Interview – Big Freedia
– by Zoë Christmas
Big Freedia has been buzzing. While she’s been active in Bounce in her native New Orleans for nearly two decades, it’s only been in the past few years that she has reached mainstream acclaim through her popular videos and performances across the continent. In the past two weeks alone, she has set a Guinness World Record, released her new EP Queen of Bounce and launched a TV show on Fuse by the same name.
Following her moniker “Queen of Bounce,” Freedia wishes to unveil and popularize New Orleans Bounce, which has been the sound of the city since the mid-eighties. She assures that Bounce is much more than just twerking and ass-shaking. In fact, it is more than just hip-hop music and dancing – it’s deep-rooted NOLA lifestyle that has everything to do with being welcoming, feeling good about yourself and having a good time.
In our conversation, Freedia sets the record straight about the twerk trend and gives us a taste of New Orleans Bounce culture. Beyond the sassy diva attitude, the Queen of Bounce sincerely loves her art and stays true to her roots.
Zoë Christmas: In your videos, you have a mix of dancers – all colours, sizes and genders. But with the way twerking is headed now as a trend, are you nervous about how some people instantly see it as degrading? How can this style of music and dance be empowering?
Big Freedia: Well, it’s already a very empowering thing, and we are definitely encouraging people to feel free to dance and express themselves through dance in any kind of form that they feel is appropriate. We’re definitely gonna have those who think that it’s not proper for certain people of a certain age.
But there’s a culture here in New Orleans that’s been going on for decades. It’s a culture that I’ve been brought up on, and I stand very firmly and believe that we can let the world see it from the New Orleans’ view, and it will help people understand it better.
ZC: Totally. You mentioned age – how old should you be to twerk? Is there an age limit?
BF: Uh no, there’s no age limit to me. Because here in New Orleans, even the little babies love it. You know, we’ve got them bouncin’ in their little diapers or whatever. It’s a fun dance – we don’t look at it as sexual. We look at it as a fun dance. Some people know how to turn it into a sexual dance, you know…
ZC: Ya, “pussy-popping”…
BF: But we also know how to make it a fun and happy dance, where people are just having a blast at the parties, and they’re excited. And you know, even the kids at their birthday parties, they wanna listen to the Bounce music, and they wanna dance. They wanna bounce their little booties up and down, in their little diapers. So, we encourage from age 0 to 99.
Video – Big Freedia, “Excuse”:
ZC: Great! But back to the sexual matter of twerking – and I just wanna quickly mention this – what is the most embarrassing aspect of Miley Cyrus twerking?
BF: Well, it was embarrassing for her most definitely because she didn’t do it properly. She shoulda done a little more homework on it before she attempted to do it. And that’s why people were dismayed by it, because how it was brought off. So I think that if it was delivered in another way, people would have still been shocked by it, but they would have been more accepting of it if it had been done properly.
ZC: Absolutely! And, as we know, “twerking” is just one of the dance moves in New Orleans Bounce music.
ZC: Do you ever get annoyed by the misuse of the word “twerk”?
BF: I mean, it’s okay for that particular style of dance that you would call twerking, but, like I said, I wanna educate the world about how it’s a big vocabulary of words, not just “twerking.” Overall, it’s Bounce music. Twerking being just one of those words. And, you know, what Miley did, we don’t even call that twerking. That’s called exercise here in New Orleans.
BF: Right, we call that exercising! The way she just basically spread her legs, put her little butt out, and maybe go side to side, doin’ the rock. So, she actually didn’t even twerk! And that was the big problem: They called it twerking, but it really wasn’t twerking.
ZC: Totally. Well, I want to find out more about Bounce music and culture. How long has it been around, and how does it tie in with hip-hop?
BF: It’s been around for over two decades, going on three. It definitely ties into hip-hop because a lot of famed hip hop artists – Lil Wayne, Juvenile, B.G., Soulja Slim, Mannie Fresh – they all started with Bounce music before they crossed over to hip-hop. And here in New Orleans, our culture is the Mardi Gras Indians, the jazz, the call and response, like in hip-hop. In Bounce culture, we use those same rhythms and call and response phrases. So it definitely connects all together from our culture in New Orleans.
ZC: What makes New Orleans a special hub for Bounce music?
BF: Because it was started and created here, that’s what makes it so special. It has been captivated in New Orleans for such a long time, and now the world is getting a chance to see it, and to touch and feel a little bit of New Orleans all around.
ZC: So is this why you’re so eager to push Bounce into the mainstream?
BF: Well certain forms of art – a type of music or a dance or something – are not accepted by many people, and there are critics that are going to judge it. It’s important to me to transform this Bounce music, and to let people see that it’s fun and happy music. Even on a national level, all of the R&B hits that come out – we transform them and put them on a Bounce beat. It transforms the whole song, and it makes everybody in New Orleans sing the song, it makes them feel the song in a different kind of way.
ZC: And Bounce music is mostly samples, right?
BF: Right! And it also gives those national artists a chance to explore their music in a different form. And when they come to New Orleans – you know, Beyoncé, Fantasia, Monica – and when they hear their song and it’s transformed on a Bounce beat, they be like “wow that sounds really good, I like it!” And that’s why so many people love New Orleans. They love the culture, they love the sound, and they love what we do to music.
Connect with Big Freedia (@bigfreedia), get her music on iTunes and catch Queen of Bounce on Fuse, Wednesdays 10/11C.