As the third season of Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce begins, Freedia’s New Orleans–based dance crew is about to embark on a national tour. It’s a big opportunity for the group, a chance to take their unique style of “bounce” hip-hop music and dancing—defined by fast, percussive hooks and highly athletic, twerk-centric choreography—to cities and audiences far beyond the form’s Southern roots. But they are also on a mission of reclamation: As the tour designer points out early in the first episode, a number of more famous artists (many of them Miley Cyrus–white) have begun to appropriate bounce’s signature elements without giving credit to the primarily black, hard-scrabble milieu from which it emerged. For Freedia and her team, the series of concerts that this season of the Fuse reality show will follow is about more than just performing or getting paid—it’s about getting the respect they deserve.
Freedia—who identifies as a gay man, revels in a wonderfully gender-fluid sense of style, and accepts the pronouns he, she, or diva—is one of the apostles of bounce, and watching the show, you can’t help but join with her in beaming at the recognition from crowds at large events in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But the stunning performances are really only a small part of Queen of Bounce’s appeal. I’m someone who believes that even the trashiest of reality shows can have a certain campy charm, but this show is genuinely charming, truly the sweetest 22 minutes on television.
Part of this warmth radiates from bounce itself, which though definitely sexually provocative, often transcends that to achieve a level of pure jubilation. (It somehow occupies the same place in my mind as the New Orleans tradition of marching brass bands at funerals.) Indeed, in a later episode, a performance takes place on the birthday of Freedia’s mother, Miss Vera, who recently passed away. The fact that the performers are bouncing in celebration of her life, with the assurance that her spirit is twerking right up on stage with them, inspires a particularly luminous, moving show. The scene should give pause to anyone who doubts that shaking your ass can be more than dirty dancing—on that night, it became a hymn of love and remembrance.
However, the warmth is even stronger off-stage. Freedia and his team are a family in the truest sense of the word, and though I hesitate to apply terms that they might not choose for themselves, anyone interested in the notion of “queer family” should take a look at what these people have built in their tour bus. Freedia, a nurturer by nature, is clearly the mother of the crew, and terms like daughter, ma, and brother are constantly appended to the ends of sentences in a show of trust and affection. If you like your reality shows to be catty and full of nasty manufactured drama, Queen of Bounce isn’t the place to look. There is drama, but most of it is sweetly funny—such as when a male dancer leaves his boxers and socks on the bus’s kitchen counter—and when people do make mistakes, Freedia responds with a parent’s disappointment (with a perhaps a dash of shade) rather than bitchy anger.
Despite already being the Queen Diva, Freedia and her crew of talented artists are people you want to root for, people who feel like they deserve a little of the limelight. If the smiles on their fans’ faces are any indication, they are bringing joy to the world. And since I’m unfortunately not skilled enough to shake my ass in appreciation of that, I’ll at least keep pressing my remote.
Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce returns to the Fuse cable network on Feb. 25 at 11 pm ET.