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Meet Big Freedia: The bounce artist on Beyoncé's 'Formation'




BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 31:  Musician Big Freedia attends the FUSE Media TCA Mixer at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 31, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images For FUSE Media)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 31: Musician Big Freedia attends the FUSE Media TCA Mixer at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 31, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images For FUSE Media)
Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images For FUSE Medi

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The video for Beyoncé's new song, "Formation," is steeped in New Orleans. It includes footage of the singer on a police car submerged in flood water — an allusion to the residents stranded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The rhythm of the tune itself is influenced by bounce music, which hails from New Orleans. And naturally, Beyoncé has the Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, perform on the track. 

Big Freedia has popularized the genre in part through her TV show on the Fuse cable network, "Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce." The Frame contributor Elyssa Dudley met with Big Freedia and put together this profile. Below are excerpts from the story.

Interview Highlights

WHAT IS BOUNCE MUSIC?

Bounce music is a New Orleans-style type music. It has up-tempo, heavy bass, a call and response — meaning if I say something, you respond back to it. Very much high energy. You could work out on it. It’s a lot to deal with shakin' that ass, shakin' that ass. Yes. 

"I ALWAYS SANG"

I always sung. When I was little I was into gospel music. I sung in church choirs. I sung in high school choir. I had my own choir. I sung in community choirs around the neighborhood. So I was always into music. I loved listening to music around the house with my mom, on Saturday mornings when we would clean up.

There was nothing that didn’t come across the radio. From LL Cool J to Salt n Pepa to Heavy D to Patti Labelle to Luther Vandross. Everything was in the musical catalogue growing up in New Orleans.

GROWING UP GAY: "MY MOM WAS MY BACKBONE."

Being gay and coming up in New Orleans was not easy. At first I was very terrified and very timid. Being a big kid, I was kind of fat and chubby, and I got picked on quite a bit. But my mom [was] always throwing me back out there and [saying], “I got your back. Go back out there and fight. Don’t let nobody pick on you. Even though you’re gay, you stand up on your own two feet. You’re still a man.” My mom was my backbone since a kid. She would go to school and want to fight the kids for me. That’s just how serious it was.

 

I was tested on every level. At school, with my family members, with people at clubs. You know, I’ve had fights because people were just picking on us because we [were] young, gay, black teens. Things [were thrown] at us at early days of our concerts. Over time you get stronger and stronger. It’s not something that comes overnight, for sure. But you stand up, you get back out there and you fight, and that’s what we do in New Orleans.

GETTING INTO BOUNCE MUSIC: "MAGIC HAPPENED"

I started backgrounding for Katey Red, who was the first transsexual male to come out with bounce music in about 1999. And people just was like, You sound really good behind her. You have your own style and you bring something to the table. You should try it as well. I started to grab the mic one day at a block party, came up with a few lyrics and the girls just went crazy about it. And magic happened. 

I was doing it and doing it and getting little gigs and hustlin' all around town. I used to be a shift manager for Burger King. I also was into nursing, so I worked at all type of nursing homes and hospitals. I did my little work. And then it was just like, Ok, we gotta do something to make this official. It gotta be the official business. And once I decided that I was gonna become a full entertainer, I decided that I was gonna be the hardest worker in bounce music. And that’s what I did.

SURVIVING HURRICANE KATRINA 

I went through it all: sleeping on a bridge; sleeping at the convention center; having to get rescued on a Greyhound bus and then taking a flight to Arkansas; staying at a camping ground; going to a church campsite. It was bad for all of us, meaning that we had to be displaced from our city, from our homes. Things had to be destroyed, but it also was a new refresh. It helped New Orleans get reconstructed, to a bigger and better city. It helped getting bounce music worldwide, [because] we were displaced all over the place.

 

I was displaced into Houston. I made my decision that I would be staying in Houston to get my life together and … I started traveling and doing music. I turned into an even bigger artist. I was back in [New Orleans in] no time. Almost a year. There’s no place like home — the food, the people. I grew up there my whole life.

"DEFINITELY FEELS SURREAL"

  

I never thought I would ever be on TV. But I know who I am and I never lose myself in the things that I do to try to get my career to the next level. So what you see is who I am. It definitely feels surreal sometimes when I see myself on TV and it’s just like, Wow, you have came a long ways.

"THE POWER OF THE ASS"

[Dancing to bounce music is] for everybody, and guys get up there do it, and especially for women, to be able to express themselves and not feel threatened. And gay folks get up there and do it, and everybody get up there and do it. I bring all walks of life together, through the power of the ass.

"I'M BOY. I'M GIRL. I'M WHATEVER YOU WANT ME TO BE."

My fans, of course, prefer [to call me] she. People who’s close to me, they say he, because they know who I am. Me, frankly, I don’t give a shit. I know who I am. I’m Freddy. I’m Freedia. I’m boy. I’m girl. I’m whatever you want me to be. [laughs] Ok? That’s just the way it is.



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