When the bounce rapper opened for The Postal Service in Seattle, the crowd didn't get it.

Big Freedia photo

When Big Freedia opened for The Postal Service in Seattle last week, by all accounts the pairing didn't work. The Seattle Times' Andrew Matson wrote:

The lyrics and the bodies on stage seemed to need some complicated reconciling by these unhappy customers — which is drastically overthinking Freedia’s act. Maybe grumblers misunderstood the musical premise of bounce rap, looking for chord changes and intricate storytelling, when it’s really about cutting loose?

As is often the case, the reports of unhappy crowds may be overstated. In a video from the show, enough people were into Big Freedia that they can be heard in call-and-response sections. Still, here's the takeaway:

1. Ben Gibbard of The Postal Service should have known better. He chose Big Freedia to open the show, saying, "I love Big Freedia’s music and I’m really excited to see how people react to it." When The Clash at the height of their popularity played shows at The Bond in NYC, they selected Lee Dorsey, Joe Ely, and Grandmaster Flash to open, and all were booed. Fans might take tips from their favorites at home, but in the concert hall, they prefer clearer aesthetic alignment. 

2. At Salon.com, Katie Ryder saw the outrage as being tied to race - the white, hipster audience vs. the African-American Big Freedia and her dancers. I think it had far more to do with the physical reality of sexuality and its slightly ambiguous presentation. For the men and women onstage in Freedia's show, they're shaking sexual parts at jackhammer speed; it's easy to imagine people not being sure what to do with that.

3. Ryder's probably right in the sense that the physical reality of black sexuality only made people more uncomfortable.

4. My suspicion is that part of the discomfort came from fans struggling to reconcile their sense of themselves as social progressives with the reality of what they're progressive about. You can be in favor of gay marriage, but gay married couples don't shake hands before bed.

5. Ryder referred to Matson's story, but she went to race first as the source of outrage instead of sexuality, even though Matson's report suggested otherwise:

In the normally neutral space of KeyArena, audience members were irritated, seemed to be uncomfortable with Freedia’s brand of sexual expression and questioned whether the performance was “real music.”

Men in the stands conspicuously proclaimed their own heterosexuality, and in general the response was uneasy. 


6. Bounce is complicated. Its codes, practices and aesthetics were worked out far from the prying eyes of hipsters everywhere - in New Orleans as well as Seattle. If you're perplexed by it, you're likely overthinking it. If you think get flat-out get it, you're fooling yourself.