After setting the Guinness World Record for twerking by showing the universe what 358 booties popping in unison looks like, bounce MC Big Freedia is out to prove that the ass-shaking dance, and the deep-rooted culture that birthed it, is more than just a cheap way for celebrities like Miley Cyrus to get attention.
“The ass is an art,” Big Freedia declared via phone from New Orleans, where locals were shaking it long before YouTube taught white girls how to twerk upside down in their living rooms and mainstream culture ushered in the Age of the Booty.
“People see all these other people twerking, but when they see a true New Orleans person twerk or shake or bounce, they be like, ‘Oh my GOD.’ We’ve been doing it so long, it starts when we’re babies in Pampers,” he continued.
Born Freddie Ross, Big Freedia is the preeminent cultural ambassador to New Orleans bounce, a Southern-fried flavor of underground hip-hop that blends relentlessly pounding Triggerman beats, call and response shout-outs, and heavy sampling into the kind of track that makes a booty move like its got a mind of its own.
So forget Miley: Big Freedia is the closest thing we’ve got to twerking royalty these days. What’s more, the out and proud 6-foot-3 vision of gender-bending booty-popping positivity says he’s on a mission from God to spread the gospel of bounce.
“God has sent me in so many different directions,” he said. “I have a purpose and a message to get across, and hopefully somebody out there in the world can take from that.”
He does that with songs like “Booty Whop,” “Duffy,” “Y’all Get Back Now,” “Gin N My System,” and his 2013 RuPaul collab “Peanut Butter,” championing what he calls the “Big Freedia Movement,” a campaign of dance floor empowerment “for men, women, straight, gay—a celebration of ass and of life, and just being free.”
Local stardom came post-Katrina, when Big Freedia and fellow bounce performers like Katey Red and Sissy Nobby would play up to six nights a week at shows with names like FEMA Fridays, and after he made an appearance on HBO’s Treme playing himself. An interior designer by day, Big Freedia’s brand went mainstream after he was approached by Fuse TV to anchor his own reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, now in its third season.
“New Orleans has gone through so many trials and tribulations, I think we needed something fun,” he said. “Bounce is something that’s fun and represents everybody, and it makes everybody here happy. You put on a bounce song and grandma starts shaking her leg, or grandpa might get up and do something crazy because that’s just the way it is in New Orleans. It brings people together. Even our funerals are like a block party, and we’re celebrating the person that’s passed away through the music.”
For a new photo series called “Twerk of Art,” Big Freedia invited fans into a studio to pose for him. They twerked, shook, and wobbled, “kind of like if you came to a Big Freedia show. You have fun, you let your hair down, and you just do what you feel. You don’t have to be judged or look a certain way, and that’s what it was about.”
Next up for Big Freedia is a memoir to be published this year by Simon & Schuster, a track collaboration with Diplo, an international tour, and more from his Fuse reality series, which was renewed for two more seasons after breaking records for the network last year.
“I’m about to be even bigger,” promised Big Freedia, who’s not worried about bootylicious celebs like Miley or J.Lo creeping on his twerking crown anytime soon. “I’m still the Queen.”