Paralleling the twists and turns viewers encounter in her NSFW “Bitch Better Have My Money” video, Rihanna and Tidal took members of her RihNavy corps and select media for quite a ride on Wednesday evening (July 1) in celebration of the seven-minute film’s premiere. The exclusive four-hour affair — involving bus rides to downtown Los Angeles, jugglers, marionettes and cash dropping from the ceiling — was part of the streaming service’s Tidal X offline experience series. Here’s how it went down.
7 p.m.: It all starts in West Hollywood at the N. Compass building on Santa Monica Blvd. After checking in, guests are asked to sign two disclaimers (one agreeing to not write about anything seen inside the building; the other agreeing to be ferried by bus to another location — a surprise to most of us). Moving into another line, patrons are then requested to forfeit their phones for pickup at the end of the evening. Vigilant security guards make sure everyone conforms.
Chatting with a Navy member, I learn that invite emails were sent to Tidal customers earlier in the week. The first 80 to RSVP are now noshing on hot wings, mozzarella sticks, pizza and fresh veggies plus soda and water. Media invitees include Billboard, Revolt and Mashable. Adding to the festive yet mysterious atmosphere: jugglers in one area and a magician roaming through the crowd performing card and other slight-of-hand tricks.
At this point, a young lady named Jackie notes the proceedings will get underway shortly, adding, “Tidal brings fans as close to the artist as possible so that they’re getting music the way the artist intended it.”
8:25 p.m.: With no sign of Rihanna still, guests begin boarding buses idling in front of the venue. Black mesh window screens hamper us from discerning where we are headed. As do the black sleep masks we’re asked to wear halfway through the road trip. Navy fans scream and sing-along as different Rihanna songs (“Diamonds,” “American Oxygen,” “Loveeee Song”) are piped through the sound system — especially when “BBHMM” hits the speakers. Also ratcheting up the excitement level is the chance to win “stacks” of cash for knowing the missing lyrics to a Rihanna song, or correctly answering trivia questions such as how many times the singer has been on Saturday Night Live. Those stacks weren’t shabby, ranging from $25 to $100. By the way, the correct answer to the SNL question is five.
9:15 p.m.: The actual video premiere on Tidal and Vevo (9 p.m. PT/midnight ET) has already happened when we’re told we can remove the masks. And we still have no clue as to where we are as a white cloth now covers the bus’s front windshield. Ushered down a narrow walkway bordered by heavy black curtains, we walk into a room chock full of fanciful props, costumes, puppets and marionettes of all sizes and shapes — including the Big Bad Wolf.
There’s no time to wonder if this is a factory or movie studio because we’re shepherded immediately into a black-curtained room housing white picnic tables covered with black tablecloths. Ringing one side of the room: tables stocked with desserts of all kinds from red velvet cake and cheesecake to ice cream cups and chocolate chip cookies. And the drink tickets we received at N. Compass can now be used to imbibe wine and beer.
9:40 p.m.: There’s still no sighting of Rihanna as fans eagerly wonder what’s up. “I thought she would pop up on one of the buses,” muses one. “Maybe she’s going to tell us she’s dropping her album tonight,” hopes another. We get one step closer to an answer when we move to another room — this one with chandeliers, disco balls, red curtains and gold and silver garlands festooned with white blinking lights.
Positioned on either side of the black-curtained stage: two replicas of court jesters. Now seated in folding chairs, fans trade quips. “This reminds me of American Horror Story, season four,” says woman about the setting. “I’m waiting for Ryan Murphy to pop out.”
Some of the talk turns to streaming services. “It’s too much,” says one guest of all the choices available now. “It’s becoming saturated.”
10:23 p.m.: Another cash giveaway — this time for the best lip-syncher between two female contestants. But the Navy wants the woman herself. At that point, the room darkens; the black curtains pull back to reveal a giant video screen. And screams erupt as the “BBHMM” video gets underway.
10:30 p.m.: Amidst thunderous applause, screams and shouts — some of the males are louder than the females — a red-haired Rihanna finally emerges. Wearing a white sleeveless cotton mini, black sneakers and a black jacket, she thanks everyone on behalf of herself and Tidal for coming out. Then she introduces Megaforce, the duo who co-directed the video with her.
“It took four days and nights to shoot this and they [Megaforce] held me down,” says Rihanna of the pair who flew in from Paris for the premiere. Greeted by more screams after asking if the fans liked the video, the singer adds, “That makes it well worth it.” Soon thereafter, there’s a popping sound and one-dollar bills descend from the ceiling as guests scramble to grab as much as they can. Later on the ride home, I watch one man position a gang of bills on his knee for an Instagram shot, no doubt.
10:40 p.m.: We’re crowded back into the black-curtained refreshment room as Rihanna is coming shortly to “mingle” with everyone. Once she arrives, it’s easy to see why our cell phones were taken. The room erupts as fans jockey for position around her or jump on the picnic tables for a better view. And there’s a bit of fussing too: outside of the photographers hired for the event, several others who may be part of the working staff have whipped out their cell phones as some fans call foul.
After cup-toasting with a group clamoring for her attention, Rihanna does attempt to make her way around the room. Once photogs take a couple of giant crowd shots with her standing in front, the singer shouts, “You guys are the best fans ever. You fuckin’ rock.” Then she slips out.
11 p.m.: Waiting in line to retrieve our phones and board the buses back to West Hollywood, I overhear some people wondering what the overall reaction will be to the video and how much editing may need to be done for it to be shown on other outlets. One fan talks about the video in terms of Rihanna’s upcoming album. “You have ‘Four Five Seconds’ and now this song/video,” he says. “I can’t figure out what to expect.”
11:20 p.m.: Looking around as I head to the bus, I realize we are somewhere in downtown L.A. I learn as we’re leaving that the venue was the Bob Baker Marionette Theater on 1st Street, the longest running children’s theater in the city.