Big Freedia – The Queen of Sissy Bounce
The following story was published in our 2013 issue of G Magazine – GayRVA’s print publication. Check out the entire magazine here.
You walk into the club and there are butts shaking everywhere. The only things higher than the temperature are the sweat lines on everyone’s necks. Big Freedia, AKA Freddie Ross, is dancing or running or twerking on stage at break neck speed, commanding her own dancers and the crowd from her scepter/microphone. Big Freedia (pronounced Freeda) is an earth-shaking force to be reckoned with, and the only thing bigger than her fan base is her stage performance.
Freedia is part of a larger New Orleans musical movement called Bounce, which is usually focused on heavy bass beats, loud crescendos, lyrical repetition, and catcall-like vocals. Also, the performers are usually in drag. Freedia, Katey Red, and others like them have helped pave the way for a positive image of black genderqueer performers in the South.
The Number 1 Diva (you better believe her), Big Freedia’s message is pretty clear and simple: have a good time, no matter who you are, what you look like, or who you love. But she’s not big-headed, or lost in Hollywood glamour, even with a TV show, “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce,” coming out on the Fuse Network later this year.
When I spoke to her, she was letting her dogs in, asking politely for me to wait for her to holler to get them inside. There’s something to be said for someone who has worked with RuPaul, been an outspoken equality activist, and still walks their own dogs.
Which pronouns should I use?
Whatever you prefer, I have no preference. Whatever my fans feel cool with. Whoever I’m speaking to, if they say he or she, I’m not offended by either/or. Mostly as she, the fans always, ya know, “Big Freedia, she’s so cool,” it’s always she. I’m comfortable with who I am, I know who I am, and whichever pronoun they prefer to use, it doesn’t matter.
What role does your sexuality play when you’re recording and writing and producing music?
It definitely plays a big part, because I use my feelings sometimes about me and my boyfriend and our relationship. So it definitely plays a lot into my music, because I’m feeling the things that are happening at home and we live together. It makes me happy sometimes, and sometimes it makes me sad. And I use that in my music sometimes to speak how I feel.
Is Big Freedia Big Freedia all the time?
Sometimes, when I’m at home, I try not to give all of what I give onstage, because it’s so much energy that I have to give when I’m onstage. It’s like a light switch that I switch on, and when I’m at home I’m kind of laid back and I’m just really relaxed.
I’m steady on my grind and working. I go into a different character when I’m on the work ethic of business side of things, I would say that’s when the Freddie comes out. Most people, they don’t like to see that side of Freddie. It’s about the business. It’s not about the bullshit or any drama, just want to stay focused on what I’m trying to do to better my/Freedia’s career, and to keep my face up high and to keep all of my social media steady going. So I kind of push into two different characters, Freddie and Freedia.
An interesting duality, I’m sure. Trying to find a balance between Freedia and Freddie.
Yea, it definitely is, my mom, she doesn’t call me Freedia, and my family doesn’t call me Freedia. The call me my nickname or they call me Freddie. It’s usually uncle or son or brother. My sister calls me sister. She’ll be like “sistaa.” My niece, depending on how she feels, she’ll call me uncle or auntie sometimes, but I just call her “teeny baby.” I try to keep the Freedia away from my family, and you know, just be normal and be my everyday person.
Did you come out at an early age? Was it rough coming out to your family, or being young and out in the South and New Orleans?
I did come out at an early age–I was about 12–to my mom. No it wasn’t really rough in the sense of family life. I had support from my family, I had a family support system. When I told my mom, it was like she already knew. I’m her child and she can tell different things from her kids, so I definitely have the support of my family. They love me and they support me in every way that they can.
The community side of things, on the other hand, just being young, black, and gay, there were definitely going to be some rough and trying times. The community in my area was very poor. There were some challenges that I faced. Being called this, that, gay boy and being picked on, fights, the whole nine yards. I went through it all.
Even when I first started rapping in 98 and 99, it wasn’t very well accepted here in New Orleans. People were shocked because Katey [Red] was the first gay person to come out in New Orleans with his music. And then it transcended from me to Rokka to Lil B to all of us. Then it started to become something that the city started to like, but we definitely weren’t that accepted when we first started.
What was it like working with RuPaul?
Oh my god, it was so amazing and so wonderful. Just a wonderful individual to work with and to be in company of. I’ve always looked up to him as an idol, so to actually work with him and get a phone call from him, I was like totally blown away by it. When that project happened I was very overexcited. I went to work and they called me so I was honored to get that phone call.
Where did Andrew Christian models play a role into that video?
Basically, it was just a good time video. Ru was the director of the video, so any of the background people that were in the video, I didn’t know anything about that until actually the video was out. The day I shot the video, it was just me and Ru and the production company at World of Wonder. I saw Vivian, one of the girls in the video, she came with me and they used her in the video. I didn’t know where she was going to be in the video. Everything else was kind of a shocker, and I was happy with it.
Does your music carry a consistent message?
Oh, most definitely. We can walk life together no matter what color or creed, nationality, we can all get under one roof and have a wonderful time. We can all party through music and through dance. That’s definitely one of the Big Freedia messages that comes up under Big Freedia’s roof. That is definitely my message that I’m putting out there.
You have a TV Show coming out on the Fuse Network later this year. What was production like?
The production was very fun. In the beginning it was very nerve-racking, cameras in my face every day, so I had to get used to it. It took a minute for me to put my hands on and be exactly the direction that I wanted to go with it.
I also had creative control over a lot of it, so I was able to steer it in the way that I wanted to. And I was very excited. So yeah, fun times. We had some emotional times, we had some fun times, we had a little drama, you expect the drama. The most important thing is real, and I kept it real and authentic to New Orleans and what we do here with bounce music. I think people will be very excited to see it. You get to meet Freedia on a deeper level, personally and business wise.
You just got off tour with the The Postal Service, a band that really doesn’t share much with you musically. What was that like? How did Postal Service fans respond to you and your stage production?
That was very exciting and a lot of hard work. Maybe between 50-70 thousand people got to see me. New fans and a new crowd, it was a lot of hard work. A new experience for me, and for bounce music. I was very excited that The Postal Service picked Big Freedia to be their opening band. They are fans of mine, first of all, so they really love the music. That’s what made it happen.
I was freaking people out. Just freaking them out. They didn’t know what to expect. There were a few moments. I didn’t laugh. I looked off the stage, I was on stage killing myself, couple of ladies, she was covering her husband’s eyes and all this when we started bumping. Old banshee, she was just not well, she was getting him away from me and everything, it was just so funny. One of my songs is called “Up,” and when the line came up, “Who mad,” I was like pointing at her, “She mad!” Everybody was laughing.
I want you to put one thing up cause I’m clearing this up in my interviews and all of the media. They’re starting to use the word twerking a whole lot, which is one part of what we do inside of bounce music, is twerking. We use many styles of dance in bounce music, which is shaking, twerking, bouncing, wobbling, wiggling, bending over, busting open, all of that, and I just want them to bring that back to bounce music. No matter [whether] they call it twerking, wobbling, shaking, it’s bounce music at the end of the day. They didn’t just twerk it, they bounced it, first of all.
Now that Miley Cyrus has made this twerking, so-called, video, she’s doing bounce music, period. And she’s using one of the twerking terms–we use twerking as one of the terms. We’ve used that for a long time. Like I said, I just bring the fuel for the dances that we do, and twerking is one of them. I’m just getting that back around, so that we can keep it within our genre and let them know where it comes from.
What was your reaction to the Miley Cyrus video then?
I was excited about it. She’s not doing anything to help bounce music get to that next level, but now that she has been twerking, everybody’s like, “I wanna twerk like Miley Cyrus.” No, it’s twerk like Big Freedia, because Big Freedia has been twerking before Miley Cyrus. You’re like the second person I’ve mentioned it to, so you’ll be able to get that out there. It will be in every interview from now on.
Words by Brad Kutner
Photos by Richard Perkins
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