A lot of folks never heard the work “twerk” until last month, when Miley Cyrus’ embarrassing jiggling at the MTV Music Awards went viral. But the dance move has been around for decades, and no one knows it more than NOLA gal Big Freedia. Our celeb stalker Chris Azzopardi sat down with the Queen of Bounce to discuss the controversy, her very special gender identity and her new reality series.
Big Freedia likes big butts and she cannot lie — but, for the purpose of the dirty dance du jour known as twerking, size ain’t no thang.
“You just gotta know how to work it,” says the New Orleans-cultured bounce-music trailblazer, who asserts that even a little pancake fanny can do the job. “They have lots of flat asses in New Orleans, and they definitely know how to work ‘em.”
Expect those rumps to work and twerk on Big Freedia’s new reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, now airing for an eight-episode run on the cable music channel Fuse. For its kick-off last week, the network hosted a throng of ass-shakers in the Big Apple. Drawing 350-plus twerkers, the first event of its kind broke into the Guinness World Records. Why now?
“Everything has its time and season,” Freedia says, “and right now is the time and season of the twerking.”
And for proof, look no further than this year’s MTV Video Music Awards last month, where Miley Cyrus generated a flurry of bad buzz for twerking up on Robin Thicke. Even Freedia wasn’t impressed.
The queen insists, “They gotta get us together so I can give her ass a lesson.”
And no one’s more qualified for teaching twerk; when it comes to hip-wiggle, butt-dropping dance, Freedia’s practically got her Ph.D. Born Freddie Ross, the bounce purveyor has been — and pun intended — behind the movement’s surge ever since the early 1990s, when the genre was just an underground fixture. Singles like 1999’s “An Ha, Oh Yeah” and, more recently, “Peanut Butter” with RuPaul boosted Freedia’s profile, as did an opening slot on a Postal Service tour this year. A singles album, Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1, was released in 2010.
“We’ve been working hard the last few years making people twerk all around the world, and working to be mainstream,” she says. “We’re so excited about the whole twerking thing that’s going on right now.”
Freedia, of course, has something to dance about because, ever since she was a teenager, this has been a dream of hers — to see bounce reach a bigger audience. Then, it was just a high school pastime for her.
Bumping to genre staples like DJ Jubilee, DJ Jimi and “sissy bounce” artist Katey Red, Freedia recalls being “at the school dances, flipping upside down on the wall to bounce music.” It was at 16 that Freedia’s curiosity piqued regarding the opposite gender — and not in the sexy time way. Freedia was born a man, is gay and has a closet full of women’s clothes.
“I just always had a taste for different things,” she says. “I was growing up in a house full of women, and being around my mom and getting some of my class and style from my mom, it would make me wanna wear different things, especially girly stuff.”
That garb is the reason people often confuse Freedia for transgender. “I’m not a trannie,” she clarifies, adding that she’s not bothered by that — or which gender pronoun people use for her — because “I’m comfortable with who I am and I know who I am and I’m comfortable with my sexuality, but sometimes mistakes do happen and reporters do tend to come up with their own idea of what they think I am or how I classify myself.”
A label Freedia will challenge, a topic of discussion on the premiere episode of Queen of Bounce, is one that plagues plenty of queer performers: “gay artist.” It doesn’t bother her — again, she says, “I am what I am” — but if there’s an opportunity for a commercial breakthrough, where she can just be an “artist,” she’s obviously not opposed to it. As long as she doesn’t have to sacrifice who she is.
“To become mainstream is still hard work,” she says, “and I’m not hiding behind no shield trying to say, ‘Oh, I’m straight’ and then I’m gonna bust out gay later on. They gon’ take me gay full force one way or ‘nother, and I’m just gonna keep working and keep on grinding to keep making it mainstream. And I’ll make it mainstream in my own way.”
And now — thanks to Miley, thanks to the Oxford dictionaries (“twerk” became an entry this year) and especially thanks to Freedia — this is her time. Twerk is a cultural phenomenon. A reality show about it could be just the thing to push Freedia all the way to the top.
“I feel really amazing about all of the work that I’ve been putting in the last 14 years,” she says. “I still have a lot I want to accomplish and a lot of work I want to do, so it’s not over yet. But for now, I’m happy with where I stand and what I’ve done so far, but more to come, baby.”
For now, the focus is _Queen of Bounce_, a show not even its star knows much about. “It’s real and it’s about my life, but there are so many things that were recorded. And I haven’t really been watching the episodes. I wanna be surprised.”
But Freedia makes one promise: “You gon’ see ass everywhere.”