Ryan Murphy’s FX series, Pose, is set in the ball culture world of New York City, 1990. 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. You can read all of our Pose coverage and season one’s music breakdowns here.
This week may not have the splash that is “Vogue” on its soundtrack, but like every Pose episode, “Worth It” features at least one classic needle drop not often heard on TV. This week that song comes early, during Elektra’s entrance into The Hellfire Club. Yes, Elektra is now raking in the cash as a dominatrix (getting paid to talk down to people? It’s her calling), and of course the song we hear during this revelation is maybe the most stylish, well-known song about BDSM (pre-Rihanna), which is The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.”
The song by the seminal art-punk band, released in 1967, is inspired by the book of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch published in 1870. And yes, Sacher-Masoch is one half of the inspiration for the term “Sadism and Masochism,” with the other inspiration coming from the infamous Marquis de Sade. “Venus in Furs” is a strange, alluring song with John Cale playing an electric viola accompanied by Lou Reed playing what is called an “ostrich guitar,” which is a guitar that has every string tuned to the same note.
The song features appropriate lyrics depicting the world of S&M, beginning with “shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather” which are an apt description for those very same thigh-high boots Elektra wears into her lair. Besides setting the scene for “The Hellfire Club,” the song coincidentally ties into Elektra’s later electric ballroom moment. During the Eros Ball, Elektra and her new super-team that is House of Wintour put on a show that culminates in Elektra’s emergence from a shell, invoking the Sandro Botticelli painting, “The Birth of Venus.” Venus is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, who Pray Tell compares Elektra to upon her reveal.
The next music cue comes during our look at the House of Ferocity and their family dinner, which consists primarily of SlimFast shakes. While the girls prep the dinner, “Talk to Me” by Chico DeBarge plays on their radio. The cover of this 1986 single is worth checking out because it features DeBarge in a fierce crop top. This song isn’t used significantly in this scene, but its years-old status at this point in the show is fitting for their access to it. Additionally, the song is all about communication (“talk to me baby, tell me you love me, show me now”) which ties into the themes of this episode. Damon and Ricky have problems communicating the truth to each other or believing what the other even says, and Blanca has trouble communicating to her boys the importance of safe sex during the AIDS plague they are living through. And, of course, Elektra has no trouble communicating what she feels to those around her, even though she doesn’t seem able yet to communicate these feelings in a way that doesn’t belittle others or wreck their dinners.
As soon as Elektra pulls another dramatic table toss at dinner and leaves House Ferocity, Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” kicks in. “Bad Girls” was arguably the song of the summer in 1979, staying at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks through July and August, and becoming the second-biggest song of the year. Although, by 1990 this song is a throwback for Elektra, it’s Donna Summer so it is undying in its fabulousness. The song plays over an extremely enjoyable montage of Elektra running around town, picking up her own Super Team for her new House. The song is about sex workers on the street at night, the women who others wonder and whisper about. The pre-chorus lines “You ask yourself/who they are/like everybody else/they come from near and far/bad girls, yeah” feels like it could be sung by the rest of the ballroom when Elektra emerges with her team in dramatic and mysterious fashion.
Our next track is another throwback, “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention. The German band’s disco track hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1975 which made them the first German act to have a number one song on the American music charts. The song is purely a dance song, with only six lyrics throughout its nearly four minutes. That’s just fine because it grooves. It hits especially the right amount of style and silliness that feels right for Papi and Angel’s staging of Romeo and Juliet, as well as House Ferocity’s fantastic costume change within their Cinderella performance.
The next song we hear at the ball is “Meeting in the Ladies Room” by Klymaxx. This song was featured in a ball scene in the pilot, which is a small detail that helps build the world of Pose. Of course, they repeat songs at the balls, especially when they are this fun to dance to. This time, the lyrics about a woman getting annoyed with other women at the club hitting on and looking at her man are applicable to Damon as he is approached by Chris who is all about telling Damon he was hooking up with Ricky all summer. Since we last talked about this song, it was randomly featured in an SNL skit that makes the song seem made up if you weren’t familiar with it.
During the Eros Ball, and the High Fashion in Feathers category, we witness the House of Wintour’s first official walk, and it is elaborate. I guess with Elektra’s newfound wealth they have the funds to make a giant shell from which to release Elektra and her mechanized wings. During this sequence “Baby Love” by Regina is playing. The 1986 hit single is a fairly simple pop song that we don’t hear that often at the ballrooms, perhaps indicating that the mood for the Eros Ball was a bit more subdued, a bit more romance-centric rather than dance-centric.
That subdued, romantic mode continues into the next track, Anita Baker’s “Giving You The Best That I Got” from 1988. The smoky, moody song became Baker’s highest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching number three. The song also went on to win a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1989. This song plays over a sequence that follows each of our main characters trying to live their lives, well, the best they can. Blanca has her first customer, Angel and Papi continue to practice Angel’s modeling technique at the piers, and right when the lyrics “giving you the best that I got” first soars, we see a sad Ricky leave the apartment, and an even sadder Damon, behind.
The lyric is especially apt for these two, as Damon essentially breaks it off with Ricky when he realizes that he doesn’t love himself very much, and so doesn’t have much to offer Ricky in the way of a healthy, non-dependent relationship. Damon is doing the best that he can for himself right now, even though it hurts. Ricky is doing the best for himself by leaving the House of Evangelista, where it would be too painful to live with Damon.
We are only two episodes into this season, but a lot of focus has been brought to the struggle these characters feel amidst the plague that is wiping out large swaths of their community. Do you focus only on the death and the fight for rights and dignity in that death? Or do you try to live your life the best you can, even if it seems to others you are “whistling past the graveyard”? The trick is to find the balance, and as Blanca confesses to Nurse Judy, her survivor’s guilt makes it difficult to believe that she deserves medication and health when others around her are already gone. But Blanca is still alive, and while she is she needs to take care of herself, her family, and her dreams.