Learning Gratitude in a Post-#RihannaPlane World

Kevin Mazur/WireImage Rihanna Plane

Sometimes in this world, opportunities arise that we do not deserve. But when they come around, we seize them, driven by a fear of missing out, as well as the promise of memories that will undoubtedly be made and the stories that will be told for days, months, and years into the future. These opportunities can come in the form of a new job or a chance encounter, and of course there are those that come in the form of an invitation to travel around the world with Rihanna.

A plane departed Los Angeles on November 14 with 150 journalists, some contest-winning fans (#RihannaNavy), and Def Jam Records personnel, kicking off 777 Tour. The numbers “777” are important because they represent seven Rihanna concerts in seven cities over seven days. The cities: Mexico City (14th), Toronto (15th), Stockholm (16th), Paris (17th), Berlin (18th), London (19th), and New York City (20th). The journalists represented outlets that covered the spectrum of all things music and celebrity, domestically and internationally. This was the premise of the trip, but the cherry on top was that Rihanna would also be on the plane.

On paper, this is a dream excursion for a journalist: a mostly free trip around the world, staying in nice hotels, getting to spend time with one of the world’s biggest pop stars in an extremely exclusive and intimate manner. Not much wrong there.

The first dispatches we saw from the initial push from Los Angeles to Mexico City were filled with excitement, suggesting that we were entering a seven-day stretch with adoring Rihanna news completely monopolizing the Internet. We saw images of Rihanna walking up and down the center aisle, pouring journalists expensive champagne, posing for photo ops, and seemingly becoming a media darling — at least to those media professionals that her record label was flying around for free. A manipulatively genius move by Def Jam. I mean, who was really going to have to nerve to say something negative when the star of the show was being the perfect hostess? I’d like to think that if I were on the plane, I’d try to remain objective and critical, but Rihanna has never poured me a glass of Ace of Spades, let alone six.

After a few days of following the happenings, however, it became increasingly clear that all was not well on Rihanna Plane. Reports were saying the Good Girl Gone Bad gone Good again had relapsed and — you guessed it — gone back to Bad. Her meet-and-greets with the passengers stopped altogether, with some questioning whether she was even on the plane at all anymore. Shows were severely delayed. Journalists were often left water-less, food-less, and bathroom-less in the non-plane stretches, and as result of delays and other happenings were working on one to two hours of sleep a night. The honeymoon period seemed to be over before it had even really begun, and those tasked with covering the proceedings were starting to crack.

And then they cracked. Tweets ranged from gracious to rude, all emphasizing that they could not wait for this “experiment” to be over. Rihanna’s failure to interact with the press resulted in chants such as “save our jobs” and “just one quote,” as well as an Australian journalist streaking down the center aisle.

They had gone from the fortunate few to straight-up hostages. #FreetheRihanna150 became a popular hashtag over the middle stretch of the tour, and with each passing day the only thing that seemed to keep everyone sane was the unity in their misery, like a staff coming together after work every evening with the sole purpose of talking about how much they hate their boss.

The “woe is us” attitude garnered sympathy from some (myself included), but was otherwise strongly rejected by the TwitBlogosphere, who used words like “spoiled brats” and “ungrateful” to describe the press’s complaints about an opportunity that seemed like it should have been a dream come true. The rest of the community was split on how they felt about the reports back from #RihannaPlane, with the only real point of agreement seeming to be that Rihanna kind of sucks. Not as an artist but, you know, as a human.

There were those who were on the plane and didn’t want to be, and those who wanted to be on the plane but couldn’t be, and those who weren’t on the plane and didn’t want to be, either. But it was an interesting place in the cosmos, while all of the shenanigans were raging on, to be an individual that theoretically could have been on the plane.

This is probably an appropriate time to note that I very much wanted to be on this plane. But I wasn’t. Even with the updates from the trip going from amazing to bad to horrible, the nagging feeling of being left out, coupled with the masochistic approach I have to my occupation, had left me with a whirlwind of emotions ranging from bitterness to joy to jealousy to joy again back to bitterness.

So that’s the Rihanna Plane.

There’s much more to the story but, believe it or not, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Outlets such as Gawker and Complex have done a wonderful job at covering the ins and outs and dramas and tiffs and tweets and backlashes and mysterious Twitter accounts and anonymous first-person accounts and Argo-like, freedom-fighter movements of said #RihannaPlane, and I highly advise you to educate yourself at length.

What I’m really here to discuss is opportunities. The ones you miss and the ones you take — and how the best blessings aren’t always the biggest, shiniest ones, but sometimes are weird, obscure, less sexy ones. These opportunities, especially the ones we don’t deserve, don’t always go according to plan, as Rihanna and her plane proved this week. Sometimes, however, they are perfect. So perfect, in fact, that words are hard to come by when attempting to describe how unworthy we are.

Going to events in Manhattan with “lists” is never a fun thing, especially for someone like myself, a frequent victim of the “Ohh, sorry … we don’t have you down” curse. So although I was 15 minutes and six blocks away from the event that I had been giddy about since the opportunity presented itself weeks earlier, I was still too nervous to get too excited, because I hadn’t yet walked through the door.

And then I saw her:

I couldn’t believe it. This must have been what it felt like to arrive at the airport, knowing you were about to hang with Rihanna for seven days. I couldn’t maintain my calm. This moment was seven years in the making.

As I entered the Sunshine Cinema and nervously checked in, the first thing that entrants were forced to do was check in our belongings. No, not our bags or jackets … our PHONES.

I was startled, because it seemed like an extreme violation, but I very quickly understood why. They couldn’t let anyone ruin the splendor that was new Trapped in the Closet chapters, set to premiere at 9 p.m. on Black Friday on IFC, by any picture or video leakage. It was uncomfortable, but I forked over my cell. Just as I was putting my ticket in my pocket, R. Kelly walked in.

I reached for my phone to take a picture, because that’s just what you do when R. Kelly walks into a room, and immediately realized the extent to which I had just been served.

R. looked incredible. Just amazing. Tuxedo jacket, red pocket silk, shades, and red gloves, because of course. He stepped on the Trapped Carpet and I couldn’t stop staring until a man stepped into my periphery. It was Twan.

In real life.

It was at this point that I did a real scan of the room. A third of the people in the movie theater’s lobby were Trapped characters.

Wait, is that Rufus?

Oh, what up, Cathy?


I did not deserve this. None of us did. This must have been what that first taste of Rihanna-poured champagne felt like. The walls between fans and media and celebrities had all come crumbling down, and now we were all but feet away from one another. I couldn’t believe it.

After about 10 more minutes of just staring at R. Kelly, I realized the staff had started funneling people downstairs, where there was beer, wine, and cards for questions for R. Kelly after the screening.

Oh yeah, R. Kelly was answering questions after the screening.

This just got serious.

A group of us huddled around a table. These were all people that usually are quick on their feet when it comes to wit, and we were all completely stumped as to what to ask R. Kelly. I was writing my name on this question, and couldn’t have this moment go wrong, because what if they actually picked it? After a few minutes of hesitation, I went with:

“Dear R, at what point did you realize keeping the music the same was GENIUS?”

I liked it. It played to his ego a bit, but also was something I wanted to know more about.

So I put it in the box. Then I grabbed another one, wrote “Have any celebrities asked if they could be in future Trapped chapters?” signed it “Kanye West,” and put it in the box, because, again, why not?

After a few more minutes, it was time to take our third-row seats and prepare for the main event. Because I was phoneless, I found a piece of paper and a pen and titled my page “#TrappedPlane.” This was my moment, a fortunate one, to chronicle greatness, but unlike the disaster taking place in the skies, I saw this going nowhere but up.

And then Robert walked out.

The place erupted. He addressed us all while holding a cigar, and talked about how nervous he was for us to be the first to see some of the next installment of his brainchild.

Trapped in the Closet is an alien,” he said. “I’m glad to be one of the astronauts to take this trip to a place unknown.” He’s incredible. Hearing that quote alone was enough to erase any lingering 777 Tour bitterness. For all intents and purposes, that trip never happened. R. Kelly was the only superstar in my life and this was the only event taking place in the world.

He thanked us, walked out, and then it began. The next chapters of Trapped in the Closet.

So what happens?

There’s this barbershop, OK, and Sylvester and Twan are in there, then they go outside and Pimp Luscious has a blind ho. The therapist lets Cathy smoke and then Rufus prays a lot. An organ comes in, and then Cathy has elevator issues. There’s a talk show involved, and Rosy the Nosy Neighbor is wearing the same dress as I wore when I dressed up as Madea for Halloween. En Vogue is brought up, and Pimp Luscious can’t stop talking about racks. Randolph is kind of a perv, an electric guitar becomes involved, and relative directions become the star of the show.

Oh, and then BEANO. OMG.

And then the lights came back on and Kellz walked back out, this time with E!’s Alicia Quarles. They chatted, giving us some insight into Robert’s beautiful mind. (“I loved Star Wars growing up. Wow. Luke — he’s awesome. Chewbacca, all those guys,” and “I don’t have a job” and “I love honesty” and, multiple times, “I’m silly.”) And then he began answering questions from the box.

The first was a request to sing “Bump and Grind.” This seemed like a weird place to start, well, until the question asker walked right up to Robert and they belted it as a duet. This was not real life.

The third question was from Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz, who was sitting directly to my right. I was so happy for him, but also sad, because what if that was the last question? It was OK, though, because I was still 15 feet away from R. Kelly. A few questions later:

Quarles: “The next question we have from, and I don’t know if he’s actually here, but Kanye West.”

Apparently I stood up, but know that I blacked out for 10 seconds. As far as which celebrities had approached him about Trapped roles, the one name he let us have was “Tyrese.” I clapped on the outside, but died laughing on the inside, because of course Tyrese did.

To wrap it up, he casually mentioned that he had 85 more chapters “waiting for you guys” [FAINT], and that he had an offer from a Broadway producer to bring Trapped to the stage [DEAD].

Realizing that this exceeded my already astronomically high expectations, I couldn’t imagine this ending on a higher note than those final two pieces of news.

And then he stood up and sang “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Rihanna’s apology for the the plane fiasco:

”It’s impossible to spend time with everybody, and I’m sorry I didn’t. But this was excellent, and I would definitely do it again.”

Rosy the Nosy Neighbor:

You never know where life is going to take you. One moment you’re pissed because you’re not en route to Stockholm and the next you’re breaking your self-imposed “no pictures” rule, all while Rosy touches your shoulder and tells you not to block her boobs.

Life is crazy. Give thanks for that. ‘Tis the season.

Filed Under: R. Kelly, Rihanna

Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert