Miley Cyrus' twerk-filled performance at this year’s Video Music Awards has become the most talked-about, polarizing few minutes in a show that saw a ‘N Sync reunion and costume-filled Lady Gaga opener. More thanone thinkpiece has accused Cyrus of appropriating and exploiting black culture for her own benefit at the detriment of its pioneers.
New Orleans musician and “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia is equally frustrated by the level of attention given to Cyrus and twerking’s “new” phenomenon. (The actual dance is more than 20 years old.) Freedia hopped on the phone from the Big Easy to critique Cyrus’ performance, give a few pointers and explain why we’re giving credit to the wrong person.
What did you think of Miley’s performance?
She was going too far. She’s trying to twerk and but don’t know how to twerk. It’s become offensive to a lot of people who’ve been twerking and shaking their asses for years, especially in the black culture. But it’s also helpful because it’s putting twerking on the map around the world. I’ve been transforming twerking for the last three years around the world and for her to just come out of the blue and just start twerking, a lot of people are very offended by it, especially in New Orleans. When something get hot, everybody want to jump on the bandwagon and act like they created it. That’s totally understandable but they have to give credit where credit is due.
Were you personally offended or just found it offensive in general?
In general; not to me. She may be familiar with me, but she don’t know I’m the Queen of Twerking. But it’s offensive to black culture and black women who’ve been twerking for years. Every time we do something, people want to snatch it and run with it and put their name on it. And they still don’t even have the moves down yet. Just get me and Miley together so I could give her ass some lessons.
“Just get me and Miley together so I could give her ass some lessons”
You used the phrase “trying to twerk” instead of “twerk.”
Yeah. When you have my dancers, they’re professionals. They’re from New Orleans and know what they’re doing . When they started dancing, it was original twerking. Miley’s dancers were prop dancers. None of them were professional dancers. So yeah, she was trying to twerk.
What specifically about the dance did she do wrong?
For one thing, we have a dance in bounce music called “exercising” where you just open your legs and shake your butt a little bit from side to side—that part where she did in front of Robin Thicke—she still didn’t even get that right because she didn’t have any butt control. She needs more practice.
Some critics have pointed to the performance’s racial overtones. Vulture called it a “minstrel show.” Do you think she should’ve been more sensitive to that?
Most definitely. It should’ve been someone else having those dancers up there and not Miley. We want to empower women of all walks of life to express themselves through dance music. I definitely push that at a Big Freedia show and I have a lot of white fans who get up there and really twerk. I have some amazing white dancers who would get up there and shut Miley down. They could’ve used girls from New Orleans, even if they were not black, who knew what they’re doing. They’re just using anybody possible just to get that buzz since twerking is hot now. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that…I knew the twerking thing was really taking off but I didn’t know it would blow up like this.
What did you think of "Twerk," the Miley Cyrus/Justin Bieber song that just came out?
See what I’m saying? They’re still going to take it too far. What the hell’s next? It was okay, but it still don’t relate to the real side of bounce twerking.
Twerking’s been around for more than 20 years. Is it weird to see it blow up in the past few years or did you expect that?
I expected it would happen, but by me working so hard, I didn’t think it would happen that way. That’s why I’m working so hard; for it to happen on my end, not on the end of someone who’s not even familiar with the culture. That’s what so offensive, when you’ve been doing it for so many years and then someone who just jump off the porch try to do it.
“I have some amazing white dancers who would get up there and shut Miley down”
Tell me about your upcoming song “Twerk It.”
With all the buzz, I decided last week to go to the studio to record a new song to let people know where it come from and that it’s been in the vocabulary of bounce music for a long time. One of the [old-school] lines was “Twerk something/Twerk something/If you’re real with it,” and I brought that back in a sample for my song. We decided to create a new track to shock the world with. It’s definitely going to get everybody moving. Miley did her twerking on the hip hop side of things, but mine is strictly bounce that’s gonna get people shaking their asses the way it originally started. It’ll be out any day now.
DJ Jubilee is credited as kickstarting the dance with 1993’s "Do the Jubilee All." Is that song the dance’s pivotal moment?
It was Ground Zero. It was happening way before him, but he took it to a whole ‘nother level once he started making the videos. In all of the middle school and high school dances, you could not go anywhere without hearing a Jubilee track or seeing him and his dancers cutting it up at a concert. He was the King of Bounce. All of his songs are New Orleans classics. As a kid, you just wanted to dance to it.
Going back to Miley, let’s say you were the choreographer and saw her performance as a dress rehearsal. What specific tips would you have given her?
Don’t do it.
For more Big Freedia, check out Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, premiering Wednesday, October 2 at 11/10C on Fuse.