Don’t Stop the Music: Big Freedia’s Big Pandemic Year
Mar 17 2021

Don’t Stop the Music: Big Freedia’s Big Pandemic Year

By: Laurel Shimasaki

Last time we spoke with Big Freedia, we were in the thick of Pandemic Summer 2020 and the Queen Diva had a new title: Chef Freedia. Her Garden Cookouts in City Park showed an unexpected culinary side to one of New Orleans's reigning personalities. Since then, Big Freedia has appeared on virtual shows; drive-in concerts (with twerking on the hoods of cars, naturally); hosted "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve" with Ryan Seacrest; grand marshalled for NOLA's "parade-at-home" Mardi Gras; collaborated on the viral remix of Rebecca Black's "Friday;" her memoir, God Save the Queen Diva, came out in paperback; the documentary Freedia Got A Gun began streaming on Peacock; and she released her own lustrous new single, "Platinum." All of this while the world stalled out in the name of flattening the curve and stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Big Freedia acknowledged that it's been tough putting all that work out into a socially distant world, but she knows people need something to do and, quite frankly, so does she. "God knows where my mind would have gone or what I would have done not being able to really do anything," she said. When the world shut down, she turned her ideas into new ventures. She has a lot to show for it, and there's more in the works, including a cookbook and hotel. Hotel Freedia is going to be a hotel/restaurant, and it's going to be down off of Frenchmen. The idea feels equal parts startling novelty and how does this not exist already?

Becoming a hotelier does not mean the Queen of Bounce is leaving music behind. In fact, it's so much an unshakeable part of who she that at one point in our interview, she raps a new song to me over the phone (yes—it was so good, I died and went to heaven for a bit). The release of "Platinum" signals a new era for her, one that will feature "five hot songs that're gonna be smackin' all around the world."

"The sound will definitely be very interesting," she added. "All the song titles are interesting. The lyrics. It's gonna be something. It's gonna definitely be a shocker for people."

Her last EP, Louder, was a collab-heavy pivot towards melding her bounce roots with a mainstream pop sound. Standouts on the album include the title track (a throwback to 90s Eurodance), "Chasing Rainbows" (a catchy bop with personal lyrics and featuring pop-star Kesha), and "Pipe That" with The Soul Rebels (Big Freedia's voice backed by brass sounds transcendental). Released March 13, 2020, the dazzling EP was sucked into the coronavirus void. In fact, Big Freedia was in NYC—mid publicity tour—when airports began shutting down with the rest of America. You would be forgiven for having missed the release of Louder, but now that you're informed, you need to give it a listen.

The songs on Louder are a cut above from her previous work (don't get me wrong: I love her entire discography) and Big Freedia seemed well aware of that. "It felt really heartbreaking to get a project that I worked so hard on, and I felt like that could have really taken me to the next level, but it didn't get the push that it could have gotten and the play that it could have gotten due to the pandemic," she said. Of course, the album is not an irretrievably lost victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. But still. "That CD definitely will go down in history as a pandemic failure CD," she said.

Instead of Big Freedia touring and promoting Louder on a North American tour with Kesha as planned, we saw a year that came with Big Freedia doing a #MaskUp PSA in partnership with The Skin You're In and writing the song "Rona Rona" at the request of Community Organized Relief Effort. "G-g-g-g-germs everywhere, germs everywhere," she raps and dancers twerk to "clorox clorox clorox clorox" ad infinitum.

Her appearance in these health campaigns is not shocking if you read her bingeable memoir, God Save the Queen Diva, in which Big Freedia tells about how she nearly became a nurse. As improbable as it sounds at first, fans can easily picture a world where the celeb is a professional caretaker. She's not an registered nurse, but Big Freedia said, "I'm always still caring for people and nourishing people and looking out for people."

Though the love Big Freedia puts into the world is returned a thousandfold, it is not always easy. Her voice operates as a party-starter, but Big Freedia also wants to use that same voice to examine real problems that plague her hometown. Freedia Got A Gun draws attention to the epidemic of gun violence in America, with a focus on NOLA. The documentary feels concerned, not condescending, in part because she draws on her personal experience of getting shot and the story of her brother's death in Central City in 2018.

Whereas once celebrities were told to keep their politics to themselves or risk a fate like The Chicks (née The Dixie Chicks), now the internet demands them to use their platforms. "What do y'all want to see? What do y'all want to help do with the community?" Big Freedia urged. Not only is she asking these questions, she's striving for solutions. "I'm definitely involved in local elections because it affects my community. It affects where I live, and the people around me, and my family, and what's going on here."

It's increasingly rare for people—much less famous ones—to remain in their hometown. But Big Freedia's devotion to New Orleans isn't going away anytime soon. She is thinking of moving, though not far from the city. "I want to be able to have a space where I see trees, lots of trees, and have a place where I can go in my backyard and write a song," she said. It sounds idyllic, like a 19th-century landscape painting with twerking. Don't think that this signals retirement because Big Freedia has too many ideas to quit now, including one for a children's book dealing with gender and identity. "I have a lot of projects on my stove, and I'm just cooking them one at a time," she said, using a metaphor well-suited for the versatile Chef Freedia.

If you would like to support our local musicians who have been affected because of this pandemic, consider donating to the Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund.

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