Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury in new movie Bohemian Rhapsody is already earning critical praise, but a renewed focus on the title song will reignite questions of its possible meaning.
“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”—the opening lines of “Bohemian Rhapsody”—have become more than just iconic since the song’s release in 1975.
The ethereal, multi-tracked vocals announce the beginning of a brief musical journey through a suite of different styles and emotions which test the limits of what you might reasonably expect from a pop song.
Having enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s thanks to its prominent placement in the 1992 film Wayne’s World, the song seems likely to be back in the limelight once again when the rock biopic hits cinemas later on this month.
So what is the song really about and was it a covert attempt by Freddie Mercury to publicly announce the truth about his sexuality?
Is “Bohemian Rhapsody” about coming out?
Speculation around the song’s lyrics have lasted for almost as long as it’s been a chart-topping hit.
Since the song was written in the mid-’70s, around the same time that Mercury began an affair with a male record executive, some believe the song is a dialogue conducted between Mercury and his former closeted himself. The comedian Guy Branum, in particular, has offered a detailed analysis of this possibility.
However, Freddie Mercury himself never commented on the song’s meaning, other than to say – ambiguously – that it was about relationships. (This is a bit of a non-statement, since most songs are about relationships, in one way or another.)
His fellow band members have been equally tight-lipped about the composition, with guitarist Bryan May telling the New York Times in 2005, “it was unwritten law among us in those days that the real core of a song lyric was a private matter for the composer, whoever that might be. So I still respect that.”
The theory that the song is a double-coded statement about Mercury’s sexuality comes partly from the Queen biographer and journalist Lesley-Ann Jones. Jones claims that Jim Hutton, Mercury’s long-time partner from 1985 onwards, told her as much when she visited him after Mercury’s death in 1991.
Although that would certainly seem to add weight to the theory, without any definitive statement from the late musician himself to confirm it, the lyrics will likely remain a subject of speculation and theorising for as long as people listen to the song itself.