I have something to confess. After watching Damon's (Ryan Jamaal Swain) exuberant dance audition scene at the end of Pose, Ryan Murphy's latest FX tour-de-force set the New York ball scene of the '80s, I watched the scene again. And again. And again, the next day. Damon's audition, performed to the pangs of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," so perfectly encapsulates Pose's particular brand of joy, which characters emit like rays when they're dancing or walking in the balls.
We can thank Alexis Martin Woodall, Pose Executive Producer and Ryan Murphy's longtime collaborator, for the show's infectious soundtrack. The premiere's music ricochets between recognizable favorites, like Houston's anthem and Chaka Khan, to the '70s disco of the balls, to Kate Bush's crooning. According to Woodall, the overarching goal of the soundtrack is simple: "It’s all about making you want to get up there and move," she told Refinery29 in a phone interview. We spoke to Woodall about the logic and intuition behind the most significant music moments in the Pose premiere.
On how Damon's audition song, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," affected the entire fabric of the show:
"Ryan Murphy came in one day to the screening room for Versace. We hadn’t even finished the script. He said he wanted to use, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ at the end of the show. I whipped out my playlist, and I said, 'This is my number-one song on my 1987 playlist.' I didn't think twice about it.
"Then, I woke up in the middle of the night that night and thought, 'That song came out in ’87!' Our script was originally set in 1986. The next day I said to Ryan, ‘That song came out in ‘87. We can’t put it in an ‘86 script.’ He and I looked at each other, and he said to let him think about it. He called me later and he said, ‘We’re making the script ‘87. That song is exactly what’s right for where we are in the moment.' Damon is completely out of his element, and he has to give in to the power of self expression that dance is.
“You watch the scene and you think about Flashdance, Footloose, Fame. The whole point of that song — because of the universal way it makes people feel — hearkens to all of those great audition moments in movies where you just have to give it all."
On why "In My House" by the Mary Janes was the perfect song for the opening museum raid:
"At the museum scene, you don’t know what the show is yet. You’re in a bit of an ‘80s movie heist. You use humor. We cut out of 'In My House' to the silence of the museum with all the mannequins, and everybody’s posing. Then we come back in the song for the humor and energy of it. Timing is really important.
"The title [of the song], 'In My House,' was weirdly on point, but it was more about the tempo and the celebration in the song that was guiding it than it was about the lyrics."
On why you won't only be hearing pop songs from 1987 in Pose:
"I have a strict rule. Nothing can happen after 1988. But I do not believe being accurate to 1987 is realistic. These characters are a variety of ages and experiences. Think about it now. We listen to the radio, and songs from the radio are playing. You have to have that flexibility.
"In episode 4, Angel and Stan have a moment where they’re laying in bed talking. I needed music to put on in the background. Angel is a Latina woman, so I want to make sure I honor music she was listening to that was also popular at the time. I was like, oh my god – Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. Or in episode 3, when it’s the Christmas Ball, the song playing [is] from 1980, not 1987. But it’s the kind of jam that you’d want to walk to at a Christmas Ball. The ball scene wasn't always walking to a pop song. A lot of times, they’d go back to late disco."
On what the music for Stan and Patty's anniversary dance is meant to signify:
"That’s Bernard Herrmann’s score from Taxi Driver. It's a really specific jazz tune that evokes obsession. It has that 'droniness.' It feels like a different mood [than the rest of the show], especially with the way we ramp into it sonically. You know we’re with a boring married couple. Then you get a beautiful blend when Kate Bush starts echoing in [which had played when Stan was with Angel]."
On why you should watch out for Diana Ross:
"Ryan and I really decided Diana Ross is the mother of them all. She really should be heralding in a lot of the big moments. At the top of the second episode, when Blanca and Elektra have their first facedown, we play the Ross there."
On what the music selection process is really like:
"I’m obsessive about it. I built a huge playlist for Pose. One day, I went up to Ryan’s office with my boom-box. He and I played through all the music and said this song should go here, and this song should go here. Sometimes he’d go, ‘Oh my god, that’s perfect!’ Other times, he’d go, ‘No.’ We’d laugh about it.
"It’s totally intuition. I have a gut feeling. I build master lists, and then I’ll get a feeling."
On the pressure to get the music for Pose right:
“There's extra pressure. There will be people who will say, ‘We didn’t walk to that.’ Or, ‘We loved walking to that.’ You want to be accurate and honor the environment, and you also want to tickle the fancy of new viewers and people who love a certain song. If I’m doing justice to the show — if the show feels good, if the performances feel good — then the music's doing the right thing."