How To Understand Bohemian Rhapsody By Queen
via Hélder Palma/YouTube
Ah, Bohemian Rhapsody – the song that made Queen stand out among their peers. It was unlike anything anyone has ever heard at the time and people either loved it or hated it. From the lyrics to the sections, it remains a unique piece of music and countless articles have been devoted to analyzing it verse by verse.
The band members may have dropped a hint or two but none of them actually sat down and bothered to explain what the song really meant. It seems to be intentionally cryptic, vague, and opaque.
Guitarist Brian May said, “They’ll never manage it because they’ll never know what went into those lyrics.”
And drummer Roger Taylor confessed, “What does it mean? I get asked that all the time and I have no answer.”
Bohemian Rhapsody was Freddie Mercury’s brainchild. Even as Queen worked on it, they had no idea how it would come together. Only Freddie knew its end result. And because he wrote the whole thing, its meaning can only be deduced by looking at how he was feeling at the time and also taking into consideration his state of mind.
May once revealed that though he was flamboyant on stage, “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood.” According to May, “He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.”
So yes, when he wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie was battling problems in his own personal life and we can safely assume it had something to do with his homosexuality with some people concluding that it’s his ‘coming out’ song. Maybe that’s the case but there’s also more to it than merely telling the world he’s queer.
Lyrics-wise, there are double meanings.
It starts off with two of the most iconic openings – “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality.” The narrator is clearly someone who’s being weighed down by societal expectations and his queerness is a major issue because unlike nowadays, coming out in the ’70s wasn’t always a positive and freeing experience. There was always that fear of being rejected particularly by family and friends.
“I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy” reflects his helplessness.
And then comes the slightly controversial part where he confessed a murder to his mother. “Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against his head / Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead / Mama, life had just begun / But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away / Mama, ooo / Didn’t mean to make you cry / If I’m not back again this time tomorrow / Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters.”
One of the biggest challenges of queer people is their confession to their parents. Anyone who’s tried to come out understands that it’s going to be a pivotal moment in their lives. The narrator somehow likens it to murder because both confessions are life-changing and takes a lot to say to someone else.
As the song progresses, the narrator slowly accepts his sexual identity and eventually understands that the problem doesn’t lie with his homosexuality but rather with society’s views on it – “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye / So you think you can love me and leave me to die.”
In less than six minutes, we witness the narrator’s transformation, or rather Freddie’s own transformation. In the intro, it’s about feelings of fear, helplessness, and massive pressure from society. But come the outro, the narrator makes peace with the fact that the issue is not with him and his sexuality, it’s the society and people’s expectations. There’s freedom in embracing the truth that it’s the society that needs to change and not him.
Freddie Mercury once said, “I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.”