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.
Well, this was a bummer to say the very least. Candy (Angelica Ross), the hammer-wielding, silicone-injected pain in Pray Tell’s ass finally gets some character depth and sympathetic shading… but only after she’s dead. What many, if not all, of the characters on Pose fear will one day, any day, happen to them happens to Candy: murdered by some john, left in a seedy motel room with a near assurance that her murderer will face no justice. This is an emotionally heavy episode, with no ballroom scenes or flights of fancy once news of Candy’s disappearance sets in. Because of that, there are only five songs used with just two given real attention. The long middle section of the episode uses only the score to underline every emotional beat.
At the start of the episode, we do get a couple of fun period jams. During the first scene at the ball, we hear “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E as ladies vogue on the dance floor. The song, co-written by Prince and Sheila E is from 1985 and while it is an eminently danceable track its lyrics do act as foreshadowing for the final act of the episode. Sheila E sings “we all want the stuff that’s found in our wildest dreams… we all want a love bizarre,” which is essentially what Candy is saying throughout this episode, before and after her death, and it’s why the other characters admire her so much. She was always going after her dreams, and she always had the confidence in herself to go after it and to treat herself like a star, even if others didn’t see her that way (ahem, Pray Tell).
Up next comes “The Power” by Snap!, a song you have certainly heard before at least once. The German group released this single in January 1990, and it consists of the dramatic refrain “I’ve got the power.” It’s often been used as a humorous, or literal, music cue since then (see here, here, and here) but in this scene, it actually works as a pretty good pump-up jam to accompany the “banjee boys” as they vogue then break dance (pretty excellently) in the Lofting Category.
Next up we hear a bit of “He’s So Shy” by The Pointer Sisters, in a flashback scene that shows Pray Tell cooking an elaborate butter-filled meal with some friends. The 1980 track is a pop gem, and the age of the song at this point—about ten years—is relevant to Pray Tell’s relative age compared to most of the other characters. He and his friends, who have been in this scene for longer than the others, are enjoying a throwback hit during dinner time. Pray Tell’s life experience also might be contributing to his resistance to the recommended drug therapy for AIDS that Nurse Judy suggests. If he’s made it this far, why mess with it? Of course, Candy’s brutally shortened life jolts him into his senses by the end of the episode.
The last song we hear before Candy’s story comes to the forefront is “Hold On” by En Vogue. It’s a shame just a snippet of this song is heard sound-tracking the impressive outfits in the “Higher Than Heaven” category because the song as a whole is great. And, although we don’t hear any lyrics from the song, they are prophetic for Candy’s fate and how her ball family reacts to it. “Don’t waste your time/fighting blind minded thoughts of despair/ You gotta hold on to your love,” goes the song and by the end of the episode’s love-filled fantasy sequence, we can sense that Candy’s community is moving forward by remembering the love and admiration they had for her, even when it was wrapped up in her dramatics.
Finally, one of the best music moments of the series provides the emotional climax of the story. After her funeral, and after sharing many individual moments with characters ranging from Angel to her parents, we get a fantastical pseudo afterlife sequence which sees Candy—fully looking like the star she always proclaimed herself to be—emerge from a casket to the cheers of her ballroom family, and lip synch “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills. She does a fantastic job, as she said she would earlier to Pray Tell, and she’s even wearing a dress similar to the one Mills wore in the performance below. The 1980 song peaked at Number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and earned Mills the Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammys for 1981, beating out competition that included Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Robert Flack and Minnie Riperton!
The beautiful song, as performed by Candy to the adoration of her extended chosen family demonstrates what Pose has often illustrated, which is that this family is love and this love is what saves people. The forces of the world were too much against her for her to live, but while she was alive she got to live as she wanted, as Candy, with an environment that supported her ability to do so. She was a hard-ass, but that was just part of the package. No one ever outright rejected her, or misgendered her, as her family did. Mills sings “Now I’m lonely never more since you came into my life/you are my love light, this I know/and I’ll never let you go/you my all, you’re part of me.” We saw this last week with Elektra’s story, that even when these characters seem to hate each other, they show up when someone needs them. Everyone could hypothetically sing “Never Knew Love Like This Before” to each other, and mean it. But if next week’s preview is any indication, the infighting and shade throwing is not stopping anytime soon, and that’s exactly the way Candy would have liked it.