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.
This week’s Pose focused primarily on bodies: on the health of the body, the youthful body, and the body’s curvaceous factor, or lack thereof. It’s appropriate then, that the first ball which we drop into is about flaunting and judging “Luscious Femme Queen Bodies” to the sound of “So Many Men, So Little Time” by Miquel Brown. The club hit from 1983 is an example of the up-tempo disco-club “Hi-NRG” sound of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, which would have fit right in with the literal high energy of the balls. It’s a song that will get you dancing and sweating in seconds.
In a brief look at some “pillow talk” between Stan and Angel from the night before, we hear Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine’s “Anything for You” playing gently in the background. This ballad might be the most “of the moment” song that’s been used in the show so far. The single was released in March 1988, which is when this episode appears to be taking place. It reached number one on the charts in the summer and was Gloria Estefan’s first number one, as well as the first number one for her band the Miami Sound Machine. It’s pretty feasible that this new single was playing on the radio—those great radio stations Stan is so good at finding—or that Angel purchased the single herself, which highlights a new level of attention to detail on Pose that is great to realize. The song is generally about a woman who was hurt by an ex and is attempting to “move on” and forget her hurt and her love, but she will still do “anything” to make that person happy. It’s a sad song to hear during your pillow talk, but like all Stan and Angel-adjacent ballads, that seed of melancholy is unavoidable. The idea of a woman being inspired to take difficult steps to make their lover happy also ties into Angel’s insecurities first explored in this scene where Stan seems to admit that he likes curvier women. By the end of the episode, Angel will be receiving silicone butt injections after finally tiring of feeling like less of a woman than others.
Then we get the sleek and cool “Everything Your Heart Desires” by Hall & Oates. This is another up-to-date musical choice, as it’s from the album Ooh Yeah! released in 1988. The track follows Elektra as she visits her surprisingly age-appropriate “sugar daddy.” The title of the song, of course, clues us into the fact that this is the oft-mentioned man who bankrolls a lot of Elektra’s glamorous lifestyle. It’s also a bit ironic because as we see in this episode, what Elektra’s heart really desires is to finally, fully be herself—and she decides that she wants that more than the pampering and companionship that came with her relationship.
The next time we check in with the balls, with another “Bodacious Body” contest, we hear “Lovergirl” by Teena Marie. The song, released in 1984, is Teena Marie’s biggest hit and it exudes the kind of sweaty, flirty fun vibe that you want when you’re strutting your bodacious body around.
During the next competition, “Femme Queen Realness,” we hear “Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton as Elektra struts and gets rated just beneath the young up-and-comer Aphrodite Extravaganza. This song is completely fabulous, and the perfect amount of sexy and flirtatious for this category. The song was written by Prince, and if the funky dance-ready beat isn’t indicative enough that this came from Prince’s mind, the delightfully inventive sexual innuendo should clue you in. The “sugar walls” in question are, essentially, the singer’s vagina. Besides being danceable and hot enough to play at a ball, this song is a particular choice for this category that’s all about “realness,” or who can “pass” as a cis woman, head to toe, curves and all.
The next ball song we get is “Operator” by Midnight Star. I believe Midnight Star is the first artist to be played twice in Pose, and why not? This song is campy and fun, with the song beginning with a dial-tone and featuring a robotic vocal effect for the chorus. Like the Easton, Teen Maria and Miquel Brown songs used during the other body categories, this song is also focused on the body and its sex appeal. “Operate that body, operate on me… take control of me” goes the chorus, eventually segueing into “operator, this is an emergency” and “operator (baby, burning up on me)” which becomes literally related to this event as Candy heats up and passes out from her shady silicone injections.
The next track, “Kiss You All Over” by Exile, gets featured in a sweet mini-montage of Stan and Angel at the apartment, fooling around and generally being kind of cute together. The song, the band’s biggest hit from 1978, is relatively free of a foreboding vibe or melancholy notes, unlike many of the songs featured in Stan and Angel scenes. It’s as sweet and as simple as their evening starts out as. The song’s lyrics seem especially relevant to them as well, beginning “When you get home babe, gonna light your fire/ All day I’ve been thinking about you baby, you’re my one desire/ … Oh, baby wanna taste your lips, I wanna be your fantasy.” Of course, actually being someone’s fantasy isn’t always great. As Angel points out in their subsequent argument, a lot of men use her very existence, or just the idea of her, as their fantasy and she did not ask for that and does not want to exist as merely a “pornographic magazine come to life” for these men, which may include Stan.
The final song of the episode is “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister. Their biggest song, from 1987, it is relatively cheesy compared to most songs used in Pose, which are frequently more adult, romantic, sexy or campy rather than purely pop. “Breakout” however, even with its slightly sitcom-theme-esque lyrics and tone—especially when combined with Damon’s triumphant performance in the showcase—is quite effective for the finale of the episode. “When situations never change, tomorrow looks unsure, don’t leave your destiny to chance, what are you waiting for?” the song goes, as we watch the characters take actions to “choose themselves” for their future. The focus is on Damon, naturally, as he has recently learned that he, and his boyfriend Ricky, are both HIV-negative after a health scare. He tosses his body around gracefully on the stage, all burdens lifted, smiling with the knowledge that his future is certain and he still has the freedom and strength to pursue his dreams. After an emotionally tense episode, it is perfectly fine to take a moment and smile and dance to an unapologetically optimistic pop song.