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.
“Pink Slip” follows the most music-focused episode of the series to date, and it seems to know this as it barely features any music until the final scenes. A few songs prior to the final track are played to complement scenes and for ambiance, but the lyrics are not centralized within the scene in ways that they usually are. This is absolutely fitting, though, because the episode is tense, quiet and slowly heartbreaking from the beginning as Blanca confronts Papi about his drug-dealing and kicks him out of the house. Elektra is dumped by her benefactor, Mr. Ford, and refused by another potential “sugar daddy,” the children of Abundance leave to start their own House, and Angel is left by Stan. It would feel wrong to feature too many bops in this episode, and so they build up our desire for a splashy musical moment until the last few minutes—treating us to a track that is appropriate (and apparently quite expensive).
But before we get to that, there are a few tracks that quietly work to elevate the scenes they’re used in. “The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade plays during Elektra’s attempted reunion with Mr. Ford. Released in 1985, the song was Sade’s second hit after “Smooth Operator.” The song is great to use here because, like most Sade songs, it is mature and sexy—a good choice for the afternoon seduction Elektra has planned. The “taboo” in the song is referring more to sexual pleasure, but here it works for Ford because he got most of his pleasure from Elektra because of the “taboo” of their relationship. Now that she is a “full woman,” there is no taboo to get excited about and he has no further interest in Elektra.
Next, we check in on Angel and Stan, reunited after the last episode. Stan’s wife is officially leaving him so Stan and Angel feel “free” to act like a couple: taking the time to eat together, watch TV, lounge about their apartment. While they do that, “Make It Real” by The Jets plays quietly. This ballad, from 1987, foretells their separation in this episode because it is sung from the perspective of a woman post-breakup. She wants another chance to “make it real,” and recalls the man saying he would “never, never leave” her. That sounds similar to Stan, who, in this episode, appears to be committing to Angel by declaring that he’s her boyfriend and that he wants to learn about and see the balls she goes to because they’re such a big part of her life. Seems like the supportive, interested boyfriend—but that falls apart fast. The usage of the word “real” underlines the sting of their separation even further because Angel’s ultimate lack of “realness” is what is keeping her and Stan apart, and why he feels he can’t let her into his work life or meet his kids. What a guy.
The next song associated with Elektra is “Looking For a New Love” by Jody Watley. This plays at the bar where Elektra meets her potential new benefactor. The song is most appropriate because it is about the singer telling an ex who dumped her unceremoniously that she is going to go out and find someone new. The song is Elektra’s story this episode, although Jody Watley’s new love search likely didn’t involve a negotiation.
The next song is the most upbeat of the episode, and it’s “Let the Music Play” by Shannon. Full disclosure, I just love this song so it was great to hear it here even if it was “just” used for setting the scene in the bar Lulu and Candy commiserate at. Although the content of the song doesn’t apply very much to the women’s decision to start the House of Ferocity, the propulsive energy and beat of the song does lend itself to the excited dreaming and scheming happening between the ladies here.
The heartbreaking finale, which follows Elektra going to work at Show World and Angel going back to the Piers (why, girl?!), is sound-tracked to Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer.” The song, from 1984, was originally written by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits but shelved by them because he didn’t think a male singer would fit the song. After some time it made its way to Tina Turner, who lends her uniquely vulnerable and strong vocals to the content of the song.
The song is directly applicable to Elektra and Angel’s experiences at Show World, and with men in general. The singer describes a place where “all the men come in… and all the men are all the same” while you dance and “keep your mind on the money / keeping your eyes on the wall.” Even before Elektra had to go back to Show World, she still relied on Ford for financial support and had to follow his rules to “earn” her allowance. She was about to enter a similar transaction with the man who demanded she always looks glamorous, and always wear dark nail polish.
Turner’s vocals at this moment are a perfect tool to illustrate the weariness and desperation of Elektra and Angel in these scenes. It’s a downbeat to end on, and I can only hope that next week’s season finale will offer a little bit of light at the end of this tunnel.