The first season of FX’s drama Pose guided audiences through the ball culture scene of 1980s New York, which offered a safe space for members of the trans and queer communities through friendly competition. Chosen families—or houses—would walk the runway, sporting the looks and moves later to be popularized for the masses. For the winners: plastic trophies. For everyone: a sense of community hard to find on the outside.
While the balls seen on screen boast a playlist with the likes of Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, and Whitney Houston, music followed the characters off the runway, too, as Ryan Jamaal Swain’s Damon was exposed to the world of professional ballet by way of Beethoven’s “Adagio un poco mosso” and Billy Porter’s Pray Tell and Mj Rodriguez’s Blanca sang The Wiz staple “Home” at an AIDS ward cabaret.
As the show enters a new decade in Season 2 (premiering June 11), however, a new tune gives the largest platform yet to the sound pulsating through the Houses of Evangelista, Abundance, and Ferocity. Cue: Madonna’s “Vogue.”
Jumping from 1988 to March 27, 1990 (the very day the Queen of Pop debuted her ode to the dance form), the sophomore season of the FX series finds the ball community—comprised largely of trans folk of color—grappling with the unexpected spotlight cast on their art and the repercussions that might follow.
“If you’re marginalized and finally [feel] at the party, at the table, at the seat, you then have that moment where you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m really not. It was a pretend move,’” explains Ryan Murphy. “I liked that idea, and I feel this in my life,” the creator adds, recalling the popularization and subsequent destruction of queer culture illustrated in such events as the White Sox’s 1979 Disco Demolition Night.
As “Vogue” heightens ballroom’s cultural visibility, the balls themselves increase in spectacle. Murphy, his fellow writers and producers, and the cast each find their own ways to promise more gag-worthy glitz in Season 2, though they are careful not to reveal much about the looks and moves heading down the runway. What’s certain is that they’ll be accompanied by a score with implications far beyond a fierce beat.
“So much of Pose is theatrical. The way these characters relate to the world is through music and dance,” explains Dyllón Burnside, the musical theatre veteran who plays House of Evangelista’s Ricky. “When you’re learning the music, you’re finding little footprints about who that character is through where they exist on the musical staff.”
As Murphy warned, however, the sudden airwave popularization comes at a price for the community. “Everybody’s fine stopping the show, but at what cost?” Porter asks. “We’re talking about a group of people that nobody has ever heard of before. It’s real change-the-world, focused, intentional art. I’m not just here for your entertainment purposes. I have a story. I’m a human being. Come and listen to my story as well.”
As emcee, Porter’s Pray Tell commands the stage with the expected quips and shade, but beyond the balls, he—alongside many members of his queer, chosen family—navigates living with HIV in an era when losing loved ones to AIDS became a haunting routine.
“We’re going to get into some activism,” says writer and producer Our Lady J. “That doesn’t come from a place of comfort; that comes from a place of extreme discomfort and anger. Our characters really live in the solution instead of being victimized. They are taking on their own agency and moving forward.”
More music, more opulence, more responsibility. Oh, and there’s also one more star: Patti LuPone. The two-time Tony winner is poised to play an adversary to Blanca.
“Child, it’s a dream come true,” Rodriguez says of acting alongside theatre royalty. “I never thought I would be working with a legend like that, who has placed so many foundations down on this earth for us. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, girl, you are turning it.’ So to be able to share the set with her? That’s pretty epic.”