Ryan Murphy’s new FX endeavor, Pose, is set in the ball culture world of New York City, 1987. The show is visually stunning, the costumes and sets are gorgeous, and naturally—necessarily—the music is fantastic. The music is such a large part of the viewing experience that you could spill hundreds of words discussing what each song means, and/or how awesome it is—and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing here! Each week I will list each remotely notable music choice, complete with a thorough Spotify playlist to match, as well as some discussion of what the song’s significance might be to the world of our characters. If you find yourself scrambling to Shazam each musical selection or you want to hypothesize about what a certain music cue means for a character, join me here to move through each Pose episode—beat by beat.
A Note: Although the first three episodes have already aired, these run-downs will not reference any of those “future” episode events. Read along as you catch up!
After the delightful excess of the pilot, Pose comes back for its second episode “Access,” with fewer song selections, but equally exciting ones.
The episode begins with a ball in progress, and Angel walking as a clad-in-plaid Weather Girl to, of course, “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls. The song was released in 1982 and was an international hit. The use of it here is pure fun (like most of the song choices for the balls in Pose are), playfully self-aware and is fitting for the context in which it’s being played. This would definitely be the song of choice for this event: it’s fun, it’s campy, it fits the theme! I must also say, if you haven’t seen the music video, please do so now because it’s supremely delightful.
The next musical moment comes as Ricky and Damon set a date for the following weekend. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s composition “Loneliness” plays under the sweet moment. The spare, lush notes help us feel the happy-excited-tired feeling Damon is feeling after his date ends close to dawn. Like the use of John Adams last episode—a classical music cue also connected to feelings of longing within Damon—this song comes from outside of the timeline of Pose, from the 1990 soundtrack for The Sheltering Sky. Coincidentally, the John Adams track used last week is featured on the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack alongside a couple other Sakamoto selections; it’s a small musical world.
The next song is “Head to Toe” by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, playing as Blanca makes her way to the gay bar to make a stand and protest their treatment of her. The song is about a romance and not really applicable to Blanca’s plight in this episode, but the propulsive and energetic beat that begins and carries the song is what serves this moment well.
As Damon attends the ballet for the first time, the dancers on stage perform to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73: II. Adagio Un Poco Mosso, the middle section of the concerto known as the “Emperor Concerto.” The piece was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf, a patron and student of Beethoven, which is fitting as Damon is attending the ballet as a hopeful star pupil of Helena St. Rogers.
As we pivot towards Angel and Stan’s story, we get another choice musical pick that fits in perfectly with their story, in keeping with the effective usage of 10cc and Kate Bush last week. Here, Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love” follows Stan through the halls of Show World as he looks for Angel. Perhaps coincidentally, the music video begins with a mysterious, suited man stopping to stare at a woman revolving on display on a kind of framed stage, which Stan echoes when he goes to Angel’s booth and she reveals herself via a seductive turn. Like the use of 10cc last week, the song’s lyrics find a way to shadow the dialogue, as when Angel says “I knew you’d find me… can’t stay away from your Angel too long,” and the lyrics go “I can’t escape/Slave to love,” as if they are now speaking for Stan.
The next two song selections are used in minor, but effective ways. “Midas Touch” by Midnight Star plays during the Dynasty ball competition. The songs played at the balls are the most fun, and this continues that trend. Next, when Damon goes to the pier to find Ricky, Gwen Guthrie’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent” plays on the radio of the dancers behind them. This song helps add an extra layer to Damon’s interaction with Ricky, almost commenting on it, especially when Damon tells Ricky that he “thought [Ricky] wanted more from his life,” and Guthrie sings “you’ve got to get a J-O-B,” like someone in the background with lots of opinions.
The best musical moment of the episode by far comes with the walk-off/face-off between Elektra and Blanca in the Femme Queen in Heels competition. Grace Jones’ “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)” soundtracks the moment excellently with its mysterious, cool and slinky attitude. This is one of the best song choices of Pose so far because while they use lyrics to point to character action (Jones sings “staring eyes…” as Blanca and Elektra’s staring eyes are featured), the song isn’t directly about, say, competition between complicated women. Rather, the deliciously foreboding but simultaneously stylish and sleek music and vocal performance are used to heighten the drama of the moment in which Elektra “defeats” Blanca by wearing stilettos that make her walk like a fawn on Jell-O. It’s fabulous, is what I’m saying.
The episode closes out with another classical piece, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg, composed in 1875 for Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt. The song is used in the play as Peer Gynt enters the hall of a troll king and the lyrics of the song mention wanting to kill Gynt for seducing a daughter of that troll Mountain King. Its frenetic energy and gradually-building intensity work well for representing any moment in which you feel something is about to happen. The song plays as we follow Ricky and Damon meeting at the ballet and watching it together, Stan going to Angel with keys to her new “kept woman” apartment, and Blanca gazing in at the gay bar she has been aggressively excluded from. The moments of Damon’s romantic life—suddenly becoming active the moment his dance education is blossoming—as well as Angel’s entanglement with Stan, and Blanca’s activism for herself and her community look like they could very well be the start of something huge for these characters. Right now, they are entering “the hall”—starting out their journeys, in which everything looks hopeful, or potentially surmountable. But who knows what might happen as Damon is pulled between love and career, Blanca faces more opposition, and Angel becomes more involved with a married man? This song indicates that we’re on the edge of a cliff right now, and might just be about to jump off into the deep end of the unknown.