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.
What a finale. Pose brought its best, with a seemingly overflowing amount of love, generosity, good humor and fantastic dancing. So without further ado, let’s get into this grand ball of an episode.
The episode begins as a continuation of the somber mood from last week’s installment. Elektra is still dancing at Show World, and we now learn that she is homeless and friendless as well. She drifts from Show World to a diner booth, or a park bench, carrying her belongings in a few shopping bags. This is the lowest we’ve ever seen Elektra and it’s mind-boggling to see her fall so far. Scoring the montage of her heartbreaking days is “Holding Back the Years,” a 1985 single from Simply Red from their debut album Picture Book. The sad, slow tune fits in well with Elektra’s resigned misery, and the lyrics underline her plight as well. The singer, Mick Hucknall, sings of “holding back the tears/’cause nothing here has grown/I’ve wasted all those years/Nothing had the chance to be good/Nothing ever could.” These lines relate to Elektra’s “golden rule”—trust no one—proving her right as her former House and lover dropped her and left her to this life. All of those years of being Elektra Abundance, supreme diva, have only taken her right back to where she started. The song rises on “holding, holding on…” as Elektra’s window opens up to reveal Blanca there to see her. Her presence is a small, but powerful, light appearing suddenly in the tunnel through which Elektra is traveling.
The next significant song is “Off On Your Own (Girl)” by Al B. Sure! which plays during Damon and Ricky’s audition as dancers for Sure’s music video and tour. This song is catchy and poppy as hell—it’s part of the new jack swing sound combining R’n’B vocals with pop and hip-hop music—and this song was just the second single off of the artist’s debut album from 1988. This is surprising because the best part of this episode is when Elektra loses her composure for maybe the first time ever, to fangirl about this pretty new artist, Al B. Sure. He is the “Marvin Gaye of our time,” she declares, as well as stating that “nothing or no one is a panty dropper like Al B. Sure.” If you say so, Elektra! While this song isn’t so sexy, his first single “Nite and Day” is pretty bedroom-ready, so I’ll give her this one.
The next track was a fascinating delight to dig into. At the start of the Princess Ball (“good evening and good morning, hookers!”) and the Linen vs. Silk category, we hear “Another Man” by Barbara Mason. This song, which is about a woman who discovers her man is stepping out on her with another man, is wild. I wanted to quote some of the lyrics, but it was impossible to choose the best (sometimes, worst) ones so I suggest you go and read them all right now. The lyrics are “#problematic” but ridiculous. I think the attendees of the Princess Ball could appreciate the slightly camp nature of the song as well as its funky beat enough to forget about its messier aspects.
Still at the ball—as we are for nearly half of the episode—“Heat You Up (Melt You Down)” by Shirley Lites plays while Elektra verbally destroys Lulu and Candy Ferocity. This song is surprisingly hard to find information on, but I did discover that it was produced by David Todd who, after becoming the first working DJ to take a promotions and A&R role at a label (RCA), introduced Van McCoy to the Latin Hustle which inspired the creation of the disco hit “The Hustle.” I also appreciate that the song title may be working to illustrate what Elektra does to Lulu and Candy here—melts them down into nothing.
During the brief glimpse at the Fringes and Feathers category, we hear “Sidewalk Talk” by John “Jellybean” Benitez. Good ‘Ol jellybean seems to have been a producer in the vein of Calvin Harris or Mark Ronson today, who would put out an album with his songs, but sung by other performers. This song, however, was actually written by Madonna who decided not to use it on her first album. Instead, Benitez produced it and had Catherine Buchanan sing lead vocals, with Madonna assisting with the background vocals. The song is actually very relevant to the character’s motivations during this season, especially Blanca. Essentially the singer warns you that what you do will be seen, and talked about, so be careful about what you do. It even features a few lines that feel directly relevant to the world of Pose: “When you’re living on the street/ life can be full of misery/ find a place to call your own/ make your heart into a home.” How perfect for the House of Evangelista, a “house of love.”
The next couple of songs don’t need me to say much about them, because they just rock on their own. “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross soundtracks the challenge between the Houses of Ferocity and Evangelista, and it is an indisputable sexy jam. After that, we hear “Automatic” by the Pointer Sisters as Elektra is crowned Diva of the Year.
The final moments of the episode, and season, are set to “Love is a House” by Force M.D.s. The song, from 1987, is perfect for summing up the emotions we are all feeling at witnessing the culmination of Blanca’s rise as a new legendary mother. The singer says to “look for the light if you’re lost in the night,” which is almost exactly how Pray Tell just described Blanca: a light in the darkness. Blanca was my favorite Pose character from the very first episode because we do not often see protagonists of television or movies who are unabashed in their warmth, generosity, kindness, and empathy. She isn’t a soft pushover, though, and is fully capable of standing up for herself and especially for her friends, particularly when they think they can’t stand up for themselves. There are not many places where we can witness the capacity for human kindness and change through that kindness—as we see Elektra open up her heart in this episode, after letting Blanca reach her and encourage her—and this show was a rich source for such rare magic. I’ll be waiting anxiously for the next season.