Fans of Big Freedia know the New Orleans native works nonstop. The self-described Queen of Bounce music, born Freddie Ross, became legendary in her hometown for her frequent, rollicking stage shows, which include plenty of vigorous twerking from both the Queen and her backup dancers, the Divas.
In 2012, Freedia (pronounced FREE-duh), got her big break appearing on the HBO series Treme as well as nabbing a live performance spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
In 2013 she toured as an opener for the indie rock band the Postal Service and appeared on the RuPaul track "Peanut Butter."
That was also the year the Fuse channel begain airing the groundbreaking reality show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, which gives viewers an all-access pass to the flamboyant performer's life onstage and off. The show, now in its third season, consistently breaks Fuse's ratings records.
Freedia followed that up in 2014 by releasing the critically acclaimed Just Be Free, featuring the fierce, whiplash-inducing single "Explode."
However, Big Freedia viewers know the performer's career success is happening at the same time as enormous personal pain. The 6-foot, 2-inch gender warrior —Freedia says she does not identify as transgender and chooses instead to reject categorization altogether — is steadying herself after a turbulent past year. Viewers watched as Freedia lost her beloved mother, Vera. They've also watched the performer grapple with tough choices regarding Devon, her boyfriend of nine years. Big Freedia's season finale is tonight, and it's a doozy.
Right now Freedia is dashing through a quick tour of Europe. (The weed-loving singer is thrilled to revisit Amsterdam.) She's also working on her memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva ("Girl, you know it's going to be juicy!"), set for a July release. She graciously takes time between gigs to talk to The Advocate about bounce music, LGBT rights, fashion, and Miley Cyrus's sorry twerking.
The Advocate: For people outside of New Orleans who might not know about bounce, how do you describe it?
Big Freedia: It’s up-tempo, heavy bass, call-and-response music. And it has a lot to do with the ass shaking. Lots of energy and lots of ass shaking.
Is the bounce scene pretty open about sexuality?
Very open. We don’t all separate here at home. It’s all one music.
You have a lot of straight fans coming to your shows, don’t you?
Most definitely. That’s how I got started, in the straight clubs here in New Orleans. We didn't have many black gay clubs when I was younger, just a handful. So I would be at the straight clubs throughout the week.
You are experiencing a whole different level of fame with Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce. Did you see this coming?
I’m still trying to take it all in. When I said I was going to take all this on as my full-time career and make things happen for me — I’ve never really had time to sit back and think about it. I just keep pushing forward and trying to make things happen. But it is amazing to see myself on TV. I haven’t pinched myself and woke up yet.
Season 3 is just drama, drama, drama.
It is. It’s some good drama. It’s things that have just happened in my life. I am glad I’m able to have a platform to maybe relate my story to someone else’s story and show that I’m human and I go through everyday situations too. We all eat the same food, bleed the same blood. I want to reach out to people and inspire them because I’ve come from nothing into something.
Do you have fans on the street who come up to you and try to tell you what to do about your life and what to do about Devon?
There are some really die-hard Freedia fans and they get connected, and they feel like they really know. It’s my decision at the end of the day. But there are definitely a lot of people who share what they think and give their opinion. I let them give their opinion. I always just smile.
Was it hard talking Devon into being on camera?
Actually, no. We had some issues the first two seasons. But then it was just the right timing for him to be in the third season. It makes the show more authentic. My love life is in it now.
Have you always been a gender-bender?
Yes, definitely. I always wanted to be what I wanted to be and be comfortable in my own skin. Act how I feel, dress however I feel.
I’ve heard you say folks can call you “he” or “she.” What are your thoughts on gender?
I’m a voice for a lot of people who really don’t have a voice. I want people to be able to identify as whomever they choose to be and feel free to be whomever they want to be. That’s why I called my last album Just Be Free, meaning just be free in your own skin. Be whoever you want to be. Wear whatever you want to wear. Talk to whomever you want. Eat whatever you choose. Do everything you want in life because you have only one life.
With shows like yours and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and several others on television, does it make you think things are getting better for LGBT people? I can't imagine these shows on when we were younger.
Oh, definitely! Don’t you think so? Definitely! There’s been progress. Things have been changing. Our voices are being heard. People want to see us more. We are there more in the TV world and the music world. Gay marriage — now we are allowed that. People are definitely getting more open minded and laid back. It’s not as hard as it used to be when we were younger.
You and your crew wear amazing clothes, especially in that epic Voodoo Fest performance that viewers will see Wednesday in the season 3 finale. Who are your style influences?
So many iconic people. Michael Jackson, Prince, James Brown.
You're naming all men!
And some of the divas out there back in the day: Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle. All those iconic people that really set different paces, with all those different costumes. And even more with the new generations, with Lady Gaga and Madonna. Beyoncé. Rihanna. So many people out there bringing so many new fashionable things. But I like to do my own thing and go with my own creativity, think outside the box. Maybe putting all that into the mix but coming out with a Freedia illusion. Because I will do a Michael Jackson/Liberace/Freedia outfit in any given drop of a second [Laughs].
When I see you and your dancers twerk, I realize I’ve never seen the real thing before. It's a lot of hard work, and you really need an ass to get it right. Is watching Miley Cyrus twerking on TV strange for you?
It’s definitely strange [Laughs]. She’s still taking baby steps. Hopefully she’ll come get a Freedia lesson soon.