It’s no understatement to say that Big Freedia is legendary. Since the late 90s, the Queen of Bounce (as she was crowned by none other than Mia X) has been making infectious, high-energy bangers, filling clubs first across her home city of New Orleans and, now, worldwide. Although the twerk has been a fixture of the bounce scene for decades, Freedia claimed a world record by assembling 358 dancers to twerk simultaneously in 2013. Just last year, she teamed up with Queen Bey herself, providing a series of iconic vocals (“I came to slay, bitch!”) for the Formation video.
This year, Freedia is proving her resilience. The last 12 months have seen the icon experience legal trouble over fraudulent income statements, but she’s back with the sixth series of her reality show to set the record straight. Her story resonates; not only has she discussed growing up young, black and gay in an area where homosexuality isn’t widely accepted, she has worked tirelessly over the last two decades to establish herself as a bounce legend, building herself up to the global profile she enjoys and utilises for empowerment today. Here’s breakdown of the events that punctuated her meteoric rise.
Mid to late 90s: Meeting Drag Queen and Bounce Artist Katey Red
I first met Katey Red a long time ago, probably in about 1995, through one of our other best friends Adolf. We all just started hanging out and became girlfriends or whatever. In 1998, Katey started her bounce music career and, me being her friend, I started to support her, to background for her and to just be there for her. People kept saying I had the voice for bounce, and I was already well known in New Orleans, so I started to do my own solo project maybe two years later.
2005: Hurricane Katrina
I was very unhappy at being displaced. I love my city and I love where I grew up, so I was eager to come back and, once I did get back, I felt like I could be such a great help to the rebuilding process and that I could try to get people to come home. I had been to Shreveport, I had been to Houston, but it was just not happening for me in those places. There’s no place like home!
2010 – 2013: Late Career Resurgence and Reality Show
When I hit the New York Times and that article [2010’s New Orleans’s Gender-Bending Rap feature] started to blow up everywhere, people started to call me and book me all over the world. Then, when my agency started putting all of the different countries on the agenda it was like… Wow, this is really happening! The reality show wasn’t a difficult decision for me. My life is a story!
2015: Autobiography God Save the Queen Diva!
The autobiography happened really quickly. We had been thinking about it, but we actually wrote the book in just a few months. I think my story could definitely help some young gay person on their journey, but it could also help different people in different situations, not just a young, gay black person. There’s something for everyone to relate to – the passing of my mother, how I got in the bounce game, how I worked my butt off, all the trials that I went through growing up.
2016: A Call from Beyoncé
Oh my God, Beyoncé is my girl! When I found out she was a fan of mine I was just blown away, and then when I got that phone call from her I was obviously even more blown away. Just to even be at that level, where somebody of that calibre loves you and loves your work, is such an amazing feeling. To get to where I am now, it’s about consistency and steady working – it’s about always grinding. I had been doing this for such a long time before I blew up, but it was all about getting that work in.
2017: TV series Big Freedia Bounces Back
Everything is real on my show. Life adversities come and go, and people can bounce back. I want to give people courage and inspiration, to help them see that, no matter what you go through, you can come back from it. It’s going to be real juicy! I am mostly excited about the new season, but I am a little nervous about this one in particular because of all the changes that have happened over the last year. Sometimes, fans can be cruel, because they don’t understand why you make certain changes. They don’t always get the full story, so we try to put it all in the show. It’s complicated, but I try to do my best to explain things and let people know where I’m coming from. Hopefully, they get it.
Big Freedia appears at Afropunk, Printworks, London, 22-23 July