There are three big reasons a musician might make an odd demand in a contractual rider. Either they actually need something to prepare for their performance, they want to show off how powerful they are, or they want to assess the venue. (If the managers remembered to sort out the brown M&Ms, they probably remembered to attend to all the technical details as well.) So when The Smoking Gun found an odd clause in Pharrell Williams’ rider that requests his dressing room come with a framed photo of astrophysicist Carl Sagan, it seemed to fit into one of the latter two categories. Either Williams just wanted to demand something bizarre for the fun of it, or he used Mr. Sagan as a venue competency barometer. It turns out, however, that Williams’ love for Sagan is very, very real.
As The Washington Post points out, Williams has made no secret of his Sagan adoration, nor his rider request. Back in 2013, he Instagrammed a photo of his backstage set-up, which features a smiling Sagan looming over some Pedialyte and candy:
I’ve always been obsessed with Carl Sagan. I watched Cosmos as a child and I was always blown away and enamored by his mind and the way he thought. And [my staff] thought it was a funny joke to put it on my rider, so his picture’s always there. But you know what? It’s actually a good thing. Because every time I look at that picture I realize how lucky we all are … to be on this planet and be able to do what we love to do every day. Seeing Carl’s face reminds me of it. It’s a cool thing.
But Williams isn’t just jumping on the Sagan bandwagon after Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot. Way back in a 2008, he gushed, “I’m blown away right now,” when presented with an original Cosmos album. Williams added, “I can only aspire to be someone that people learn as much as they’ve learned from Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan is to me what Tribe Called Quest was to [N.E.R.D.] for music.”