We Brits tend to see Los Angeles in one of two ways: it’s either a post-apocalyptic nightmare of traffic snarl and Botox-ed visages in the JG Ballard mould; otherwise it’s a haven of sun, sea, surf and celebrity, a land of plentiful tans and perma-smiles. But in the midst of a resurgence of interest in underground US culture, spearheaded (at least for us) by OFWGKTA, we’ve decided to have a nose around LA’s backlot, exploring the hidden cultural resurgences, the recession-afflicted young creatives and the spirited cultural entrepreneurs who refuse to let their dreams go. Sans schmaltz, obvs. Anyway, the fabulous writer and urban explorer Clarissa Dolphin will be our knowledgeable guide for the journey, so strap yourselves in and get involved, we’re going deep Under The Freeway…
Self-proclaimed “Sissy” Big Freedia sat down with Notion before her show at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood over the weekend to discuss how her “Ass Everywhere” New Orleans bounce music revolution promotes self-expression and fosters gay rights.
PlanetNotion: I love playing [your video game] Booty Battle online. I’m completely obsessed and I’m like screw Pac Man because this is the lick right here! How important is Booty Battling to you? And, how often do you recommend that the average person toots her boot for mental and emotional health?
Big Freedia: Well, Booty Battle is very important to me because that’s what I do 24/7. I’m always on the stage making booties battle. You know, making people have a good time, that’s my forte, that’s my gig so I’m always making booties battle. And, it’s very important that people let loose their energy however many times necessary to make those fingers work. Like they’re thinking, that’s their ass onstage. Go for it. If you need to battle 12 times, battle 12 times, 15 so be it and so forth. Whatever gets them off. Just play it. Let’s play the Booty Battle, definitely. We’re actually trying to get an app for the phone so that you will be able to play it on your phone while you’re wherever.
PN: When I see you onstage, I see a deity, kind of like an androgynous goddess. You express what it really is to be human in a raw, unfiltered, pristine way. And, what I find really interesting is that there is a clear heritage, a clear lineage through New Orleans Bounce [music] coming out and radiating onstage for us. What is your take on how you redefine the idea of masculinity and femininity through performance and music?
BF: Well, you know me being who I am, I encourage all of my people to be bold, to be themselves, and just live and be free. And, I do that through my music and through my everyday living. And, I inspire a lot of people, just being myself onstage and off-stage and my whole character and my whole persona of just being me. And that’s what I push for everybody just to be themselves, to live freely, be who you are, strive for what your goals are, never give up, be consistent at what you do no matter what it is and that’s the Big Freedia model. I work hard. That’s why I’m the hardest working Sissy in bounce music. So it is what it is.
PN: In a larger conversation, I feel like the work that you do, as you just touched upon, really liberates people to express themselves, but it also pushes forward LGBT rights. We’ve got Frank Ocean coming out as gay, we’ve got Jay-Z endorsing gay marriage, this is huge, huge stuff. How do you contribute to that conversation and actually re-appropriate bass music, which was very disparaging and homophobic for years? How do you translate that conversation from hate to love through your work?
BF: I’m all about bringing all different walks of life together and that’s what a Big Freedia show is about. And, when you see all different walks of life come to my show, you get to interact on all different levels and the world is changing. People see that gays are not going anywhere. We have been striving for years [laughs] and we’re pushing through honey. I think time has evolved where people are starting to understand that this is not something that we asked to be and you know it’s just like really getting clicked into their minds, “Hey they’re human just like everybody.” What’s wrong with a gay guy? What’s wrong with a gay girl? The world is definitely changing and I’m just happy that I’m in the era where I can help people to be able to appreciate gay people, as an individual, as being just very artistic, creative, we’re some very unique creatures and that’s why God made us.
PN: I find your movement right now in this digital culture really really interesting. I’m obsessed with [late disco artist] Sylvester and Divine and the San Francisco drag gays of the 1970s. How is your movement similar and different?
BF: It’s similar in many ways because, I’m more than sure being an artist, we’re all pushing for the same goal, to help change the way people feel about gays and help change the world and let our voice be heard and stand on our own two grounds and be that voice that stands up for gay people and our rights. Also, just like Sylvester and all those [drag divas], those were icons and role models. I looked up to them growing up and now to be in a position where I’m in a new generation and being able to hold that throne that they had carried for so long, it’s just an honor to just be a part of the newer generation to kind of help them with this new journey. And then you know somebody is going to come after Freedia and so forth and so forth. So, it’s just a revolving thing that’s just going to keep on happening. And it all happens for a reason. I can’t say why, but it all happens for a reason. It transforms from generation to generation and I’m just happy to be a part of it in my time.
PN: I feel like Queen Bitch Diva Tranny Love action is translating to Pop Princesses of our day. In the 1990s, it was all about clean cut, Mariah Carey Glitter and now we’ve got Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj and even Beyoncé is getting fierce, with Sasha Fierce. How are you as an entertainer and entertainers of your ilk (like Mykki Blanco) influencing these Pop Princesses?
BF: Well, just us being ourselves and just giving them the raw and the raunchy. You know it’s helping everybody to come out of their shell and just be who they are. Like I said, express yourself. Be who you are. Don’t be afraid. Let it all out. And. . .
PN: And sometimes it’s filthy…
BF: Yes. And that’s cool because it makes it more entertaining for the crowd, for the fans – they love it. They want to see that other side sometimes. They don’t want it to always be glitz and glam and so pretty and titsy and – give me a good show! Let me see the sweat just really drop off your head and fly out your hair. And, I’m giving that every night. I’m not holding back nothing for them. Every night I’m giving the sweat, the hair drenching and the clothes soaking wet, and that’s just me you know.
PN: What’s next for you? You dropped [Big Freedia Hitz Vol 1] in 2011 through Scion A/V.
BF: I’m about to get ready to drop my next album, my Big Freedia Project, working on that, I got a lot going on. A new single about to come out, Step Into the Ring, new video to that. I also – my other – my song with RuPaul, the video, about to come out with that. We have a whole lot going on. I’m touring. My new tour is about to start. I’m steady doing shows all over. I just came from Australia doing my Australian tour, which went very, very well, spectacular. It was sold out each show. It went – I mean dynamite. So definitely making some big moves. Just getting ready for the New Year, and a new tour, and a new album and all the new things that I have coming.
Interview: Clarissa Dolphin
Photography: Kwithy Kat
Field Producer: Joseph Williams