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 plays on a minor key this week, as Blanca mourns her mother’s death and Elektra reckons with her own motherly choices. This episode, “Mother’s Day,” therefore includes possibly the highest number of silent, or subdued, moments on the show and so there is a little less music to talk about this week. However, most of the songs are from ball competitions and are consequently excellent dance jams you should immediately listen to in the Spotify playlist below.
The episode begins with a flashback to 1982 and baby Blanca’s first, rather disastrous, walk in a ball. “Love Come Down” by Evelyn “Champagne” King from 1982 plays as Blanca holds her head up high even as she gets trashed by the MC and the other girls in the competition. However, she does meet the eye of an intrigued Elektra Abundance, watching from the second-floor. King sings that “your love is a force/got me under your spell/ so take me, I’m yours/ and I can’t help the way that I feel.” It’s not meant in a platonic way in the song, of course, but when looking at Elektra and Blanca’s pull towards each other in this flashback, it applies pretty well. Blanca is already in thrall with Elektra, calling her a legend and doing everything but kissing her feet. Elektra, while unimpressed with Blanca’s look so far, is intrigued by her guts and is inspired to take her under her wing as her house child. Like most of the songs used in pivotal Elektra-Blanca moments, the song reminds us of the powerful, unavoidable, bond these two women share even when they’re in fierce competition.
The next needle drop is a quick one, and tossed off simply for fun to flex the impressive amount of music cues Pose has access to. “It’s Tricky” by Run-DMC plays while the House of Evangelista takes part in their first annual Spring Cleaning, and it’s a quick and fun way to get us back into 1988. The energetic music video (featuring magicians Penn and Teller??) is worth checking out.
Up next we get a short but sweet feature of “Good Life” by Inner City. This single was released in late 1988 in the U.K., so the timeline is fudged a bit here, but it works so well. While watching contestants walk the “Perfect 10” category—for best face, body, and realness—and intercutting between Elektra about to go under the knife for her gender affirmation surgery, the beat pulses to lyrics that imagine the good life, where there is “no more sorrow [and] nothing borrowed.” It lends the moment a bittersweet edge as we are reminded just how much of a dream-come-true this moment is for Elektra, and how much of a dream it still is for many women in the ball world.
At another ball, during a brief but awesome voguing competition, we hear “Pump Up the Volume” the only single by annoyingly-named band M|A|R|R|S, from 1987. Shortly after, at the start of the challenge between the Houses of Abundance (sans Elektra) and Mugler, “Do You Wanna Funk?” by Sylvester and Patrick Cowley plays. A Hi-NRG hit from 1982, this track amps up the fun drama of the moment where the children of Abundance prove their bona fides without their famous mother. In the probably coincidental fashion of a few past tracks, this song was also used in a landmark LGBT film from 1989, Longtime Companion. The film will be released a year after this episode of Pose takes place, and it was the first wide-release theatrical film to focus on the AIDS epidemic. “Do You Wanna Funk?” plays during an opening party scene on Fire Island, before anybody has been touched by the disease.
During the all-too-brief “Labels” category walk, we hear “Word Up” by Cameo. Finally, as the big finale starts, “Point of No Return” by Exposé hits the speakers. This upbeat dance-pop song—one which is relatively mainstream for Pose—is perfect for the fun, glamorous and seductive return of Elektra to the ballroom floor, accompanied by her children’s fantastic display. At the same time, Patty Bowes, wife of Angel’s Stan, has found her way to the ball to discover who Angel is. Not much of the song’s content is relevant to the episode’s finale outside of the titular refrain, but it is effective here. Elektra and Blanca have continued their House feud—now with a little more respect for each other—and Patty has fully unearthed Stan’s lies and infidelity. With just three episodes left in the premiere season, Pose is firmly pushing its characters to those climactic “points of no return.”