The Queen: Big Freedia

Big Freedia's Booty Bounce Class

Caption: Big Freedia's Booty Bounce Class at Beerland

When I picked up my Chaos in Tejas wristband, the day before the fest’s first day, I was also given a schedule. I already knew the main attractions that I wanted to see. But looking at the schedule I noticed that my much anticipated Thursday night with Big Freedia was going to start a little bit early. Big Freedia was going to be giving “booty dance” lessons a couple of hours before the show.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my booty dance class. Last time I officially enrolled in a dance class was when I took ballet in kindergarten. My teacher wouldn’t let us sit down for the entire hour and I quit after just one year. I started dancing again during those awkward middle school years in which I was desperately trying to impress boys. If you watch Toddlers and Tiaras and see some super young girls doing somewhat vulgar, sexually-explicit dance moves, you might get the general idea of what was going on. As with many situations that I reflect upon from my youth, I find myself thinking, “what the hell was I doing?” So, while I was excited to learn how to shake my grown ass properly, I was a little bit self-conscious and worried about my upcoming lesson. What kind of shoes should I wear? What about a skirt? Well, I went with sneakers (even though I wanted to wear flip flops) and a skirt. The skirt was a mistake, as I realized about 20 seconds into the lesson when Freedia had us spread-eagle on the floor to stretch.

From the second I arrived at Beerland amid almost purely women, I was scoping out the scene. I’m not proud of it, but I want to admit publicly to this behavior, because I know a lot of us girls are guilty of it. About a lot of the women I saw, I thought things like “ughhh, what is she wearing?” or “I think I might have a better ass than her.” Obviously it was totally useless garbage. I think that years of going to male-dominated hardcore shows really screwed up my ability to like most girls at face value. I’m not sure what it is about the punk scene or male dominated avenues of life in general, but they really make women in competition with each other. I remember being extremely judgmental of one girl in particular. She didn’t seem to be dressed very practically, and had obviously spent a lot of time (too much in my opinion at the time) on her hair and makeup. I didn’t know that I was about to flash my crotch to Big Freedia’s assistant and a guy in a wheelchair, or I wouldn’t have thought that her outfit was remotely inappropriate in comparison. Once the class started, it appeared that I was one of the only girls there without a small group of friends. Fine, right? Well, we all stretched and then started shakin’ it and working up a sweat with Freedia when, about half-way through, she asked us to partner up. Oh great. Well, guess who else arrived solo? My impractically-dressed already arch nemesis. We did the practical thing and became partners. The first exercise that Freedia had us do in our new partnerships was take turns dancing. One person dances while the other one claps and cheers her on. I danced first and this girl, who I’d already pinned at a huge bitch, clapped and cheered me on, and made me feel not just like an awesome dancer, but possibly the best dancer ever. Then we switched and I found myself thinking, “wow, she’s pretty good!” By the end of Freedia’s class, I not only knew how to bounce my ass just right, but I left really appreciating every other girl’s ability to do so, as well. It was amazing to me how, in about 20 minutes, Freedia had cured me of a long-time inability to get along with women.

Bounce Music

For those of you who don’t know, Big Freedia is a super hard-working interior designer/rapper/teacher from New Orleans. She’s tall (like 6’3” or something) and doesn’t dress super girly. I noticed during her instruction that her ass isn’t much bigger than your average guy’s, but she can really shake it. Freedia was a backup singer for Katey Red about thirteen years ago and has been working her way into bounce music ever since. Katey Red claims the title of bounce music’s first tranny rapper and there have been many to follow in her footsteps. She and Big Freedia are best friends to this day, and Katey opened up for Freedia at their Chaos show on Thursday night, May 31^st^. Both Katey and Freedia are native New Orleans girls and do what is known as bounce music.

Bounce music originated in New Orleans technically in the 1980s, but is widely considered to have started with a 1991 track called “Where Dey At” by MC T. Tucker and DJ Irv. Bounce is a style of rap that is known for its call-and-response structure and, as of late, for its hypersexuality. The track “Where Dey At” sampled what is called a “triggerman beat” that was originally used in The Showboys’ song, “Drag Rap,” in the mid-1980s. The Showboys weren’t making bounce music, nor were they from New Orleans. Virtually every bounce song samples the triggerman beat, or one inspired by it, to this day. According to Wikipedia and every bounce interview I’ve read, bounce music is strictly party music. Just like most genres of rap, bounce seems to be very male dominated – hardly any women are making this type of music.

In the bounce scene, just like in many other scenes, it is apparent that women fill certain roles. From what I can see, the only highly available role for women in the bounce scene is dancing. There is a specific dance style, of which I learned the basics of in Big Freedia’s booty class, that can be seen repeated in every bounce music video and every live performance on YouTube. So, at its core, bounce music is party music and it’s music for girls (and guys alike, but mostly girls) to dance to. New Orleans DJ Black n’ Mild, said it simply: “If you don’t play the bounce music for the girls, the girls are gonna leave.”

One of Big Freedia's backup dancers headstand bouncing.

Caption: One of Big Freedia's backup dancers headstand bouncing.

Women in Bounce

It seems like the few female artists out right now, in addition to not being very popular, aren’t much good. They are simply trying to out-do the boys with raunchier lyrics and more ghetto-ness, while musically not really breaking any boundaries. One glaring exception to this is the late Magnolia Shorty, who was not only extremely popular in New Orleans, but was on her way to the top as the second female to ever be signed to Cash Money Records. Magnolia Shorty’s music is really good, and it was unique in that she was doing something in the bounce scene that was determinately not blending in with the boy’s club. In a SXSW interview she gave with AOL’s Spinner, Magnolia talked about the meaning behind her lyrics.

“It’s about how women are towards other women, things that men do to women that hurt them. I just give a woman a message that she can relate to.”

Perhaps this is the striking difference between Magnolia Shorty’s music and that of the male bounce artists, or even some of the other female ones: lyrics that girls can relate to. But, even if the majority of bounce music isn’t written for women, it’s still popular with women. Women go to the clubs to dance and listen to bounce music, just like DJ Black n’ Mild said.

So, it seems that for the most part, girls in bounce are dancers. A prime example of some dedicated dancers in the scene would be the Shake Team. Shake Team is a group made up of three girls who professionally dance at events, and in music videos, as well as in other faculties. I discovered the Shake Team when I came across a music video by Mr. Ghetto entitled “Walmart.” The video is basically Mr. Ghetto walking around Walmart while two Shake Team girls, in short-shorts, booty dance up and down the aisles as well as in various parts of the parking lot. The lyrics of “Walmart” are minimalistic, mostly talking about things to do at Walmart, including, but not limited to, picking up girls. Mr. Ghetto doesn’t dance in his video – not even the male version of a booty dance called Peter Pan or Peter Piper, which consists of poppin’ your shoulders and bouncing your dick up and down. Mostly Mr. Ghetto is seen looking at the Shake girls like they are about to get fucked. Mr. Ghetto may be visually degrading these girls, but that’s where he draws the line. This is more than can be said for the rappers in some of the other music videos in which the Shake girls appear – dancing while getting spanked hard.

Although the Shake Team’s manager refused to let me interview them, a glance at the Shake Team’s Facebook pictures told me what I already suspected based upon the general response that women had to the Walmart video. Some Facebook pictures showed the three girls posing and dancing at various events, while very scantily clad, amongst crowds of glaring and frowning women and girls. It seems that, for the most part, the female half of the audience were not huge fans. So why are all these women hating on the Shake girls? The team’s manager responded to women who felt their dancing was degrading or offensive with, “I say they can’t move that fast, that’s why they feel that way.”

In reference to women in bounce, I’ve clearly left out Big Freedia, Katey and several others worth mentioning. I want to discuss their music separately, because while they are clearly women making good and very popular bounce music, what has become apparent to me is that they are not part of the mainstream bounce scene in New Orleans. Particularly, they don’t relate to women in the way that mainstream bounce music does.

Sissy Bounce

Big Freedia’s music, along with several of her peers’, has been classified as “sissy bounce.” A term apparently regretfully coined by New Orleans journalist Alison Fensterstock, sissy bounce refers to bounce music created by homosexuals and gender-bending rappers. It should be known that, for the most part, those making “sissy” music aren’t crazy about the terminology – mostly because of the distinction from mainstream bounce music, which is (sound-wise) what they are making. I’d also like to point out that the mainstream (mostly male) bounce scene is somewhat resentful of the sissies as well. The main factor behind the hard feelings being that sissy bounce is attracting a lot of media attention lately as well as gaining popularity with a wider audience than bounce has previously had. Although some of the guys involved in bounce music have been doing it for years, the only bounce music getting mainstream international exposure is sissy bounce. Apparently, some people think thatall bounce music is sissy and this is offensive to the straight guys doing bounce.

With no offense intended to Big Freedia, or the ladies and gentlemen of sissy bounce, in my opinion sissy bounce and mainstream bounce couldn’t be more different. I think the distinction for me was really made clear at my booty dance class. Normally, if I was shaking my ass in a downtown bar, I’d be hoping like crazy that no creepy guys were looking at my behind. During Freedia’s class, I didn’t really care that there were creepy guys surrounding the outer edges of the class – I was dancing for Freedia and I was dancing for fun. Maybe it was the not caring and the un-self-consciousness of it that made all of us ladies get along. If I was impressed with the vibes at the dance class (and I was) it was nothing to how I felt at Big Freedia’s show later that night.

During Big Freedia’s set, while shakin’ my thang with all my new girlfriends, I started to wish that all of the guys in the crowd would just leave. At one point during the show, a guy in the crowd began pushing his way through the hordes of women, trying to get closer to the stage. He started to really bother some of the girls and then, out of nowhere, one girl punched him in the face as hard as she could. The reaction to this scenario was insane. Girls went wild all around her and they were clapping and giving each other high-fives. The guy got freaked out and left. By the end of the set, I realized that there were hardly any males left in the crowd. A guy friend of mine, after the show, told me that he had gone inside about half-way through because he felt like he really didn’t belong there. I think that Big Freedia is good at what she does, but based on the rest of the sissy bounce music videos and show footage that I’ve seen, sissy bounce brings women together. Sissy bounce is music by women for women and that is what sets it apart from regular bounce.

After the show, my editor Brandon and I caught up with Freedia for a quick interview:

Big Freedia & Katey Red

Caption: Big Freedia & Katey Red onstage at Club DeVille. Big Freedia got her start as a backup singer for Katey Red in New Orleans, about 13 years ago.

Lisa: So you seem like you’re kind of an ass enthusiast.

Freedia: I would say definitely.

Lisa: Ok. So I don’t know if you know this but they’ve been doing more butt implants in the past couple years than breast implants.

Freedia: Oh definitely.

Lisa: Can you tell? Can you spot a fake ass?

Freedia: It depends on how much they’re exposing it, but I can, yeah definitely. It kind of has a lil’ fake look to it, as well. Real asses, you can tell them right off the bat. And then when they’re implants, there’s something that gives it away automatically to me. And I’ve been around a lot of drag queens and transsexuals that have it, so I know when it’s not real.

Lisa: Have you ever wished that your ass was bigger?

Freedia: Actually, my ass was bigger. I was actually way bigger than what I am now. And over the course of the years of performing, I’ve lost weight and slimmed down. But my ass was kind of big like Travis, the big guy who was on stage. Yeah, I kind of miss my ass. Yeah, definitely.

Lisa: Who would you say has your favorite ass, celebrity-wise?

Freedia: Favorite ass, celebrity-wise? Beyoncé.

Lisa: I knew you were going to say that!

Freedia: Beyoncé, baby! Oh yes.

Lisa: Who’s the best male ass?

Freedia: Ummmm … you’re trying to get my boyfriend to hurt me.

Lisa: We don’t have to print it.

Freedia: I’d rather not say who’s my favorite male ass.

Lisa: I read something that one of your people said, that your shows are the opposite of punk and hardcore shows because the girls are in the middle and the guys are kind of outsiders. And I always noticed that girls in hardcore don’t seem to like each other and girls here do like each other.

Freedia: Oh yeah. Definitely. Bounce music kind of brings people together because it’s a happy music, a joyful music. And when, for years we’ve been training the girls to dance together and shake together, so it kind of still works that way everywhere I go. And it just like opens up the dance floor and makes everybody want to dance and have fun together versus being battling each other or opposite of, you know, negativity.

Brandon: Is that unique to your shows? Or do other bounce artists have that same vibe?

Freedia: Well they kind of have that same vibe, but I’m different from everybody. You know? Each one of us is different and my show is just different and unique in my own way because of how I bring it.

Brandon: I’ve never seen women feel more powerful at a concert anywhere else.

Freedia: That’s the whole point of it. Making people feel empowered to dance and be free and to be themselves on the dance floor without any stipulations behind it at all.

Brandon: Did you go into this wanting to do that?

Freedia: It kind of happened on its own. Them backing me, I’m backing them. Us helping each other along the way through all of the way. So it kind of just happened on its own. And it’s just a blessing, you know?

Lisa: So, you work a lot.

Freedia: Oh, I’m the hardest worker in bounce.

Lisa: I believe it. Six shows a week is your average or something?

Freedia: Or more.

Lisa: Does that feel like work? Do you ever get sick of it?

Freedia: Sometimes it gets frustrating, but it’s my job, it’s what I love to do and for the most part I do it for the fans. So any of the negativity, my fans overpower all of that. I’m just focused on entertaining my fans and making them have a good time no matter what place I’m at, what state, how far I had to travel, any of my conditions that are going on at home. I just put everything aside for that moment to entertain my fans, which is important to me. Because that’s my support behind me.

Brandon: Do you put on the same show seven days a week?

Freedia: Oh yeah.

Lisa: And you have the same people coming?

Freedia: All the time.

Lisa: So you have the best following …

Freedia: I do. I have some really loyal fans and they love what I do and I just appreciate each and every last one of them for support in what I do and bounce music from New Orleans.

Lisa: I know you’re tired and thank you so much.

Freedia: Thank you for having me.

I think what Big Freedia does for women that is so special, is that she eliminates this feeling of competition that we all seem to have against one another. I can see why women in particular go to her show night after night. You just feel so good afterward. At her Chaos show, like always, Big Freedia brought a dance team of her own – they were scantily clad and could’ve easily given Shake Team a run for their money, but not a single girl gave them a dirty look the whole time.

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