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:


  • 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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