Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” Lyrics Meaning

Queen is the band which introduced the world to such iconic musicians as Brain May and Roger Taylor. But when we hear the word “Queen” of course we think first and foremost of former frontman Freddie Mercury, who as of the early-20th century is unanimously considered to be a music legend. 

And truthfully, Mercury was no joke. In fact he was so hard that he knowingly sang a song, “The Show Must Go On”, whose lyrics were based on his own terminally-ill health.

Such most notably takes place in the chorus and final verse. Here it is revealed that the singer’s “heart is breaking” and “makeup may be flaking”. In the grand scheme of the song, such terminology can be considered metaphorical. But in Mercury’s case it was quite literal, as he was concurrently in the process of passing away. 

Indeed Freddie left the mortal plane some few months after this song was released. And in the third verse when he refers to “find(ing) the will to carry on” he had to do so literally, assisted by some vodka, in the name of recording this song, even though due to his poor health Brain May tried to talk him out of it.

Core Message of “The Show Must Go On”

So despite the fact the lyrics rely heavily on what we will refer to as challenging metaphors, we still know the message it is conveying via the character of the vocalist himself. 

That’s not something you can say about most musicians, not when it comes to an inspirational tune like this one. Mercury wasn’t just blowing smoke out of his behind when he sang about keeping ‘a smile on’ in the face of adversity. He was simultaneously dealing with what is just about the worst diagnosis anyone can receive, having contracted a fatal illness. 

And his bandmates can attest to the reality that he was in fact more dedicated to keeping the show going than focusing on his problems. He didn’t just sing this song; he lived it. And that spirit is perhaps why Queen is known for dropping some of the most directly-inspirational tunes in history.

Lyrics of "The Show Must Go On"

Music Video

The music video to this song was directed by a duo known as DoRo (Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher). It was a montage of clips from other Queen videos, i.e. featuring no new footage. 

At the time the media had been heavily speculating that Freddie Mercury had AIDS, which was why he couldn’t participate in filming a new clip. That was in fact true, as in Mercury definitively knew he had the disease since his mid-1987 diagnosis.  However, he kept that fact, or rather did not actually confirm the rumors until late November 1991, dying some 24 hours afterwards.

Writing Credits for “The Show Must Go On”

“The Show Must Go On” was written primarily by Brain May. He is not only Queen’s main guitarist but also wrote a number of their hits, such as “We Will Rock You” (1977) and “Hammer to Fall” (1988) in addition to this one. But as far as actually writing credit goes, that went to all of the individual members of Queen at the time –

  • Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)
  • Roger Taylor
  • John Deacon
  • Brain May

And the crew is collectively acknowledged for producing the track, doing so alongside regular collaborator David Richards (1956-2013).

In constructing the instrumental, Brain May derived inspiration from a late 17th century composition known as “Pachelbel’s Canon”.

The Show Must Go On

When did “The Show Must Go On” come out?

The official release date of this song, originally via Parlophone Records in Europe (and later via Hollywood Records in the US) was on 5 February 1991. 

That was about a year before Freddie Mercury died. However, once again presumably due to bad health, he was never able to perform it live. 

This track is from “Innuendo” (1991), the last album Queen would put out while Freddie Mercury was still alive.

Live Renditions

Owing to the above and Freddie’s death, throughout the years Queen has had to cover it with other vocalists. 

At the top of the list would be Adam Lambert, considering for instance that an entire documentary has been created which centers on his collaborations with Queen entitled The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story

Also there is an official version of Queen and Adam Lambert doing this song that came out in 2018. That single can be found on Queen + Adam Lambert’s second live album, “Live Around the World” (2020), which topped the UK Albums Chart.

A couple of times Queen also performed this song alongside Sir Elton John himself. The first occurrence was at London’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992. That time around the two acts were joined by Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, who provided guitar support. 

Then in 1997 the Rocketman joined the band again to perform it in Paris alongside the Béjart Ballet.  That particular version can be found on Queen’s “Greatest Hits III” (1999) compilation album.

The aforementioned performance in France, which occurred on 17 January 1997, also holds an important place in Queen history as it marked the last time bassist John Deacon performed with the band. 

He was shaken by Freddie Mercury’s death. But more importantly to the story at hand, he didn’t see the purpose of continuing the band in the wake of losing its eccentric frontman. And since quitting Queen he has completely retired from the public spotlight, more or less disappearing into obscurity yet is still reportedly bloody rich.

Chart Success

“The Show Must Go On” charted in impressively in England and several other nations. In its native England it reached number 16 on the UK Singles Chart. And stateside it appeared on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

“Show Must Go On” by Celine Dion

Céline Dion also dropped a version of this song in 2016, doing so in collaboration with violinist Lindsey Stirling. That rendition also charted in the US, Canada and a few other countries.

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