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.

Lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

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”:

 

 

13 Responses

  1. Sandra Schairer says:

    I think your uncomplicated article about the “meaning” of Bohemian Rhapsody is concise and most likely the best explanation of the song. Thank you.

  2. Vincent Wansink says:

    The line “spare him his life from this monstrosity” makes me think he knew about his virus when he wrote the song. What else could the monstrosity that would take his life be referring to?

  3. Sandi says:

    The AIDS epidemic was not on anyone’s Radar in 1975. It was not an officially recognized virus until 1981.
    That said, I think that his personal struggle with his sexuality is a key factor in the song. I also believe that the man that he “killed” is himself. His struggle to accept himself as a gay man may have resulted in his rejection of the man he (and all men) were expected to be at that point in our cultural history.

    • Sandi says:

      My earlier post SHOULD have read “…..not on anyone’s RADAR…”. My apologies for the typographical error. Hopefully, I can correct it once my comment posts.

    • Elle says:

      AIDs was a problem in the 70’s. I worked for a Health Insurance company and we were getting the claims and nobody knew what was happening to all of these young men. It was pretty said. If Freddie knew people that had it and their outcomes, he knew it was not going to end well. I believe this song reflects the fact that he knew he was sick with something, not quite defined at the time. I love this song but it does have a tendency to make me cry.

    • Genna Cash says:

      I think this is spot on. Mama just killed a man, I believe, references himself. Freddie Mercury was a deep, passionate, brilliant, sensitive, tender hearted soul. He was also from a traditional family – to deviate caused him some shame, as well as to his family, while yet being this amazing loved Rock Star he was able to follow his dreams. But he knew about his inner demons; This song is deeply complex as it is beautiful. If you listen to the gentleness of the piano – even that is deeply beautiful and complex; the range of his voice. His soul and his legacy is in this beautiful song.

  4. Despise Government says:

    Queen along with other bands of a lost generation were geniuses…..my grandchildren discovering them in addition to other bands of 70’s thru 80’s who were genuine song writers, musicians who were/are genuinely talented aren’t of rap crap or technology enhanced so called talent. A few bands are but majority are full of nothing but intimate encounters and hate filled political ideology. …

  5. CcK says:

    ABSOLUTELY adore QUEEN and am especially drawn to Freddie. I’m so grateful for these sites and even the movie that help us to understand some of the real struggle he had to adapt to his choices. If ONLY HIV research had been a little further along, we’d have had many more genius recordings from this band AND especially Freddie Mercury, Mr. Farenheit!

  6. Linda, March, 2021 says:

    A Zoroastrian belief is that homosexuality is an abomination created by the devil. Beelzebub had a devil put aside for Freddie, the song goes. The devil and Freddie’s demons, as well as attitudes and mores of the time, were the ” monstrosity” that he had to deal with, but Freddie was prepared to accept his fate, whatever it was. Leslie-Ann Jones, an author who toured with Queen, talked to Freddie about the names in Bo Rap and which band members they represented. He just stared at her, avoiding comment. Details are in her book about him and the band. I became a fan after seeing the Bo Rap film at age 75, and have read many books about the band’s beginning, the songs, their rise to fame, and their persistence after Live Aid, 1985. Freddie’s voice and performances are mesmerizing and addictive! Previously, I didn’t know Queen’s music, and had no idea that some of the members were close to my age! I regret having missed their live concerts! Long live Freddie’s memory and music and may Queen continue to keep the phenomenal legacy alive!

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