Big Freedia on Miley Cyrus and 'Transforming One Twerker at a Time'
By John Hutt
Big Freedia has been closely tied to New Orleans for years, but she's about to have her big moment in the national spotlight, when her TV show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, premieres October 2 on Fuse.
Wait: You still haven't heard of Bounce? Then it's time to wake up. The bass-heavy dance music genre has been going strong in New Orleans for decades. It's the reason we got twerk, the bootyshaking dance that is a genre in itself—and suddenly having a moment in the limelight due to Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards. We caught up with Big Freedia after her recent performance at the AfroPunk Festival in Brooklyn last month, where she caused the diverse crowd to attempt to shake their shit to her Bounce to find out what the future has in store for us—as the world finally learns to twerk.
Out: So, I loved your performance at the AfroPunk Festival, but how was the event for you?
Big Freedia: Oh it was amazing; I had a blast. It was very unique and different: a lot creative and very stylish people. New York is a blast!
Have you noticed any discrepancies between audience interaction in other cities vs. NOLA?
Well, it's aways different when you go outside of New Orleans; they are so familiar with bounce music, and they know what's funky back. So when I go out of town, it get an even bigger buzz, because they're not as familiar with it; they don't see it as much as you get to see it here in NOLA—so it's a little something special for the audience out of town to enjoy. There is certainly a lot of bounce in New Orleans.
Where are some of your favorite places to play?
New York being one of them for sure, my second city to love play in is L.A., and well, shit, I like to perform all over the world. Transforming one twerker at a time!
We loved you in the song and video for "Peanut Butter" with RuPaul. Where did that idea come from?
Well, Ru came up with concept of the song, then they got the track to me, and I just put my parts and fill it in, so I'm not familiar where he got the idea from. I just had to expand my version of it, and then they put it together. The song was actually totally different before the results of it came back; it was a totally different sound and then, when I got it back [to Ru's people], that was the end result of it.
OK, one more about Ru-related matter. Your preferred pronoun is "she," while RuPaul's is "he," and several of the contestants that have been on RuPaul's Drag Race have since transitioned to women. What are you're feelings about that show, and what it says about gender?
This is how I look at it: When it comes to the pronouns he/she, I'm comfortable with who I am, and I'm more than sure Ru is comfortable with who he is, and all of the people on Drag Race. Sometimes the fans get... it's whatever they feel comfortable with. I have fans who say "he" all the time; I have fans who say "she" all the time. I'm confident in who I am, and I know what I stand for. When they say either/or, I'm not affected by either/or because, like I said, I know who I am.
Whatever makes my fans comfortable—to be able to call me "he" or "she,"—I'll allow. I let them have the freedom to choose either one. I'm more than sure that's the same way they feel on Drag Race. A lot of people just can't accept the fact of calling a man "she." I totally understand that, and it's never offensive to me, because I was born a man, my preferred pronoun is she—but it's not a big thing to me.
Let's talk about the VMAs.
Oh my god...
So Miley Cyrus's performance at the VMAs: everyone has been talking about how she was twerking. Do you feel that a movement that you helped start is being co-opted and diluted by people like Miley, who don't really know what their doing but calling it twerking?
Oh Lord, most definitely, most definitely. A lot of people are really upset with it, about her using the word twerking, trying to twerk. It's definitely helping to get Bounce music to the next level or whatever.
But people feel like she is disrespecting the culture and disrespecting the moves because she's just not that familiar with them. You know, being an original twerker and I've been twerking for the last 14 to 15 years here in New Orleans—people have been twerking for over two decades here in New Orleans—we've been working hard to get the Bounce music to become more mainstream. I have been traveling all around the world for the last three years transforming one twerker at a time. Then to see someone else come in, trying to jump on something that's hot: It's very offensive to me, and it's very offensive to my audience who know where twerking comes from.
But, like I said, it also helps the game out, to bring more attention on the twerking side of things. So it's kind of a two-part situation: some people feel it's disrespectful, and some people feel it can help us in certain ways just to get more attention on Bounce music and on the twerking side of things.
But it should have been me at the VMAs twerking and really showing how it goes; Imma give Miley a lesson real soon, somebody’s gonna make that happen really, really soon!
I wrote something about how Miley doesn’t know what she's doing, so you agree?
Yeah, she definitely doesn’t know what she's doing. But I applaud her efforts of trying to twerk, because I have people at the shows who don't know exactly how to twerk, and I applaud them for their efforts and encourage them to keep on practicing. Keep on twerking!
Along that line, Le1f was also performing at AfroPunk: How do you feel about the Macklemore/Le1f “feud.” Is it a good thing that Macklemore used his entitlement as a straight white man to get a message across about same-sex love? And wouldn't it be more powerful if a queer person of color won an award for that? Is it wrong that Macklemore is getting an award for speaking a message that he isn't really a part of?
People get things all twisted and go into the wrong direction of giving awards and not really knowing who deserves it. I just feel like they want to give the award to somebody, they didn’t know who to give it to basically, and they just made it happen for their best publicity.
So it's fine that it was given to a straight white man?
Well, I totally don't agree with it, but it's just like I said, it was for the best publicity. If they don't do the history of where that award should have really went and the background and checking and all of that; I say they were just giving it away and didn't do their homework on who to give the award to.
So I know you have some plans in the work, including your TV show. What can we expect?
I have a new song called “Twerk” that will be coming out real soon. The reality show drops October 2 on Fuse network. And keep supporting New Orleans and Bounce! music and our culture and our history. Keep the twerk alive!
Watch a sneak peek from Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce below: