Big Freedia's Still In Love With Judas, Baby

Big Freedia's Still In Love With Judas, Baby

by Hilton Dresden

Lady Gaga's seminal album Born This Wayrecently turned 10 years old (but if you're reading this article, you knew that already). To commemorate a decade of whiskey mouths over blonde souths, Mother Monster has issued a re-release of the record with six freshly interpreted versions of some of her favorite tracks, to arrive in our earbuds over the course of the next few weeks. First up in these surprise cover drops is Big Freedia's Bounce interpretation of *Halsey voice* oh, how great: "Judas."

The queen of New Orleans Bounce (and former PAPER Pride cover star) is no stranger to collaborating with global legends — her work is sampled in smashes like Beyoncé's "Formation" and Drake's "Nice For What." On "Judas," though, Freedia is given free reign of an entire song, using her knack for Southern thumping beats to completely reconsider what the track can be. The Freedian cover opens with pared-down piano chords, before erupting into a bounce beat with backing vocals from a lively chorus of women. It's wholly different from its parental tune, offering an unexpectedly joyous take on "Judas" while still maintaining Gaga's original ferocity.

As of time of publication, covers of "Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)" and "You and I" have yet to be unveiled (Madonna teased she'd be dropping something major on June 24, which could potentially be earth-shattering). Freedia's "Judas" is already in good company. Since kicking off the festivities, Orville Peck's twangy rendition of "Born This Way — The Country Road Version" and Kylie Minogue's bubbly take on "Marry The Night" have also arrived on streaming platforms. Yesterday we also got a new take on "The Edge of Glory" courtesy of Olly Alexander's Years & Years. A remix album of Chromatica is supposedly in the works, too, and (according to the Twittersphere, anyway) glittery pop names like Rina Sawayama and Charli XCX are rumored to be featured.

Freedia's contribution to Born This Way's 10th birthday (they grow up so fast) comes ahead of a new EP from the artist, Big Diva Energy, out next month, and a new celebratory single, "Betty Bussit," at the end of this week. She's hitting the road for a post-pandemic tour of the nation that will see her visiting scores of cities from coast to coast over the course of the rest of 2021. New York City Pride will be a major gig along that journey, as will be, of course, her performance for PAPER's virtual Born This Way anniversary celebration, taking place this Saturday, June 26.

To celebrate a decade of Born This Way and Big Freedia's enviable return to the limelight, we caught up with the New Orleans legend for a major Little Monster "paws up" moment, where we gushed about the discography of Ms. Germanotta as well as Freedia's exciting new music and how she spent quarantine in The Big Easy.

Let's start with "Judas" and the phone call from the Haus of Gaga — what did that call look like? How did you approach interpreting this legendary song?

Gaga's team called my team, and then the magic started to happen. My manager reached out and broke the news to me — I was super excited I'd be covering "Judas" for Lady Gaga's 10-year anniversary of Born This Way. You get to remix one of Lady Gaga's songs? OK, this is big! We went to work immediately. My team and I set up a studio session, me and one of my writers and a producer and some vocalists all went in, we started to figure things out… we brought some girls in to do backup on the chorus and started to make magic happen. We did it the Freedia way, the way I felt good and comfortable with.

Those girls in the chorus — have you worked with them before?

Two of them I have, yes. One was new. But she was a friend of theirs, also a background vocalist, so very familiar with the Freedia world. And all three are from New Orleans. One of them is Jelly, who sings with Tank and the Bangas. They are amazing girls and did an awesome job.

I read you chose "Judas" because "It's a love song about when someone does you dirty." Obviously, you want to keep your private life private, but can you elaborate about what you meant by that?

We all go through situations in life where someone has done us wrong. We feel betrayed or misused, and the whole concept of "Judas" is when Judas betrayed Jesus. Instead of going more spiritual, I took it to my love life, which was more personal. For me, being betrayed and misused, not just in my love life — it could be a friend, a family member... Betrayal. That was my thought process going in to create the new version.

Did you have a sonic vibe in mind for your reinterpretation?

I wanted to make it Freedia. I wanted to incorporate the feeling of what Lady Gaga brings to the table and offered us, but I also wanted to make it Freedia, and into my own, and give it something new that people would be like: 'This is something totally different.' So the stripped down piano, and bringing in the Bounce element, and more of a dance feel, it feels good to step it up to another notch, in a different direction for me. We're going to dance it down, though!

You mentioned in W Magazine that you were supposed to be on the original Born This Way album…

That was back then, when I was working with my DJ at the time, Rusty Lazer. He had got a phone call [saying] they wanted me on the song, "Born This Way." We were very excited about that... Actually, I was with Rusty Lazer, we were at his house. We were doing some stuff, getting ready for a weekend out of town, and he was just telling me about the project. Because they had sent it over and were like, "They want you on this." So that's when I first got to hear the song. I don't know what happened, don't know how it fell off. But in my opinion the timing wasn't right, and everything comes back around if it's meant to happen. Ten years later, I'm doing the cover of "Judas."

I'm excited to walk through this album, because we're both huge Little Monsters. Which songs jump out to you looking at the tracklist? It begins with "Marry The Night..."

Of course. That was the first song off the project, and we always want to marry a night in some type of way. Whether it's getting a little bit on with somebody, or just having a great time. "Born This Way" was definitely one of my favorites, though, off the project. Because me, being born the way that I am, and being who I am, and living in my truth, and living unapologetic... Lady Gaga is a big advocate for the LGBTQ community, and we feel her music and we feel her spirit. They're all so good, it was just a legendary album for her. She did her thing with the whole project. If I had to choose another favorite... I probably would go with "Fashion Of His Love."

And the Fernando Garibay remix is also so good. More generally, outside of Born This Way, what are the songs of Gaga's that have inspired you the most musically?

"Just Dance" was one of my favorites. I love to dance. I'm always dancing, I'm always on stage shaking my ass. And making people have a good time. I think [The Fame Monster] was a great album as well. You know what, actually that's when I was stepping into myself a little bit more. I was becoming a little more known. "Paparazzi" was a great one, for me. I'm always trying to duck and dodge. Living this life that we live, and being artists, we always have to watch what we do, how we do it, how we move. I was feeling that one for sure.

What about ARTPOPor Joanne or Chromatica, more recently. Any standouts there?

I like fun stuff. "Fun Tonight" was a great one. Also "Stupid Love."

Shot on an iPhone, that music video.

They did that though! They're very creative when it comes to Gaga. Anything is possible when it comes to her iconic presence. You know what else I like off of that, though? "1000 Doves." [That's] a great song. Just being a fan of Gaga, she makes some great music and a lot of her songs I put on repeat.

Which other ones are on repeat the most?

"Jewels N' Drugs" was my favorite off of [ARTPOP]. When I'm feeling certain ways, if I have certain company over, or one of my gay sisters comes over, we're going to our different songs: a little Gaga, a little House... we might do some old school, we might do some hip-hop. Gaga is always going to be one of my favorites along with so many more great artists out there.

Do you have a favorite look of Gaga's?

What's the look with the leather jacket, with the hair to one side, with the wing... Lord, war shoes. All kinds of performances on the war shoes. I mean, it's Gaga. Every look that she do really be dope. "Telephone" was a good video.

We need part two! You have a new EP coming out: Big Diva Energy, your first since Louder in 2020. Was the pandemic a creative time for you?

Most definitely. I didn't have nothing but time to be creative and to find different spaces to keep my mind going, and to stay sane at home. I went to the studio a lot as a way to get out of the house. And to do something fun and creative. That really was my time to keep making music. I was making music and cooking.

You even started your own cooking show! And New Orleans has some of the best food in the world. Any local businesses you want to shout out in NoLa?

I want to shout out all the businesses in NoLa. Everywhere has its own special thing going on. Its own special taste and flavor. Some of my favorites are Neyow's Creole Cafe, Marrow's, Mansion Chicken, Cajun Seafood. I go to a lot of different places to eat and pick up different things that I like from New Orleans. When I want a certain type of snowball, I have my certain snowball... Captain C's — there's just different spots that you go for different things — Mr. Potato, they have great potatoes, potatoes with lobster on it or shrimp or steak. It's a huge potato. You can't even close the plate it's so good.

You recorded this EP and this new single "Betty Bussit" — can you talk about the inspiration and what fans can expect from the new music?

I want to do something new, it was time to put out something new. My last EP Louder came out in 2020 and it did not get the promotion that it deserved. I actually was in New York promoting when the EP came out, and then I had to hurry up and get home because they were shutting the world [down].

You were in New York right around mid March?

I'd just done Wendy Williams and The Breakfast Club. Wendy Williams was my last thing and then I got on a plane, then they shut everything down. Wendy Williams — you can't not have a fun moment. We had a great time when I performed there and now it's time for something new for the fans. It was inspired by Baby Esther and Betty Boop. I'm excited to let them see what I have coming and the heat that I brought behind it, the creative process and the beat. It's gonna be something that they can drop to, when we make a Baby Esther and Betty Boop drop just busted.

You are going on a nationwide tour, and performing at New York City Pride this month. Do you have anything planned that you can share without spoiling anything?

I mean, it's Pride! We come in to have fun and bring something fun and full of life and energy for the people and I'm excited. All new music. I've been celebrating through getting out and I've been performing all month. I have performances this weekend and next weekend. I've been performing at a lot of different Pride celebrations. I've been doing Prides virtually and I've been celebrating here in my city of New Orleans.

You're performing at PAPER's virtual Club Quarantine Born This Wayanniversary party this Saturday. Do you have anything you can tease about that?

Oh, baby, definitely some good looks, juicy, it [is] big and fabulous. We brought some new looks and I'm stepping back out into my element and getting back into what I love to do so we're stepping everything up — the looks, the wardrobe, the energy, the dancers... Big beaver energy!

In the W piece you say that Coachella is a dream of yours — what other stages and artist collaborations do you have your eyes set on that you want to manifest right now?

More performances for a lot of different venues and a lot of different amphitheaters. The diva energy needs to be in all of them, not just Coachella, but all of the bigger festivals and bigger events, that even though they pay a lot of these different artists and a lot of different artists come to give a show, but they don't give a diva show. It's time for me to fill in all those different spaces. My star has stepped up and gotten brighter and bigger. It's just time to keep on stepping up the energy. I'm excited to collaborate with any artist who is excited to collaborate with me. I would like to go along with another song with Drake, with Kanye West, a song with Lil Wayne, a song with Kelly Price, or Ashanthi, Fantasia, Jill Scott...

Are you a Barb?

Of course. I mean the list goes on and on. Whoever is willing to collaborate, I'm willing to collaborate as well.

Photography: Joshua Kyle Dickinson