Kesha is an incredibly talented songwriter and performer who has had a hellacious time fighting for the right to create art outside the control of abusive shitbags. So it is joylessly that I must point out that she is also the latest in a long line of artists to conspicuously erase Big Freedia from her music video while profiting off Freedia’s voice.
“Raising Hell” combines Kesha’s country/pop sensibilities with Big Freedia’s unmistakable bounce stylings for a song that sounds like Dolly Parton with a New Orleans makeover. The video for the song follows Kesha-come-Tammy Faye as a revivalist performer secretly in an abusive marriage. Kesha sings out front of an all-black choir made up of mostly women, yet one black woman is missing: Big Freedia, whose voice can clearly be heard in the background.
Big Freedia, a queer black artist who sells out shows in my home state of Louisiana weeks in advance, has been mostly ignored by the major mainstream artists who sample her voice in their songs but leave her out of their videos. As Vice has pointed out, when Big Freedia’s vocals come in at the beginning of Drake’s “Nice for What” video it’s to a shot of Olivia Wilde’s face. Freedia, an openly gay performer who eschews gender labels, has an unmistakable, raw vitality that just makes you want to dance. In person, she is every bit as charismatic as her voice sounds, but her gender performance still seems to frighten mainstream stars (and record labels) even as they rely on her energy to lend authenticity to their music.
For example, in Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, Freedia’s iconic words “I did not come to play with you hoes/I came to slay, bitch” background shots of Beyoncé, women who are not Big Freedia, and scenes of a flooded New Orleans that reference Hurricane Katrina. When the video came out, I was living in New York, and a friend from home sent me a link. When I told him I liked it, he responded, “Okay, but where’s Freedia?”
The erasure of Big Freedia in huge music videos occurs so often that even Freedia acknowledges and has taken steps to rectify it. When Drake was shooting “In My Feelings” in New Orleans as his own “Formation” style love letter to the city, Big Freedia says she had to call Drake on the phone to demand a spot in this video following the sting of being excluded from “Nice for What.”
“I had to call my people at midnight to come make me up and do my hair,” Freedia told TMZ about being invited to the 2 a.m. video shoot at the last minute after hunting down an artist with whom she had previously made a hit single. The move was part of a deliberate effort on Freedia’s part to be seen as well as heard. According to an interview with the Fader, Big Freedia is tired of being a disembodied voice for big stars:
“You know, my voice be on a lot of different stuff and people want to use bounce music as a part of their music but when it comes to the proper recognition of me being in the video, that’s something that we’re steady working towards to make it happen.”
However, Kesha, an artist whose recent work has primarily focused on the pain of erasure, is yet another major star who seems to have failed to properly recognize Big Freedia. The move is even more bizarre in light of the fact that Freedia grew up in the land of tent revivals, and her authentically Deep South presence makes her perfect for a campy televangelist send-up.
In honor of Big Freedia’s physical body as well as her voice, perhaps we should all enjoy RuPaul and Freedia’s “Peanut Butter,” which includes both, as a palate cleanser: