Picture it: March 27, 1990. Madonna, promoting her role in then-beau Warren Beatty's upcoming film Dick Tracy and its accompanying soundtrack album I'm Breathless, releases "Vogue"—an ode to classic Hollywood inspired by New York's ballroom scene. Two days later, the video premieres on MTV, featuring members of the ball community including José and Luis Xtravaganza.
The single shot to No. 1 in more than 30 countries, selling six million copies and becoming one of the pop icon's biggest and most enduring hits. While this was a major accomplishment for someone who had been dismissed as a flash in the pan just a few years earlier, "Vogue" also proved a watershed moment for the queer pioneers of the style of dance the song triumphed.
The second season of FX's acclaimed musical drama Pose premieres at what Blanca Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) calls this "cusp of a revolution." Picking up two years after the events of Season 1, the series finds the Houses of Evangelista et al. stepping into a newfound spotlight—a direct reflection of Madonna's global success.
According to series co-creator Steven Canals, "Vogue"'s presence is "woven throughout" the season.
"If we're looking at the history of ballroom and specifically that moment in time, what Madonna did was bring ballroom to the mainstream," Canals told The Hollywood Reporter. "She introduced the world to this community who, up until that point in time, had been a subculture."
Benefiting from a cast and crew of queer and trans people of color, Pose interrogates how the ball community felt about this mainstreaming of their culture, and the nature of Madonna's fascination with it.
Madonna has always walked a thin line between appreciation and appropriation, and "Vogue" only further blurred that line—not for nothing, but "Vogue" was her first video to premiere on BET. A longtime advocate for the gay community, the singer was also one of the first and most prominent celebrities to confront the HIV/AIDS crisis.
The AIDS epidemic "took out all of my friends” Madonna said while accepting GLAAD's Advocate for Change Award last month.
“These were dark days for all of us, but I never gave up, because it was the gay community that embraced me and gave me life and the courage to be me," she continued. "So I had to get on the front line, no matter the cost.”
Though "Vogue" and, a year later, Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning lavished unprecedented attention on the ball scene, that attention was short-lived. Most members of the scene, having had a glimpse of fame, were thrust back into relative obscurity.
"In one of our episodes, the ballroom is really packed with all these people who have never been to a ball before," Canals says. "They're interested because of Madonna and 'Vogue.' So here they are and then a couple episodes later, everyone is gone. And that's not Madonna's fault."
He continues, "That's the responsibility of the individuals who decided not to show up that next week. That's one of the things that we want the audience to think about and to wrestle with—in this question of appropriation or appreciation, how do you contribute to it?"
Nearly 30 years after "Vogue"'s initial impact, ball culture is having another moment, but one in which queer and trans people of color are decidedly at the helm. In addition to its cast, writers, and producers, Pose's authenticity has been informed by consultants who lived through the first wave, including José Xtravaganza and the late Hector Xtravaganza.
Pose represents the hope and the promise of many of the ballroom's stars who have passed; it is both a love letter and a tribute to lives lost in the shuffle of the AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty, and general neglect. Madonna may have shone a brief light on their community, but as evidenced by the success of the show and the proliferation of ball culture—from Drag Race to modern pop music—their influence has far exceeded what even she could have predicted.
Pose premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on FX.