The True Meaning of Queen’s Rock Epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”




We’ve all given at least a little thought to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I myself happen to have given it more than a little, since I and all my classmates had to learn the song and sing it together back in seventh-grade music class. But I haven’t given it as much thought as music Youtuber Polyphonic, whose exegesis “The True Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody” appears above. “The apex of the 1970s rock experiment,” Queen’s six-minute rock epic “somehow manages to take the transformative structure of progressive rock and shove it into a form that could be a radio rock staple and sell out arenas worldwide.” It also delivers “an operatic breakdown, a legendary guitar solo, and iconic lyrics that perfectly walk the line between grounded and cryptic.”

Like all the best lyrics — and especially all the best lyrics of elaborately produced 1970s rock — the words to “Bohemian Rhapsody” invite all manner of readings. Polyphonic opts to take the concept of reading more literally, visually rendering his interpretation of the song through a set of tarot cards.

Within this traditional framework, he makes the thoroughly modern choice of grounding these often fantastical- or even bizarre-sounding lyrics in the sexual identity of Queen’s lead singer. Born in Zanzibar to a conservative Indian family, the boy who would become Freddie Mercury would have had more than one reason to feel out of place in the world. Do we have here an artistic sublimation of his personal isolation, alienation, and self-reinvention?

When it was released in 1975, “Bohemian Rhapsody” met with a critical reception here and there impressed, but on the whole indifferent or perplexed. Perhaps the song was simply too much, not just musically but culturally: it draws in a seemingly haphazard manner from the realms of cowboys, of opera, of Christianity, and of much else besides. But to Polyphonic, all these elements reflect the central theme of Mercury’s survival in and ultimate defiance of a hostile world. “In the end,” his character realizes, “people’s minds are not going to change, and his own identity isn’t going to change, so there’s no use hanging on in fear. Armed with this knowledge, Freddie Mercury completes his magnificent transformation and ascends to rock godhood.” Such an interpretation was far from my own mind in middle school, admittedly, but there were no doubt other students who could feel the powerful inspiration this sonic spectacle continues to offer.

Related Content:

The Making of “Bohemian Rhapsody”: Take a Deep Dive Into the Iconic Song with Queen’s 2002 Mini Documentary

The Joy of Experiencing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the Very First Time: Watch Three Reaction Videos

Hear How Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” Would Sound If Sung by Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra & 38 Other Artists

65,000 Fans Break Into a Singalong of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” at a Green Day Concert in London’s Hyde Park

1910 Fairground Organ Plays Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and It Works Like a Charm

Watch Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” Acted Out Literally as a Short Crime Film

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Comments (9)
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  • Jan says:

    Actually, Mercury himself said that his lyrics had no particular meaning. He then added, “If you see it, then it’s there.” He recognized that people will assign each their own particular interpretation of his music. He never once stated that Bohemian Rhapsody was about coming out as gay.

  • Paul Nelson says:

    No one knows what the song means other than its creator who is unfortunately dead!

    If someone wants to try to create a meaning without first knowing that Freddie was gay, then that’s fair enough. But trying to make a song fit a theory is easy!

    The song is about whatever you want it to be about because that’s how Freddie wrote his songs! For the listener to assign their own meaning to them.

  • Trent D.Massie says:

    Never It was about him being gay the song never gave that impression.It was someone killed some one then was going to prison then winds up in hell.

  • Jimmy Lewis says:

    Freddy, and the rest of the band have stated that the song was several songs put together. They have also stated that there was no message in the song. If people want to try to give the song a meaning, then more power to them. It’s sad though, that everything seems to be over analyzed these days. Brian Johnson said it best. Rock and roll, is just Rock and roll.

  • Andy says:

    If there is then

    Galileo was an astronomer then = Brian May

    Beelzebub well it could be Roger Taylor

    ScaraMouch(e) John or Freddie ( depends how you see it )

    Cos when you think the Queen Logo is basically the star signs of the band with a few extras added then seriously how hard can it be to figure out Boh Rhap

    Also how about when he actually changed his name to Freddie Mercury

    Mamma Just killed a man etc “ bye Mr Bulsara Hello Mr Mercury “

    Well thats what me and a few friends think and makes sense if you watched the film and documentaries

  • Mike O says:

    I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Freddie may have been thinking of his own journey when writing the song. The 1970s was a very different world for gay people than today. It was no joke. You were almost universally marginalized and isolated, often physically threatened and attacked without recourse, constantly openly and frequently mocked and derided by people from all walks of life, harassed by the police and many other authorities, usually disowned by your family and friends and most employment and housing was cut off to you if you came out publicly. Gay neighborhoods in cities (often derisively referred to as “gay ghettos”) evolved in then forgotten corners of major cities like London, Paris, New York, LA and San Francisco as a refuge for people who often had almost nowhere else to go. Back then, virtually NO ONE was calling them “brave” for living their true authentic lives even though they had so much more to lose.

  • Nancy M Walker says:

    Exactly!!

  • Nancy M Walker says:

    It never replied to him being gay period. He killed a man and now he have to pay the price!!

  • Unknown says:

    Well,I think the song lyrics is about Freddie Mercury’s life which is about his identity or the aids disease also could be his past life before he became a rock legend. We can’t add new meanings to this song bcoz nobody knows what this song is really about,so the only thing that we can simply do is enjoy his Bohemian Rhapsody masterpiece.

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