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 larger than life second season of Pose has come to an end, and with it, they’ve given us one of their most spectacular ballroom sequences ever. Before we get to the grand ballroom finale, however, we have to get through a lot of dramatic setups for the events of that final sequence. We have skipped ahead about nine months to May of 1991 when Blanca and Pray Tell have only just reunited after their fight at Damon’s graduation. Blanca is sick and goes into the hospital where she reads to Pray her will. Pray refuses to accept Blanca’s defeatism, and with the help of the rest of their extended family, Blanca eventually rallies enough to make her return to the balls which she had been avoiding since her children moved out.
Besides following Blanca’s health, the episode also threads in a story of the all-male Ballroom Council addressing the feelings of the women who are feeling sidelined and disrespected. Walking a category “in their heels” is the proposed gesture of solidarity and understanding, and the first song we get to hear that isn’t original score plays during the scene in which Elektra coaches the council and her sons of Wintour on the art of walking in stilettos.
“Boogie Shoes” by KC & The Sunshine Band plays during the comical montage, picking up the energy of the scene by lending it its classic disco beat. The song was released in 1975 but did not become a hit until after its inclusion on the 1977 soundtrack album for Saturday Night Fever, which was the case for many songs on that album as it was the ultimate mainstreaming of the disco movement that had been growing throughout the Seventies. As Pose would point out to us, Saturday Night Fever would naturally be the piece of pop culture to make disco popular, even though it’s several years late to the trend and centered on straight white men when the movement was primarily full of queer people of color. Ain’t that just the way.
The next few songs we get are all background dance mixes that are played during the House vs. House categories at the Mother of the Year ball. First up during the “Runway” and “Realness” categories we hear “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. This track is another hit from the disco era, from 1978. Just this year, though, the song was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry which indicates that the song is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Up next during the vogue competition, we hear the 1991 track “Now That We Found Love” by Heavy D and the Boyz. The song was originally performed by The O’Jays in 1973, but this version by Heavy D and the Boyz proved to be their breakout hit. Finally, we reach the crowning of Mother of the Year. As the nominees are presented, including our faves Lulu Ferocity and Elektra Wintour, we hear “Outstanding” by The Gap Band. The song is an ice-cold jam from the band’s 1982 platinum-selling album Gap Band IV, which included the other hit “You Dropped a Bomb On Me.”
“Outstanding” reached the number one spot on the U.S. R&B Singles Chart in 1983, although it only made it to 51 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has since been sampled by dozens of artists across R&B, rap, pop and rock genres since its release. “Outstanding” is a perfect song for the awarding of an outstanding Mother, and it continues to play as Elektra is crowned Mother of the Year. I have to say, last season the idea of her ever being Mother of the Year seemed absurd but she truly was a great Mother this year, in her own special way of course. Elektra Abundance Wintour deserves to be crowned to such a song.
The show then takes a break from ball festivities as we check in with Angel and Papi at the bar. In the background, we hear “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” by Cherrelle. The 1984 dance track was covered two years later by Robert Palmer (he of “Addicted to Love”) and that single went higher on the pop charts while Cherrelle’s version rose on the R&B charts (gee, I wonder why?). This is a surprisingly ironic song to hear while we watch Papi tell Angel about the job he got her, without having to hide her identity. This leads to a classic heartfelt romantic speech by Papi and, eventually, a dual marriage proposal. It’s very sweet and all the while a song about a woman’s regret that she led a man on plays in the background.
Next up, we have my favorite moment of the episode if not the entire season if not the series. Blanca, still weak from her stay in the hospital, has been encouraged to make an appearance at the ball. However, unable to walk far enough to walk a category, she has an alternate plan. We discover what that is upon the start of Candy’s Sweet Refrain category. Whitney Houston’s performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” plays loud as Blanca lip-syncs excellently with a shorter, very Houston-esque haircut and look. Angel wheels her in (wearing the literal dress Patti LuPone wore when she won her Tony for Evita) as Damon and Papi flank them while waving a Pride flag and a House of Evangelista flag respectively. It’s bold, it’s black, it’s queer, it’s joyful and it’s beautiful. It’s Pose!
This performance of the National Anthem came only a few months earlier in 1991 during Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. The Persian Gulf War had just started, and so the spirit of patriotism was high at the stadium. Houston, wearing a simple U.S.A.-themed tracksuit and headband blasts out the anthem in her classic way where it seems she hardly has to think about what she’s doing. It’s one of the best Houston performances and considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best performance of the anthem ever. Blanca’s inhabiting of that Houston excellence works as a stunning comeback to the balls, a sign that she is nowhere near defeated.
Finally, to close out the ballroom sequence of the episode—which director Janet Mock revealed on Twitter took four days to shoot—we hear Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” as the men walk in heels and full femme drag. Ricky dresses as Janet Jackson, three of the MCs dress as The Dreams from the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, Cubby and Lemar dress in full realness, and finally Pray Tell walks in a Diana Ross inspired gown and hair. The song was the debut single from the debut album Chaka in 1978 and was her first hit outside of her work with the band Rufus. The song went to number one on the Hot Soul Singles chart, to 21 on the Hot 100 and to number 11 on the UK Singles Chart. A year after this episode of Pose is set, Whitney Houston would cover this song on the smash soundtrack album to her film The Bodyguard and that version has since become more popular, although the two versions are arranged quite similarly.
That disco-R&B ready hit that exudes joy, solidarity, and femininity is a perfect musical sendoff for the second season of Pose. It’s been a wild ride, and there is no way to know for sure exactly what the next season might look like. What we do know is that characters are going to continue to “live, work, pose” as Pray Tell announces in the credits, while the show itself will continue to be a consistent source of love and light for its audience.