Long before Miley Cyrus caused millions of innocent Americans to develop eye twitches with her ludicrous MTV performance, Freddie Ross was twerking his way into the hearts of dance enthusiasts across the country.
Ross, better known by his stage name, Big Freedia (say FREED-uh), has led sweaty masses to euphoric highs since he started performing in his native New Orleans in 1999. Having pioneered bounce — a type of hip-hop that has its roots in the Crescent City's late-1980s music scene — Ross is the form's undisputed Queen of Bounce, with a reality-TV show of the same name on Fuse and a dedicated following.
In advance of his Monday gig at the Riot Room, The Pitch phoned Ross on the road to hear his thoughts on TV stardom, Miley and what bounce is really about.
The Pitch: Your reality show premiered October 2. What's life been like since?
Ross: It has been a very good and awesome experience, to be able to open up and let people see me on a more personal level and get to see different sides of me. They're used to only seeing me onstage, and they perceive me a different way and assume different things the way they want. This show is a chance to dig a little deeper into my story and into my life. I was really nervous in the beginning, trying to get used to the cameras and trying to see where I wanted to go with it, because I had a lot of creative control.
So you saw MTV's Video Music Awards. If there's anyone qualified to comment on the whole twerking thing that Miley Cyrus was going for, it's you.
People feel that she overstepped some barriers, but I'm actually thankful that she opened the discussion because it actually put a light on my side of things — that bouncing is part of a culture from New Orleans. It just set a fire, when Miley attempted to twerk or whatever. It set a fire under me and my camp. It just made people aware of me.
I've been doing this for a long time. She attempted to twerk on the VMAs, and it just opened up another door for me. It made it a little bit easier for me. I've been doing it for a while, and now it's getting a little mainstream. People discredited her, but she also helped credit the twerking and the shaking and the bouncing that we do in New Orleans. So I'm grateful for Miley. She opened that door, and I came through and took my throne.
A lot of people are afraid of that word, "mainstream." Does the twerking phenomenon scare you?
No, not at all. You know, we do more than just twerk. "Twerk" is just one of the words in the vocabulary of bounce. I'm not afraid. Everything has a time and a season. I won't be twerking forever.
I kind of feel that we should get a little history lesson and a how-to from you.
Oh, yeah, definitely. The how-to video is coming. [Laughs.] No, really, it's coming, and also the workout DVD. It'll give me a chance to teach people not just how to twerk but also some other different dance moves in bounce music, and show what we do in New Orleans and have fun.
Some people think twerking is just something that girls in rap videos do.
No, bounce is for everybody. We do it from zero to 99 in New Orleans, from the little babies all the way to our grandmothers. If you watch Episode 5 [of Queen of Bounce], there was an old lady twerking. They were playing my music while they were riding around in New Orleans, and she started twerking.... It was just so New Orleans.
Your live shows seem intense and exhausting. How do you manage to put on that kind of performance night after night?
Oh, my God! [Sighs.] The energy from the crowd is definitely what gets us going. Once we come in, and they get hyped and they start screaming and hollering, all of that gives me excitement. Sometimes I'm really worn out from all of the shows — I'm two weeks into touring right now with almost no voice — and I'm still pushing. The only thing that makes me be able to get through all of that are my fans and the energy that they give me. I feed off it, and it turns my light switch on.