At the turn of the millennium when New Orleans musician Freddie Ross started performing under the name Big Freedia, the odds of him catching a break outside the local scene were slim. Bounce music–the hyperkinetic, hypnotically repetitive style of dance music that he works in–was barely known beyond the city limits. Add to that the fact that he’s a gay black man who cultivates a deliberately gender-blurry identity, which at the time was an incredibly tough sell to a straight mainstream audience.

Fifteen years later, Freedia’s had the last laugh. His transcendently joyous performances have found him an audience that crosses all demographics and has made him a fixture on the festival circuit (even landing him a gig opening for the Postal Service on their reunion tour), and in 2013 he launched a reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, that’s become one of the most popular programs on the Fuse network. He has a memoir, God Save the Queen Diva, due out in the summer. Meanwhile bounce music—and twerking, its signature dance move—thas snuck stealthily into the mainstream.