When Beyoncé calls, it’s safe to say the future is likely going to be different. New Orleans-born songwriter and performer Big Freedia knows that twice over. The emcee known for her Bounce prowess was featured by Queen B in the hit single “Formation” in 2016 and in Beyoncé’s latest single “Break My Soul,” which dropped last month. The achievements have bolstered Freedia’s visibility, both as an artist and as an ambassador for causes from LQBTQ+ concerns to her latest as the face of Independent Venue Week, which is slated this year from July 11-17.
For Freedia, whose latest solo releases include the EP Louder in March 2020 and Big Diva Energy in September 2021, the commercial appeal is important. For years, she was an underground artist in New Orleans, working from club to club. Now, she’s a bright star, whose lumens are only getting more and more pronounced and iridescent.
“When I got the call,” says Freedia, “I was super excited. I was overwhelmed. I was blown away that the Queen came around for the second time and wanted to work with me. I was honored.”
Freedia knows what the Beyoncé spotlight can do. She experienced it six years ago with “Formation.” In terms of providing extra visibility, the Crescent City vocalist says who wouldn’t want to be on a track with Beyoncé? It brings her deep voice, which is sampled on the 2022 single, around the world more times than one can count, faster than one can follow. But how a business transaction like this goes down, is almost equally as interesting.
“Her team reached out to my team,” Freedia explains, speaking about what goes on behind the proverbial curtain. “When we got closer to it becoming for real, my team let me in and said that Beyoncé wanted to sample a song and they were tightening up the paperwork. I try not to count my eggs before they hatch, but when it was finalized, I was super excited.”
Freedia says she didn’t find out about the song’s release date until the rest of the world found out, too. Things can move fast, especially when they’re hush-hush. But it’s all worth the delicate juggling, of course. And the boon comes at a great time for Freedia, who, like many, had to toil through the drudgery of the pandemic from 2020 until quite recently. The subsequent 2020 lockdown especially hurt Freedia because she’d released Louder days after the world shut down, forcing her to abruptly drop all plans and head home to lick her proverbial wounds.
“You know,” says Freedia, “it was very hard when I released Louder. It came out as soon as the pandemic hit. I felt like all the work I did didn’t get the play that it deserved.”
She’d been looking forward to showcasing Louder on stage, in full Bounce-mode, shaking her butt between backup dancers also shaking theirs. But c’est la vie. To make up for it, Freedia went home, worked on more songs, and even started an online cooking show, demonstrating one of her other loves and talents—whipping up meals, from morning breakfast biscuits to much more. Today, she’s appreciative that she made it through. Freedia, 44, has several friends who weren’t as lucky. COVID-19 ended their lives and though Freedia, like tens of millions of others, contracted the illness, she got through that, too.
“It was a time to sit back and reflect and release and rejuvenate myself,” she says. “To figure out new ways and new opportunities to put out different things… I learned just how resilient I am and that nothing can stop me. I learned no matter what battles I face, I can get through them if I continue to pray and push. That was the biggest thing for me. I lost close friends through the pandemic, some real dear people. I’m grateful to still be alive and to be able to tell my story.”
Now, Freedia is back. She recently enjoyed a world tour with many groups, including Tank and the Bangas, Trombone Shorty, Cyril Neville (of The Neville Brothers and The Meters), and more. In full Freedia fashion, the vocalist says she was acknowledged as the best of all offerings, even though she only performed two songs with Tank for about 10 minutes per night. In between gigs, she also flew to other performances, including a post at the 2022 BET Awards, a party in Las Vegas, and a drag brunch in Boston. In other words, she’s kept busy.
“I enjoyed every moment being back on the live stage,” she says. “Having that live audience roaring back at me, being able to interact and dance. Of course, they said I was the best on the whole tour!”
For Freedia, to hit the stage is to be consumed by cheers. That’s the energy that lights her metaphorical candle. That’s when she flips “the switch” and gets her “Sasha Fierce” on, meaning her glamourous alter-ego, a vibe that originated with her friend Beyoncé. It’s then that she commands the stage, commands respect, commands “everything” and lets the people around her know that “it’s time to release your wiggle.” And it’s that kind of energy that led her to be the ambassador and spokesperson this year for Independent Venue Week, which highlights the importance of smaller clubs that serve as the lifeblood for so many burgeoning artists and local community members, from bartenders to bar owners.
“They picked the person who hustled the hardest,” Freedia says.
Truly, the past few weeks have been remarkable. From Freedia promoting PRIDE and Juneteenth in June to the new Beyoncé track, playing out again, working on new songs and videos, and working with Beyoncé, now is as good as it’s ever been. The crowds are that much louder, the energy that much thicker. The dancefloor is that much more populated. And while Freedia is back in New Orleans at this time, charging her battery in the hot Louisiana city, she’s ready for more. That’s just who she is. She’s juiced by the sonics.
“If you can imagine,” Freedia says, “after doing another song with Beyoncé, the phone is ringing off the hook. It’s unbelievable… What I love most about music is just that: the music. The beat. The bass. And the boom!”
Photo by Nelson Cosey / Courtesy Warner Music Group