A chat with Big Freedia!
Text av Juliet Atto
We had a sit down with the queen of bounce Big Freedia, right before her live show in Stockholm! We talked about her collaboration with Beyoncé, being a black queer artist and her rise to mainstream superstardom.
Tell me about your beginnings in the bounce scene.
I came from New Orleans. I’ve been going 20 years in the game now. I started in 1998, backgrounding for my best friend Katey Red for about two years and then I started doing my solo project. Ever since about 2000 I’ve been doing my own; traveling the world, making people aware of bounce music and the culture. I’ve seen every size and shape ass, all walks of life. When you come to a Freedia concert, that’s what it’s about; bringing all walks of life together. No matter if you’e black, white, straight or gay, through the power of ass – that’s what I do.
It’s been an amazing journey, rough at the same time. Facing some adversity; being black and gay. But not giving up and moving forward, continuing to break barriers and knock down doors for a lot of people in the LGBTQ community and people in general who believe in their craft and what they want to do.
So you’ve become this icon, particularly for the black queer community. I’m a black queer person myself, who’s been organising black queer people in Sweden. We exist here as well!
It definitely has grown since I was here [in Sweden] in 2011. I see a lot more black people now and I’m very happy about that.
We’re about 200 000 black people in Sweden actually.
Oh wow, that’s amazing.
We’ve been having this movement going on for a few years now, getting together and finding each other. But being a black queer artist, have you noticed change or more representation within the music industry?
I have. Over the years, it was so underground for so long and then once I started to travel the world I started seeing more gay artists being visible and just myself in general becoming well known. People booking me all over and just like representing for the LGBTQ community and it’s just been a journey of growing over a period of time. And it’s just getting better each year. I’ve had my TV show for six seasons and that has opened a lot of doors for people even on TV. It showed a black gay artist fighting through adversity in the music industry. Of course with RuPaul and Drag Race, that opened a lot of avenues for the drag community.
You’ve collaborated with RuPaul. Do you guys look after each other, black queer artists? There are some popping out; Janelle Monáe came out, we have Syd from The Internet…
We definitely defend each other, because we’re all we got and when Ru hit me up wanting to do a song with me, I was blown away because I have been such a fan for such a long time and then for her to know who I was and wanting to work with me, it was just so amazing. Because I had looked up to Ru as Mother of all of us and Ru is just so amazing – the work ethic, being so popular and holding it together for the LGBTQ community. She does such an amazing job and she needs some folks to help carry that torch with her and I was happy to be a part of that.
Now that you’ve been crossing over, so to speak, what are your ambitions? You mentioned looking up to Ru, who has “crossed over”, is that your ambition? To gain more notoriety and be more mainstream? Like you’ve been for the past few years?
Yeah, definitely that. Just to keep setting the bar high and letting them know that we’re here to stay and that we’re not going anywhere. And to just keep opening doors for all people, especially in the LGBTQ community and especially up and coming gay artists. Even just gay people in general, to let them know no matter what your craft is that you can be the best at it and you can keep on knocking doors down and break barriers.
How do you balance coming from an underground scene and to now have songs on the radio, topping the charts? How do you stay authentic to your bounce roots?
Always going back home, being with my family and friends. It keeps me grounded. But most of all and most importantly is prayer and God keeping my grounded. That is what keeps me balanced. I pray before every show, I pray all the time. Just remembering where I come from and the journey that has gotten me here. But I always want to remain authentic and remain humble and remain true to myself. I always think about that; not losing myself within the growing process of getting bigger.
I guess it helps that you have been around for so long? It might have been different if you had just started out.
Yeah, it’s been baby steps throughout the whole 20 year process. So it’s all growing pains for me and it’s being able to tell my story and know that I came from here and I still have so much more room to grow.
So I want to of course know about the collaborations with Beyoncé and Drake. I was wondering from my own perspective as a black queer person; hearing your voice in their songs but wanting to see more of you. I felt like you didn’t get enough credit, not being in the videos or being a featured artist. It reminded me of the black queer erasure. Here you have the two biggest pop stars in the world, featuring someone less normative that they sample and get cred for but not fully giving that exposure to the artist they are using. That’s my interpretation, but how do you feel about it?
Well, for me, for the Beyoncé collaboration, it was an awesome collaboration as well as with Drake. When they shot the [Beyoncé] video I was on tour. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t be in the video. It was in New Orleans but I couldn’t make that one. But even just like the feature credit on the Beyoncé track [Formation], I could’ve gotten that and I don’t know whether mix up came in from their team or my team for not putting the credits on the song.
But she did allow me to perform for her and open up the concert in The Superdome, so that was putting a face with the voice. A lot people knew who it was, because people were buzzing all over for me. Like I said, it’s baby steps in this process so that was another door being opened and as you can see Drake came. Now I’m labelled on the song [Nice for What], featuring Big Freedia. Now that video was shot before I got on the song. So the song needed something else and they called me after the video was shot and added the voice. So I spiced it up. Next thing I know I hear the song and people are like “wow, you’re on a Drake song, are you fucking kidding me?”
So that was a magical moment. Both of them were moments that were magical because I didn’t know if it had gotten through or not. With Beyoncé, I didn’t know I had made the cut. They were like “oh my God, we love it, it’s perfect” but still didn’t say “oh, you’re definitely going to be on it”. I heard it when it came out. But you know it’s growing pains, it’s stepping stones for me and for other artists out there. Everything is possible. Being on the songs of two of the biggest stars in the world is amazing for me and for the culture of bounce music and it’s steady opening new doors for me. Lots and lots of people are reaching out, wanting me to be on their songs.
You obviously have huge support within the LGBTQ community, how does It feel within the black community? I loved reading about your mom and how supportive she was when you came out and I had a similar experience with my mom. There’s this misconception and stereotype of black parents and the black community being homophobic.
When I was younger, it was much harder for the black community to support. Because it was like “oh my God, you’re gay. We don’t want our family member to be gay”. That’s the stuff that you used to hear in the neighbourhoods. But my family was supportive and I was grateful for that.
Within the black gay community in general, I feel like I have half of the support. Sometimes our own don’t even want to support us. It gets very hard when your own people don’t want to support you. Sometimes when I do a concert and it’s a mixed crowd, and it’s mostly white gays, they are screaming and hollering at my performance, versus me doing a black gay club; they’re just standing there and don’t applaud when the song is over. It’s just a different vibe and a different feeling. It’s like “are y’all with me or are y’all against me”, you know? So our people have to learn how to really support our own.
I agree with that. Has that changed at all over the years?
It has gotten better, but I feel like it has much more room to grow in that area for the black community. Because we support what we want to support. If we don’t support our own though, how you expect people to support you and black businesses and just our own in general? We eat at Applebee’s before we go and support one of our own restaurants.
With police brutality, we want to go off when we see a white person do something to the black community, but when the black community is doing something in general to itself we don’t stand up. It’s so crazy and we have to learn how to balance life on both ends.
I think it’s still a colonised mindset, that we’re not used to seeing each other succeed and we don’t really know how to handle it in a way.
I’ve been organising black queer people for a few years now and I have had my own frustrations, to say the least. Like “hey, here we are trying to do something for us, to uplift each other” because we have to celebrate our blackness and queerness. We only get together when it’s something negative; racism, oppression, when we’re getting killed.
Exactly! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. We can lift each other up, but they have to be willing. You have to get out of that mindset of just being about self. A helping hand won’t hurt.
Now you’re on a European tour…
Just picking up more fans on the European side of things. Being able to experience this side of the world, which is an amazing feeling. Just to enjoy the cultures, the food, the music, the people. I have been here many times and it’s just amazing the growth that I’m steady seeing. When you step into other countries it’s like the beginning process all over again, because it’s a whole other world. I gotta work hard to get the fans into the music and get them on Freedia’s camp and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
What’s the reception like in Europe versus the States? Here it can be a bit milder I guess?
It can be but in certain places it’s not! Berlin was very turnt, Amsterdam was turnt. It just depends on the area and the vibe of the event coordinators and the people who are throwing the event. If you set the tone right, the people are going to wild out regardless. It’s about the promotion, the hype, the music you’re playing before the artist comes on. It’s about the things you have available for the people. It’s the whole surroundings that make the event.
So how do you feel about your status as an icon? Do you feel it on you or do you block it out?
I feel it on me but I also block it out because I still have a lot of work to do. There are many goals and accomplishments that I want to make in life. I take one day at a time. Keep teaching someone how to twerk, someone to bounce and get into bounce music. So I take it one day at a time and a few people at a time. Make them enjoy life and make them enjoy what I do and see the culture of New Orleans. I can’t bring everybody to New Orleans, so I bring a piece of New Orleans with me.
Any final words to black queer people and our readers in general?
Smile, bitch! I’m kidding, but live your best life. Just be free. Whatever your goals in life are, work hard at it and believe in your craft. Love yourself, love the people around you. It’s important to have great, positive people around you because that energy is very important in whatever you’re doing and no matter who you are.
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