In the face of existential hangups, compounded by the stresses of performing and the concomitant press rounds, contractual appearances, and annoying fans, it would be difficult for any pop star not to become intolerant of just about everything. The slightest infraction can cause a major freakout. I, for one, would not like to be the handler who forgot to order Britney Spears’s McDonald’s cheeseburgers sans the buns, or who misunderstood Billy Idol when he said he likes his chewy, soft-baked chocolate cookies with an entire tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
Demands like these are part of a performer’s rider, a formal agreement with the venue and celebrity that quantifies the terms of performance (accommodation of musical equipment, stage props, etc.), as well as the measures of hospitality to be taken towards the latter. What Beyoncé wants, Beyoncé gets, or she’s not going on stage. Intrigued by this contractual dynamic, photographer Henry Hargreaves set out to find how food figures into these demands.
Hargreaves obtained riders from some of the world’s top pop musicians and based his project around the foodstuffs specified by each of the performers. Working with stylist Caitlin Levin, Hargreaves assembled still lifes using the items found in the riders: "fresh" Wonder Bread and Dom Perignon for Axl Rose, a small plate of ("non-sweaty") cheese, chilled on ice, for Lady Gaga. It isn’t the first time the photographer has taken food as a subject—Hargreaves previously reconstructed the final meals of serial killers. On the difference or affinities between the cravings of condemned killers and pop stars, Hargreaves doesn’t comment. But he does find food an effective medium for understanding a little about each. "I love the way people’s tastes in food say something that we often can’t articulate ourselves," he tells Co. Design.
Of course, those riders are made especially outlandish not by the pop stars themselves but by their managers as a way to gauge the venue’s technical compliance. According to Snopes: "The legendary "no brown M&Ms" contract clause was indeed real, but the purported motivation for it was not. The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen’s contracts not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read (and complied with)."
For their sumptuous set pieces, Hargreaves and Levin took inspiration from the chiaroscuro compositions of the Flemish Baroque school of painters. They arranged morsels of food, drink, and non-edible ephemera—roses for Al Green or in Busta Rhymes’ case, condoms—on antique plates and chalices. Closely cropped, the portraits were shot against a black background with low light, much in the vein of the vanitas still-lifes. The memento mori-themed meals are, for Hargreaves, a "metaphor for their time in the fading spotlight and how these demands likely won’t be fulfilled for ever."
But whose "guilty pleasures" could he most identify with? "Sinatra’s liquid diet," comprised of vintage liquors like Absolut and Beefeater Gin, with jugs of red and white wine, a platter of 24 chilled shrimp, and a roll of Life Savers and cough drops thrown in for good measure.[Photo credit: Henry Hargreaves and Caitlin Levin, Type credit: Lorenzo Fanton]