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.
After weeks of building tension, Pose lets us and its characters regroup and heal, even for a moment, with a largely delightful girls-only weekend at the beach. Written by Janet Mock and Our Lady J, and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, this episode fully embraces every fun trope of a seaside getaway for a group of girlfriends. The music is very fun this week, reflecting that lean into the joyous for the women, and the soundtrack is full of a few more mainstream hits of the time, thanks to the car and beach radio the characters are listening to during their trip. There are no ball scenes here, no seven-minute dance tracks, just some fun pop tunes to get you singing along and dancing in the car.
First up, we hear “Everything” by Jody Watley playing over the radio in Blanca’s sweltering apartment as she and Elektra, Angel, and Lulu commiserate over the probable arson case that is her former nail salon. The winner of the 1987 Best New Artist Grammy Award, Jody Watley’s “Everything” was the third consecutive top-ten Pop and R&B single from her second album Larger than Life in 1989. The song’s tone fits Blanca’s attitude at this moment in the episode, with lyrics that express longing and regret. Watley sings, “Lately I feel so alone/can’t find the joy,” which certainly fits Blanca’s mood after her children left her with an empty nest and on top of everything she lost her business.
The next song we hear is played at Elektra’s apartment (did anyone else forget how lavish this place is?), and it’s “Roni” by Bobby Brown. The 1988 single was written by Babyface, who we just featured last week and who is generally all over R&B of the 80s and 90s, and was from Brown’s hit second album Don’t Be Cruel. Episode three of this season already featured Brown’s single “My Prerogative” from that same album. The song is a classic “I found a special girl, let me tell you about her” R&B jam, but it feels like the universe is whispering into Blanca’s ear about her imminent meeting with Adrian at the beach.
The scene in which we hear the song is subtle and sharp and funny, with Elektra, Angel and Lulu dressing to the nines for the beach and gassing each other up while at the same time acknowledging that there is the extra-strong pressure of having to pass as cisgender while you’re so exposed on the beach (we later see that every woman is carrying a defensive weapon with her in case anything goes south). Blanca is feeling the most stressed about it and is initially dressed rather modestly. The girls won’t accept Blanca’s self-hate, however, and find her a gorgeous blue outfit that she can wear to the beach. Blanca’s weekend is already looking up.
Finally, the girls are on the road and while Elektra drives quite erratically, they sing along and dance to A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” The single from 1978 topped the American pop, soul and disco charts upon its release and remains one of the most recognizable hits of the disco era. It’s very charming and fun to watch these women enjoy themselves so freely; singing along to what is probably a semi-nostalgic pop song for them, in an un-self-conscious and fun way. This kind of pure pop song, with the message being “get on up, on the floor, ‘cause we’re gonna boogie oogie oogie/ Till you just can’t boogie no more” is always the best kind of song to sing along to, especially on a summer road trip.
The next song we hear is a repeat on the show, last heard during the Solid Gold countdown Ricky and Damon danced to in the fifth episode. Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” plays on the radio the ladies take to the beach with them, and the inclusion of the song again here works well to add realistic detail to this world and to the way characters interact with music. The song is a hit in 1990, and so, of course, it was on the Solid Gold countdown, and of course, it would be getting lots of airplay. Like most people, the characters of Pose listen to and encounter a variety of music, in different genres and at different levels of commercial popularity throughout their average day.
That detail in the music selection—for instance using multiple singles off of one hit album, as we’ve seen with the Bobby Brown tracks—can be seen in the next music choice as well. Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” plays on the beach as Blanca convinces Angel to come down to the water with her. The 1989 single was the second off of Abdul’s debut 1988 album, Forever Your Girl, after the first hit, “Straight Up.” We recently heard “Straight Up” in seventh episode. After “Straight Up” went to number one, Virgin Records released “Forever Your Girl” just three months later to ride the wave of Abdul popularity. Eventually, this album would produce four number one hits, with “Cold Hearted” and “Opposites Attract” following “Straight Up” and “Forever Your Girl.”Utilizing Abdul during this episode further helps build the reality of 1990, as we get an idea of what artists were really popular during this period and how their music was unavoidable.
After this, we get a delicate jazz recording of “Fly Me to the Moon” by the Cy Coleman Trio. This song, initially written in 1954 by Bart Howard is most likely known for being sung by Frank Sinatra in 1964. However, the song has been covered by countless artists, including Peggy Lee, Connie Francis and Bobby Womack. We don’t hear lyrics here, but the song is a classic romance ditty, with the singer dreamily stating “fly me to the moon/let me play among the stars/let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars/in other words, hold my hand/in other words, baby kiss me.” The elation and pure romance of this song are again a subtle hint towards Blanca’s night of romance, while at the same time being a perfectly old-fashioned and conservative song to play at this very white and straight country club the ladies are dining at.
The final song we hear is “Hold On” by En Vogue, another repeat track from this season. We last heard the song at a ball in the fourth episode before we and the characters learned about Candy’s death. That’s appropriate here, because while the girls are singing along the perfectly-Pose refrain of “hold on to your love,” Elektra imagines Candy in the backseat between Lulu and Angel, singing and dancing along with them on the beach trip she should have been able to enjoy. While the episode leaves us on a hopeful note—with the girls having fun as friends together, and Adrian giving Blanca a call—I will leave you with what a critic said about “Hold On” at the time of its release, which feels very appropriate for this episode. Steve Daly for Spin wrote that the song is “perfect for those warm evenings on the stoop” and that the “rhythm section does a slow grind in 95 percent humidity with no AC.” Sounds like a perfect song for Blanca’s apartment. Until the final next week, I’ll be listening to this playlist: