New Orleans-based, booming-voiced artist, Big Freedia, knows life in all its glory, terror and variety is, in the end, about balance. So, to keep her own mind balanced during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Freedia took to two main outlets: cooking and recording music. For the former, Freedia took to social media and YouTube to produce modest-though-beloved cooking videos, showing viewers how she makes various favorites, like biscuits. For the former, Freedia wrote and recorded in the studio and has since recently made that work public, releasing her latest EP, Big Diva Energy, earlier in September. The album, which comes on the heels of her 2020 EP, Louder, is itself a triumphant exercise in balance. On the EP, Freedia discusses both personal boundaries and fun, food-based gluttony.
“I did a lot of cooking,” Freedia says, “to keep my mind going and to entertain the fans. That was my way of coming out of COVID and keeping my fans sane. But it’s back to the stage now.”
Last year, Freedia, who is currently on a long tour, dropped Louder right around the time that global lockdown hit. Every artist was hurt by the pandemic, but Freedia was acutely struck. Her EP included guest appearances from the likes of Kesha and came on the heels of collaborations with Lizzo and Beyonce. But the power of Freedia is that she doesn’t need anyone else to lean on. She took to her work in the kitchen and then her work in the studio.
“It’s about people stepping into their space and owning their space,” Freedia says of Big Diva Energy. “And being boss and when they step into a room, how they light a room up, or when they step into any place, how they light it up. It’s all about the energy on this project.”
There’s a variety to the songs on Freedia’s new EP. Some are rambunctious, others silly, and some are still very serious. Her newest single, “Not Today,” for example, is about setting boundaries between yourself and others in the world. Freedia, who is both maternal and paternal when she wants to be, is kind and warm. She’s the kind of person to fight off an intruder with one arm and hold you with the other. Yet, she says, sometimes people mistake that kindness for weakness.
“I wanted to make people aware of that,” Freedia says. “I’m paying attention to everything that’s going on in and around my life. I’m quite aware of the things people try to do slickly and try to get away with.”
Difficulties can arise via family, friends, strangers, the music industry, or any other angle. The world moves fast, Freedia says, so be aware. Pay attention, even to those you give your trust to. On the other hand, the artist offers, there are times when boundaries are the exact wrong thing for a person. Like, when you’re sitting down to eat! Freedia’s song, “Mm Mm Good” is all about indulgence, letting the proverbial flood gates open.
“When cooking,” Freedia says, “I didn’t set any boundaries for a healthy plate. It’s all about eating whatever you want to eat. Fuck Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, all of it! It’s time to eat when you come to sit and chill with the Diva!”
There are a few sayings about the complexity of human nature. Walt Whitman says he “contains multitudes.” Others say that the definition of intelligence is the ability to keep two opposing ideas in your head at once. Well, Big Diva Energy fits these descriptions perfectly in that it showcases Freedia’s natural, almost uncanny ability to navigate intricacies with aplomb. On the EP she talks about how she’s been “used and abused,” yet she notes she’s “moving on” from those moments. Not dwelling. Also, though, she talks about the need to care for yourself, to not ignore the boundaries and gluttonies that make you, you.
“You know what’s going on, you’re aware of it, you recognize it and then you just keep on pushing forward,” Freedia says. “I don’t dwell on the past; I pray and I keep on pushing. Because if you entertain it, you give them power, you give them a spotlight and you give them that moment to know that you are worried about it. For me, those things I can’t worry about. I’m too busy.”
Freedia, whose voice is the platonic ideal of bombastic, is also known as the Queen of Bounce music. She’s royalty in the Crescent City and a pioneer of music that, until recently, was often relegated to small clubs. Freedia shakes her butt, raps into the mic, and makes you feel somehow always at home. Her career has grown immeasurably since it began, but she hasn’t changed much along the way. She’s herself; she can’t help it. A true artist, she talks about what’s around her.
“Sometimes I don’t even know what I really want to talk about until I get into those studio moments and am able to start creating,” she says. “It’s about really digging into the track and seeing where the music leads me. If it makes me happy and feels good, I know my fans will be happy, too.”
While Freedia, who is out on the road, knows balance is key to any life—everything in moderation, even moderation, of course—the point of her art, she says, is to find a place where she feels unencumbered, essentially unbothered. Where she is free to dispel her Big. Diva. Energy.
“Being able to be as creative as I want,” Freedia says. “Being able to talk about what I want and do what I want in my music, that’s what I love. And just to see the growth of music, in general, and how you don’t have to be put in a box when it comes to your creative space.”