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’s installment of Pose, while the shortest episode of the season so far, squeezes several songs into the hour. While there aren’t any huge standouts, there are some which are entirely fitting for this late-eighties and early-nineties era.
The episode kicks off pretty early with Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” This takes us through the end of Angel’s Fresh Face of 1990 interview, through her confident walk during Femme Queen Runway, and up to her stomping her heel down in a pose for her at-home photographer Papi.
“My Prerogative,” released in October of 1988, was Brown’s second single from his second album Don’t Be Cruel. Brown says the song was inspired by the criticism he faced from leaving the boy band New Edition to pursue a solo career. In 1989 Brown explained that the song’s theme is about claiming the right to make your own choices and do as you want, as long as you make sure what you do is the right thing. The song’s new jack swing sound gives these Pose scenes assertive, confident energy that matches how Angel feels right now: she’s made it to the finals of the modeling contest, and feels genuine hope for her future. The theme of making your choices and standing by them is relevant for our characters throughout the episode. For instance, Angel decides to stay on the photo shoot rather than meet Papi for their date and Elektra decides to take care of her client’s body on her own rather than call the police. There are a lot of big decisions this week!
Next up we hear “Black Cat” by Janet Jackson during the transition to Elektra in her dungeon. The song is from Jackson’s fourth solo album, 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814, and was a big success despite leaning into a rock sound that was slightly different from Jackson’s previous dance-pop focus. The song’s Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance made Jackson the only artist to receive nominations spanning five genres (including R&B, pop, dance, and rap). That hard rock edge of the song, with Jackson’s assertive yet feminine vocals are perfect for setting the tone of Elektra’s business. I love the song choices the show has made to help portray the version of Elektra who works in the Hellfire Club, and I hope we get more of these delightfully tough songs in the future.
The next track is “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, which plays in the strip club Candy works at. We hear it loudly as she dances, and softly in the background while Elektra and Blanca talk to her in the dressing room. The song, written by Prince, was performed by his protégé “girl group” in 1982. The song’s highly suggestive and sometimes explicit lyrics (“That’s right, I can’t control it/I need 7 inches or more/Tonight I can no longer hold it/Get it up, get it up, I can’t wait anymore”) prevented it from reaching any heights in the Billboard Hot 100, but it did become a hit on R&B radio and hit number one on the US Hot Dance Club Play chart for a month in 1982, eventually getting de-throned by Prince’s “1999.” It’s no secret that Prince can craft a sexy song, so it’s not surprising to hear “Nasty Girl” soundtrack this club.
The visit to Ms. Orlando’s features “Colorin, Colorao” by Jesús Alejandro El Niño, which was released in 2007 and is really only being used here for an atmospheric touch. The next musical choice is a bit of a cheeky one, appropriate for the relatively outlandish circumstances Elektra and co. have found themselves in. After saying a regretful prayer over dead Paul’s body, Elektra, Candy, and Ms. Orlando get to work sewing him up – “cocooning him”—to the sound of “Shame” by Evelyn “Champagne” King. The song was released by King in 1977 off of her debut album, Smooth Talk, and would become her highest-charting Billboard hit, peaking at number nine. In 2004, the track became one of the first inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame.
While the song is about an intoxicating, lusty relationship, the lyrics we get snippets of during this scene are coincidentally appropriate for Elektra’s situation. “Sometimes I think I’m going insane” plays as the women start sewing up this dead body in Elektra’s classy apartment, surely an experience Elektra never expected to have. In an even darker touch, we hear King sing “wrapped in your arms,” and the idea of being wrapped up tight in any way is too appropriate for a man who is being cocooned tightly post-mortem. In a way, he is forever wrapped tightly in Elektra’s arms…or at least her closet.
We get another fabulous, pop-heavy and cheesy sequence of Angel at a photo shoot, which is accompanied this time by the 1988 single “Buffalo Stance” by Neneh Cherry. The song, like “The Look” in the first episode of the season, is another energetic pop hit that is seemingly tailor-made for a photo shoot. The song refers to “Buffalo,” which was a group of photographers, models, musicians, hair and makeup artists and more formed by stylist Ray Petri, which Cherry and her co-writers Jamie Morgan and Cameron McVey were a part of.
The song samples a few songs, including Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” Rocky Steady Crew’s “Hey You” and Miami’s “Chicken Yellow.” All these sounds combine to create an irresistible pop-dance jam that feels made for Angel. We hear the lyrics “who’s looking good today? Who’s looking good in every way?” which certainly applies to Angel, who is fully enjoying and rocking her first official photo shoot with Wet ‘n’ Wild. We also hear Cherry sing in the chorus, “No moneyman can win my love, it’s sweetness that I’m thinking of,” which hopefully bodes well for Angel and Papi’s relationship in the future. Although Damon says Angel can have any man she wants, as Papi says he is a prize and is as worthy as any “moneyman” Angel might meet in her new modeling career. Besides that, please enjoy this video of Neneh Cherry performing “Buffalo Stance” while seven months pregnant.
To close out the episode we hear a little of the 1984 song “Nighttime” by Pretty Poison as Blanca meets Elektra to check in. The song plays softly on the diner’s radio as the women have a genuine moment together, which is great to see after Elektra’s behavior in episodes one and two.
Finally, during the preview for the next episode airing in two weeks, we hear “Girl Like Me” by Elizabeth Mott, Liza Marie O’Hagen and Ethan Galloway. We don’t hear much of the dance track, but it is suitably intriguing when paired with the preview which hints at a Candy-centric episode at long last. Until then, keep dancing to the Spotify playlist. It’s your prerogative.