tamara Wray, La’Ashia Holmes, Janise Williams, and Johnny Marmolejos, were sitting. Rihanna said she hand-picked these four because, “They’re probably more like me than the rest of the world.” The photogs and writers had already finished their two sips of bubbly by the time Rihanna blessed the fans with a full bottle of the $300 champagne.

As the tour went on, the reporters got increasingly aggro, shoving cameras in Rihanna’s face. But the fans remained calm, confident that respecting her space now would mean spending more time with her later. “I guess we’re not like other fans,” said Tamara, a slim 20-year-old college student. Johnny, a husky 24-year-old server at T.G.I.Fridays, nodded in agreement: “You know—crying, screaming. Kind of like an attack thing.”

But crazy fans are nothing compared to frustrated bloggers. The tour rapidly became a publicity stunt gone wrong as journalists hoping for juicy stories got nary a quote. The blog posts grew snarkier with each passing day while Rihanna’s fans had the time of their lives.

Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, a co-founder of Roc Nation, which has managed Rihanna since 2010, insists the tour was actually a big success, if only because the press needed to get an idea of what the young star’s life is really like. “It’s good that you guys got to see that it’s not all about champagne and bubbles and blunts,” he says. “She’s working really, really hard.”

Well, maybe just a few bubbles and blunts. After the Toronto stop on November 15, Rihanna’s creative director Ciarra Pardo posted a picture of the young star topless, scattered with flower petals, money covering her eyes, and smoke leaking from her mouth.

In retrospect, Rihanna kept it real throughout the tour. If you stayed home and followed her social media, you had as much access to her as the folks who had to wait on the tarmac for four hours while she finished shopping in Paris.

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