Meaning of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a song by the iconic British rock band Queen. The song, which is one of Queen’s most well known tunes, has over the years been subject to myriad interpretations. There are speculations that the song is about the childhood of Freddie Mercury (Queen’s frontman). Mercury was born in Zanzibar (which is now a part of Tanzania). He spent his young life in both Zanzibar and India , within a family that practiced Zoroastrianism. Therefore it makes sense to hear certain religious words like “Bismillah” and “Beelzebub” in the song. A far more likely meaning of the song is Mercury’s sexuality — specifically, him saying that he’s gay.
According to English author and journalist Lesley-Ann Jones, who authored the 1997 biography about Mercury titled Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography, she strongly believes Mercury was trying to use the song to tell the world that he was gay. Why is Jones saying so? According to her, during a 1986 interview she had with Mercury, she asked him if the song was his way of coming out as gay but he never answered straightly. On top of that she said he never gave her a clear meaning of the song. Jones said the only thing Mercury told her with regard to the meaning of the song was that its lyrics were “about relationships”. According to Jones, after the death of Mercury from complications brought on by AIDS, she interviewed his lover hairdresser Jim Hutton on multiple occasions and he told her that the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was basically Mercury stating that he was gay.
Tim Rice believes “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Freddie Mercury saying he’s Gay
Following Mercury’s death in 1991, English author and lyricist Tim Rice said he also believes some of the song’s lyrics were about Mercury confessing to his fans he was gay. According to him, the lines : “Mama, I just killed a man”, “Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead”, and “I see a little silhouette of a man” were the Mercury’s own way of saying that he’s neutralized his straight self and is being disturbed by his actions.
It is worth noting that the other members of Queen have denied the speculations above. According to them, the lyrics of the song aren’t about Mercury coming out.
But are the interpretations above really what the song is about? The song’s writer Mercury went to his grave never saying exactly what the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” means. His bandmates Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon have also never disclosed to the general public the song’s real meaning. In an interview, May alluded to the meaning of the song being very personal. According to him, he and the rest of his colleagues all vowed to never ever reveal its real meaning to the world mainly out of respect to their late friend and bandmate Mercury.
Mercury took the real meaning of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to his grave
While he was alive, Mercury was (on a number of occasions) asked the meaning of the song, but he never disclosed it. Even when asked by English DJ Kenny Everett who was a close friend of his, Mercury just said the song’s lyrics were nothing special and that they were just “random rhyming nonsense”.
On another occasion, Mercury said “Bohemian Rhapsody” was one of those songs that have a “fantasy feel about” them. He went on to say that we should all just listen to the song and then make up “our own minds” as to what the lyrics say to us.
So the lyrics of this masterpiece of a song could be any of the above interpretations or none of them. Or just like Mercury himself said maybe it is just a bunch of rhyming words which don’t make sense.
According to May, Mercury never explained the lyrics of the song to him or the other members of Queen. However, he said he strongly believed that Mercury put so much of his personal life into the lyrics of the song.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the birth of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 2015, May told the BBC that he believed while Freddie was alive, he enjoyed knowing that the lyrics of the song had many different interpretations. According to May, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an “outlandish song” that is “beyond analysis”. He went on to say that as for him, he has his own personal feelings and ideas about the meaning of the song. However, he hated talking about them.
Lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” are self-explanatory with some nonsense
In an interview with BBC Three, Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor said of the song’s meaning as one that is “fairly self-explanatory” and which contains “a bit of nonsense in the middle”.
Key Words and Phrases in the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Below are some of the key words and phrases we find particularly relevant in terms of increasing one’s understanding of the lyrics of this masterpiece:
- “Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango”: Scaramouche is a character from the commedia dell’arte. This character is a stock clown best known for cowardice and boastfulness. He often wears a black Spanish dress while he burlesques a Spanish Don. In the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Mercury instructs Scaramouche to dance the fandango. The fandango is a popular type of dance from Spain.
- “Galileo”: Galileo Galilei was a renowned Italian scientist who lived between 1564 and 1642. Also known as the “father of modern physics”, Galileo is regarded as one of the greatest astronomers and scientists of all time. It’s not clear why Mercury mentions him multiple times in the “opera” section of the track. Some suggest that Mercury included Galileo just because of his bandmate and friend Brian May, who is known for his intense passion for astronomy and science. May actually attended the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London (Imperial College London) where he majored in Physics. In 1968, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the university. He is said to have graduated with honors. He would later go on to become an Astrophysicist. In 2007, he received his PHD in astrophysics from his alma mater.
- “Bismillah! No we will not let you go – let him go”: Bismillah is an Arabic word and the first word in the Muslim holy book (the Qur’an). It means “in the name of God”. The use o Bismillah in “Bohemian Rhapsody” contributed to the popular belief that Mercury was a Muslim. But he wasn’t a Muslim. He was a follower of Zoroastrianism.
- “Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go”: Mamma mia is an Italian interjection which is used to express surprise.
- “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me”: In certain religions such as in Christianity, Beelzebub is the devil.
- “Anyway the wind blows”: This is the last line from the song’s lyrics. This phrase basically means Mercury is ready to accept whatever fate may decide for him. Simply put, regardless of how things may turn out, he is ready to accept it.
Facts about “Bohemian Rhapsody”
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” was written solely by Freddie Mercury (the frontman of Queen).
- The piece was produced by Queen and noted English record producer and arranger Roy Thomas Baker.
- The song officially came out on October 31st, 1975 as the first single from the band’s fourth studio album A Night at the Opera. This album, which is widely considered as Queen’s best album, went on to sell over six million copies across the world.
- The song’s title doesn’t appear in the lyrics.
- This song has over the years been consistently voted one of the greatest songs in the history of rock and pop music.
- The song had no demo. May revealed this to the BBC in 2015 during the celebration of the song’s 40th birthday.
- The song was worked on in as many as 6 recording studios.
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” is so famous it has its own nickname Bo Rap.
- Queen played “Bohemian Rhapsody” live on television for the first time on the British TV music show The Old Grey Whistle Test on December 24, 1975.
- Having “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Queen’s most successful song in the United Kingdom.
- Upon its release in 1975, the song peaked at number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and topped the UK Singles Chart for a total of 9 solid weeks. In 1991, after the death of Mercury, the song went on to top the UK singles Chart again. This time around for a total of 5 weeks. Following Mercury’s death, the song also returned to the Hot 100 occupying the number 2 position in 1992.
- Having sold several millions of copies around the world, this track is one of the best-selling singles of all time. In 2012, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was honored with an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- The 2018 biographical film about Freddie Mercury and Queen Bohemian Rhapsody is obviously named after this song. The film stars Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek as Mercury.
Below is the official music video of “Bohemian Rhapsody”: