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.
Wow, wow, wow if you are as easily delighted by the period needle drops on Pose as I am (and you are reading this, so I assume you are), then this episode was a feast of delights. I was not familiar with Solid Gold before tonight, but now I am awestruck. What a fantastic, silly, delightful show premise! But we’ll get to that later.
First up, we have a few other choice music selections. This episode is my favorite of the season, cleverly written by Steven Canals and energetically directed by Tina Mabry, and it’s maybe no coincidence that it has some of the best—or at least, the most “Of the Time”—song selections of the season.
We’re initially treated to a local news clip that shows how popular vogue classes have gotten, including the class Damon has been teaching at the YMCA. We drop in on him teaching his enthusiastic students—a lot of them white, cis housewives from the ‘burbs—to the tune of “Deep in Vogue” by Malcolm McLaren. This song will reappear later during Damon and Ricky’s Blonde Ambition audition. This song is all about the vogueing and ballroom phenomenon, even shouting out specific houses, including Le Beija, Extravaganza, St. Laurent, and Dupree. This song came out in 1989, before “Vogue” ever came out, and before Paris is Burning was even released. However, McLaren was inspired by the film, as he had come into rushes of the film from the director Jennie Livingston. He gathered Mark Moore and William Orbit to craft this song, which samples another Pose soundtrack number featured last year, “Love is the Message” by MFSB. Ballroom star Willi Ninja, who appears in Paris, is featured on the track and in the music video. McLaren, a nerdy-looking white man from England, has a vast and varied career and I suggest browsing his Wikipedia page if you’re interested, because there is a lot there.
In the first episode of season two, we hear Technotronic’s “Get Up,” but tonight we finally hear their ever-popular hit, “Pump Up The Jam.” This song plays over the sequence of Ricky and Damon telling each of their houses about their auditions, and exactly how much it means to them. The energy of the song helps ratchet up the tension as we feel both the pressure Damon and Ricky inherently feel, as well as the competition Elektra is stoking between Ricky and Damon, Wintour and Evangelista.
That’s followed by another great hit of the time, MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” from 1990. This acts as the perfect accompaniment to the prep montage of Ricky and Damon, as each of their respective houses employs their respective talents, or wealth, to get them looking good from head to toe for their audition. The smash-hit, which notably samples “Super Freak” by Rick James, won a Best R&B Song and Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy, and was the first rap song to be nominated for Record of the Year. Because the song wasn’t released as a single, every fan of the song had to buy Hammer’s record (can you believe?) which went on to sell about 18 million copies. The song is a direct pop hit, and an excellent pump-up jam when you want to feel like a boss in 1990, so it’s perfect for this moment in time for the boys.
Next up, some fabulous looks are to be found at the ball. When we enter we hear “Give Me the Night” by George Benson before Blanca gets pulled away to hear about Elektra’s foot-smashing plans. The song, from 1980, was one of the last disco singles to be a big success (as the genre was on the decline by then), and it earns those kudos. This song is a jam! It describes the ideal night out, and it feels like it too.
While Angel and Papi catch up at the bar, we hear “Your Love” by Frankie Knuckles. This song is actually the second commercially released version of a song that originated in Chicago and was performed by Jamie Principle. Principle still provides the vocals on this track, which became a classic in the house genre. The song has since been sampled in songs like The Source’s “You Got the Love,” Animal Collective’s “My Girls” and “Submission” by Gorillaz. This is a great song for this scene because besides being a perfectly fitting song for the ballroom atmosphere, the lyrics are about as charged as this interaction between Angel and Papi.
That song excellently pivots into “Strike It Up” by Black Box. The 1990 house track plays under Ricky and Damon giving it their all in the Butch Queen Vogue Femme category, with Damon winning by one point. The band suffered some controversy when, after featuring an uncredited Martha Wash on lead vocals, they used Katrin Quinol, a French model, as their “face” as she lip-synched Wash’s vocals in performances. Wash sued, eventually reaching a settlement with RCA. That was not the last time Wash was pushed aside for a model lip-syncher, though! A year after this mess with Black Box, C+C Music Factory used Wash’s vocals in “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and used a model as a performer in their music video. The legal disputes that followed can be read about more here, but the matter was not resolved until four years later, and it seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to not feature a plus-size woman in your music video.
That controversy is ironically relevant to the next song we hear: “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” by Milli Vanilli. Besides having a ridiculous name, this duo is now mostly known for basically being a fraud, with neither of the lead performers singing any vocals on their hit debut album. They had won a Grammy for Best New Artist, and they had to give it back! “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” for instance, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and was Gold certified. Regardless of who is singing, the song still feels pretty bittersweet and tender when played during this sad, sweet Ricky and Damon scene after the ball. The two are gradually reconciling and learning to be around each other after the breakup, but it’s clear that Ricky is hurting a lot, and doesn’t have a supportive House Mother to fall back on when he’s lonely. The words “it’s a tragedy for me to see the dream is over/and I never will forget the day we met/Girl, I’m gonna miss you” is pretty applicable for these two, and the music swells just as they share a brief moment of a slow dance.
The final sequence of the episode is fantastic. We see Ricky and Damon during their pilot shoot for the potential re-boot of countdown show Solid Gold. This show consists of the boys and one other, female, dancer dancing continuously to each song in the Top 10 for the week. In a delightful touch, we get to see moments of the dancers performing to every song in this Top 10. First, we hear the Solid Gold theme song, originally performed by Dionne Warwick. Then we run through the Top 10, with a lot of these songs coincidentally (or not…?) feeling very relevant to the emotions roiling between Ricky and Damon this week. First up: “Ooh La La (I Can’t Get Over You)” by Perfect Gentlemen. If that isn’t Ricky’s inner monologue throughout this week, what is? In ninth place on the countdown is “U Can’t Touch This,” which has already soundtracked Damon and Ricky’s week, and if you want to be literal and a little cruel is kind of what Damon is saying to Ricky in this episode (albeit, nicer).
“Sending All My Love” by Linear could also be what Damon is telling Ricky, letting him know bittersweetly that he is thinking of him and hoping he finds happiness. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor was originally a breakup song performed by Prince, and O’Connor’s version expertly turns up the heartbreaking emotion with her distinctive, powerful vocals.
“It Must Have Been Love,” by Roxette is the second showing of this group on Pose this season. The song was on the charts in 1990 because of its inclusion in the Pretty Woman soundtrack. It’s also a fantastically 80s power ballad, with the title phrase being completed by the thought “but it’s over now/it must have been good/but I lost it somehow.” Ricky and Damon could sing this in their sleep! Next, we’ve got a fantastically ridiculous song from the new jack swing era, “Poison” by Bell Viv DeVoe. The lyrics, a little hard to decipher, are generally about a woman who the singer misses but who he considers to be bad news—or, poison. Janet Jackson’s “Alright” comes next, and that sweet song has Jackson singing “you and me were meant to be/that’s alright with me.”
Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” comes next, and that’s a perennial jam that sings the virtue of “holding on” for “one more day” when things might go your way and turn around for you. Damon and Ricky are both feeling this, in regards to their career and possibly to their relationship. Finally, Heart’s “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” plays in all of its power-ballad glory. The song is about just wanting someone to, well, make love to, and it echoes Ricky’s move on Damon near the end of the episode, and his behavior in general. He misses Damon and wants to be with him because he misses him, but isn’t considering the after-effects. Damon is looking at the big picture and says they need to stay just friends so they can focus on their career moves, with no drama or distraction.
Finally, of course, the number one song on the Solid Gold countdown is “Vogue” by Madonna, the inescapable hit of 1990.