There’s only one Queen of Bounce and her name is Big Freedia. Don’t get it twisted.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, Big Freedia has been releasing the kind of high-energy club music guaranteed to make you twerk for over two decades. But in the last few years, she’s made a full crossover into the mainstream, collaborating with top artists like Drake (on his chart-topping 2018 singles “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings”) and Beyoncé (on the video for her Lemonade single “Formation”). Most recently, she shook the table with her instantly iconic cover of Lady Gaga’s “Judas,” which the pop star specifically requested Freedia reimagine for the tenth anniversary of her breakout album “Born This Way.”
Big Freedia has become a universal force, but throughout it all, the bona fide superstar has stayed fiercely loyal to her New Orleans hometown. She’s always using her global icon status to shine a light on the city’s unique culture—whether she’s “transforming the room into a New Orleans party” when she performs in different cities or educating people about the harrowing connection between poor Black communities and gun violence in her documentary “Freedia Got a Gun.” Similarly, she used “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce,” the Fuse docuseries which ran for six seasons from 2013 to 2017, to help inspire LGBTQ+ youth to stay true to themselves by showing that it was possible to achieve success without compromising your identity.
Though the pandemic expectedly forced the energetic performer to put a pause on her usual routine of constant touring and traveling, Freedia used her time off to prepare for her next era, which recently kicked off with the release of her new single “Betty Bussit.” And now, as the world reopens, the Queen is already returning to her packed schedule—she recently appeared as a guest judge on the just-premiered new season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.”
As Big Freedia gears up to release a new EP that she plans to tour all around the world, we caught up with the legendary musician to talk about her latest work, collaborating with Lady Gaga, why she values her mom’s validation more than anyone else’s, and how the love and support she’s always received from the New Orleans community helped shape her confidence.
You just dropped a new song that took the world by storm: a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Judas.” It came as a surprise for many of us but it’s so good. Can you tell me what that process was like? How did you link up with Lady Gaga?
Well, Gaga’s team reached out to ask if I would remix one of her songs for the ten-year anniversary of “Born This Way,” and I was super excited. I actually was supposed to be on “Born This Way” ten years ago, but, for whatever reason, things did not happen as planned. So I was just blown away. I was like, wow, it didn't happen ten years ago, but look how things come around—now, I'm the first featured song on the project. I was just super honored and super excited to get in the studio and recreate this new sound for Lady Gaga. I've always been a fan, and to be able to do this project for her, there was no better feeling.
Did you have a connection to “Judas” specifically?
We've all been betrayed at some point in our lives. My [version of the song] mostly speaks about being betrayed by a lover or someone who's been a part of your love life.
You’ve been in the music industry for around two decades now, and during that time, there’s been a huge shift in terms of queer visibility. Not that things are perfect, but we’re now living in a time where so many artists can be out and still have thriving careers. As someone who got your start in 2000, when this definitely wasn’t the case, how has it felt for you to watch the industry evolve and progress over the past 20 years?
The transition has been a fun process to see, especially from where I started to where things are currently. Things were not so accepted back [when I was starting]. A lot of times, we had to really fight for our way and fight for our rights and fight for what we believe in. We’re still fighting and we're still breaking barriers and knocking doors down, but we are more visible now. We're more into the light. More people are going mainstream. More people are on TV. It's just a great feeling to see the growth and support for all the people in the LGBTQ+ community. I think things will continue to grow and change, but we just have to keep taking it one step at a time.
In so many industries—whether it’s music or Hollywood—people are often advised to tone down their queerness, but you never did. How did you find the confidence to always stay true to yourself?
I think it has a lot to do with New Orleans and the support that I’ve always got from in and around my community. Also, the support that I got from my mom, because once I got approval from my mom, I didn't need approval or validation from anyone else. My mom was my biggest cheerleader and that was the biggest thing that helped me to be confident in myself.
But also, just hard work and consistency. Every time I hit the stage or every time I grabbed the mic, that was my practice of getting more and more confident to stay true to who I am and really be comfortable in my own skin—just owning up to what I love and what I love to do.
Do you think the genre you were operating in helped too? Bounce music is so dance-oriented, so I’d imagine the community around it might be more accepting.
Hell yeah. Definitely. Bounce is fun music. It’s party music. It changes the atmosphere in the room. I think being a part of bounce culture definitely helped me to be myself. We were just doing it for fun. As time went on, things started getting more serious and it was like, this seems like this is about to be your career. But I think the culture of bounce music definitely helped me be more confident because it was something fun and energetic for everybody.
The genre existed before you, but you’re undeniably the most visible bounce artist in the industry. You’re literally the Queen of Bounce! You’ve played a huge role in bringing this sound into the mainstream. I mean, you’ve collaborated with artists like Drake and Beyoncé, and now, Lady Gaga. Do you think the culture acknowledges your impact?
Most definitely. New Orleans knows that I represent for the culture. It's just been a lot of hard work and consistency. When I travel around the world to all these different places, I say, “Well, I'm going to take a little bit of New Orleans with me and we're going to transform the room into a New Orleans party.” So, New Orleans definitely has supported me throughout this journey of opening doors and really taking bounce music from the underground to the mainstream. Now, everybody wants a little bit of bounce. Everybody wants a little bit of twerking. And it’s due to the Queen busting her ass and going all around the world to open up a lot of doors.
Do you think your work has helped pave the way for a new generation of LGBTQ+ people?
Oh, most definitely. People always come to me to tell me their story — how my TV show [“Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce”] helped them, how seeing the things that I do in and around the community has helped them, how they’ve been able to come out to their family [because of me], how their mom learned to accept them by watching my relationship with my mom, how me being a bold and fierce artist helped them to find themselves.
I'm always trying to break barriers and help our community be stronger so a younger gay person knows there is hope—even if you come from the hood and the ghetto. [I want people to know] that if you put your mind to anything, if you focus and work really hard, if you’re open-minded and free-spirited, so many things can happen in your life and change in the right direction.
Earlier, you mentioned working on some new projects. Can you tell us more about that?
After dropping my new single “Betty Bussit,” my EP will drop later this summer. It’s called “Big Diva Energy” and I'm super excited about that because it's all about the energy you feel in your space, in your room, in your life, in the club—just all around you. The Diva always brings positive energy into the room and the songs that are coming out are filled with fire, love, joy, and dancing.
My last project came out right before the pandemic hit, so I was really bummed and depressed because it didn’t get the play and the promotion it deserved. It didn’t get the touring it deserved. Which is why I'm excited for my new project to come out. I really stepped it up. I stepped up the sound, I stepped up the collaborations. I stepped up the whole project. It’s Big Diva Energy!