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.
The seventh episode of Pose season two, “Blow,” is the first episode in which the “Vogue” craze has died down. Now the characters are feeling abandoned by the cultural tourists who were frequenting their ballrooms and dance classes, leading to the characters feeling pushed back into the shadows and periphery where they existed before Madonna’s hit stormed the charts. This leaves everyone feeling a little depressed and down on themselves, so we don’t get too many moments of characters really enjoying and connecting to the music. Additionally, this episode seems to be setting up a lot of conflicts to take us into the final third of the season, and so we had many dialogue and plot-heavy scenes, which meant less music featured. However! That doesn’t mean we didn’t get some stellar tunes playing underneath some of those moments, however brief they might have been.
First, we hear “Just a Touch of Love (Everyday)” by C&C Music Factory in Damon’s dance class. Unfortunately, his vogue classes which were booming just a few episodes ago have dwindled down to three students. This song was released in August of 1991, and it does appear to be summer so it’s possible we could have had a relatively long time jump between the last two episodes. The timeline is a little fuzzy on Pose, but if we started this season around March 1990 when “Vogue” was released, it certainly sounds typical that people would have stopped caring by the time the next summer rolled around.
We get one brief look into the ballroom this week, and it’s cut short by Pray Tell’s speech to all of the forlorn attendees who have noticed “the looky-loos have left the building.” Before he stops the music, Diana Ross’s “It’s My House” was soundtracking a Ladies Who Brunch category. The song (most recently used in a memorable Big Little Lies moment), released in 1979, is appropriate for this moment of rallying from Pray Tell. “It’s my house and I live here…everything you see is with love and care” Ross sings, which echoes the sentiments Pray Tell and the other Elders feel about their ballroom. He’s seen their lives become trendy before, and fall by the wayside. But he knows the tide will turn again, and in the meantime, they will continue to flourish and nourish within their own community, as they always have.
The next song we hear is a familiar one, but we only get a snippet of it within the strip club Lulu works at. Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” is heard when Blanca visits her friend to find Lulu in the depths of despair. The lyrics for this pop hit are coincidentally relevant to the ballroom kids who are missing the attention previously given to them by the mainstream culture. “Straight up now tell me, do you really wanna love me forever…or are you just havin’ fun” Abdul sings in her 1988 single, and although this is a background song used to illustrate the mainstream music choices of the strip club, it just goes to show how every music choice on Pose can subtly percolate through each episode to help us step inside the skin of the characters.
The next song we hear is playing softly underneath a scene of Ricky, Damon, and Lulu brainstorming how to get a giant condom they can wrap around Frederica Norman’s house. The 1989 song “Can’t Stop” by After 7 plays through the radio as they first brainstorm, and then come together to comfort Lulu who has been thinking of herself as “just a dumb stripper” lately. The R&B track, produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, is about a relationship that’s gone to the next level (sex) and the singer being in thrall to that connection. However, once again, these lyrics taken out of context can apply to the love we see between House and ballroom members on Pose. “I never knew love could be so sweet, it never made a difference to me, but ever since the day that you appeared, I’m telling you made the difference, now love is so clear” goes one of the refrains in the song, and that’s certainly applicable to the way Ricky, Damon and Lulu come to feel about their friends and chosen family by the end of this episode as “The Elders” Blanca, Pray Tell and even Elektra come together to help them with a greater cause.
After that track, we get yet another song choice tied to Elektra’s work at the Hellfire Club. Here we get some of “Flesh for Fantasy” by Billy Idol accompanying Lulu’s introduction to Elektra’s dungeon. The 1983 track is, like every other track used in the Hellfire Club, a fun, sexy, pop-dangerous track that playfully underlines the BDSM work we see Elektra gleefully take part in. It does kind of sound like something meant to be played in a dark club somewhere, and with Idol’s leather-heavy image, his music fits right in.
We soon switch over to the Angel and Papi portion of the episode, which is much more energetic (cocaine will do that). “Touch Me (All Night Long)” by Cathy Dennis accompanies the couple to an exclusive party Angel has been invited to as her modeling career continues to grow. She’s just been deemed “the new Bebe girl,” so she and Papi go out to celebrate while simultaneously making their debut as a couple. This high-energy song is great to illustrate their excitement, and the lyrics are of course appropriate for the night, including “we’re starting it over; we’re making way for destiny, a time to turn over a better life for you and me.” This episode has many characters feeling anxiety about their futures and the possibility of success within it. Angel is currently the closest to achieving what she wants, but as Ms. Ford tells her at the end of the episode, she’s also really close to losing it if she isn’t careful.
The party kicks in when Angel and Papi go in for their line of free coke and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Do Me!” starts up. We’ve already heard the band’s biggest hit, “Poison,” during the Solid Gold sequence a few episodes ago, and here the band returns as it is enjoying its heyday. The 1990 song is again in the New Jack Swing style but, if you can’t tell by the title, with a heavy dose of “sex appeal.” The song’s dance-ability, as well as its kind of sleazy performance, is perfect for Angel and Papi’s coke-fueled night at the club.
The episode’s soundtrack ends on an upbeat note with Bill Withers’ 1977 song “Lovely Day.” This plays over an extended House of Evangelista family dinner which sees them celebrating their successful ACT UP protest at Frederica’s house. The group echoes the lyrics of the song, “I look at you and the world’s alright with me, just one look at you and I know it’s gonna be,” as they look forward to a bright future and to the “kids” like Damon, Ricky and Lulu carrying the torch of the lessons the Elders have taught them. Interestingly, this song is known for, besides being great, Withers’ 18-second long sustained note near the end of the track. Those are some pipes!
While the music stops here, the episode still has about ten to fifteen minutes left. What comes after that hopeful dinner is a heartbreaking, troubling coda that adds some anxiety to the images of those bright futures. By the time the episode ends Ricky has been diagnosed as HIV positive, Frederica has vaguely threatened Blanca with physical violence, and Angel and Papi have shown up late to Angel’s photoshoot after late-night partying (likely with cocaine). Even worse, the photographer for this Bebe campaign is the man who violated Angel and took exploitative nude photographs of her early in the season—and who Papi beat the hell out of. It’s hard to imagine how the group will make it through these next few episodes unscathed, but we have to hold on to hope, as they do, that things will work out…somehow.