“Bohemian Rhapsody” By Queen: The Story Behind the Song

By: Kiki Arochas  |  March 27, 2024

By Kiki Arochas, Staff Writer 

On October 31, 1975, Queen released a masterpiece that would change the music scene forever. “Bohemian Rhapsody” broke all the unwritten rules. At six minutes, it was way too long for radio listeners, who were more accustomed to songs two or three minutes in length. Featuring sections of a cappella, ballad, opera, and rock, it had the feel of several songs squished into one.  Producers were hesitant to feature it in Queen’s latest album, Night at the Opera. Yet, “Fred’s Thing,” as the band called it, would go on to be considered by many the greatest song ever recorded. Adding to the allure is the inherent mystery in the meaning of the lyrics, which won lead singer Freddie Mercury an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting. Mercury remained tight-lipped about the song’s meaning his entire life. I did, however, find one main theory and added sprinkles of my own thematic insights. 

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality

The narrator opens with the first stage in the five stages of grief: Denial. The situation the narrator finds himself in (which will be elucidated later) has him stuck; he is trapped by the cage known as reality. 

Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see

I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy

Because I’m easy come, easy go, little high, little low

Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me

The narrator continues in denial, while falling into nihilism as a method to cope. He now shifts to the depression stage in his grief, explaining what he did to wind up in this place. 

Mama, just killed a man

Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead

The narrator is a man living a lie. To the world he is a superstar, a living legend, Freddie Mercury. But he has been lying to himself and the world. As Sheila Whiteley points out, the year he wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie had just begun his first love affair with a male partner.  He is bisexual, and has finally come to terms with that fact. His ‘killing a man’ metaphorically refers to killing his past self; his past self that was in denial about who he truly is. However, such actions have consequences. The world may not be ready to accept Freddie in the same way he has now accepted himself. 

Mama, life had just begun

But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away

The narrator had everything: fame, fortune, a wife that loved him; He was universally beloved. And now, he may have just thrown it all away.

Mama, ooh, didn’t mean to make you cry

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow

Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters

Freddie offers nihilism to ‘Mama’ as well: embrace nothingness, and all will be okay. Nothing hurts if nothing means anything anyways.

Freddie must face the consequences. There is no turning back now. He must face the reality of himself.  Hence the next four lines: 

Too late, my time has come

Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time

Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go

Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows)

I don’t wanna die

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all

Such is the struggle of Freddie’s emotions. He wants to embrace meaninglessness, but can’t. The two conflicting ideologies come to a head: in the background, we hear the “any way the wind blows,” which represents his nihilism, but it is immediately countered with his desperate plea, “I don’t want to die!” Try as he might, Freddie wants to live. He wants to embrace himself. 

I see a little silhouetto of a man

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me

(Galileo) Galileo, (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro, magnifico

Into the opera section, where we move to a court-like setting. With it, we now enter into a new stage of grief: Bargaining. The narrator for this stanza now is a judge, sneering down at Freddie, mocking him. I like to think of this as the ‘court’ of public opinion. The vocals reflect this, as Freddie sings these verses with a sinister undertone, demonstrating that this is a different voice. This ‘judge’ reflects society viewing the case of Freddie coming out to the world. 

I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me

He’s just a poor boy from a poor family

Spare him his life from this monstrosity

The focus now goes back to Freddie’s defense against the court. He pleads to the world to have empathy for him. In his bargaining stage of grief, he now tries to barter with the world, trying to find some common ground. 

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go? Bismillah!

No, we will not let you go (let him go) Bismillah!

We will not let you go (let him go) Bismillah!

We will not let you go (let me go), Will not let you go (let me go)

But the world will not let him go. He begs, and he pleads, but the court rejects him continuously. The chaotic operatic vocals here reflect the mood, demonstrating the back and forth and increasing tension of the moment. 

As a cool tidbit, “Bismillah” is Arabic for “iIn the name of God,” which is a nod to Mercury’s roots from Islamic Zanzibar.

Never, never, never, never let me go

No, no, no, no, no, no, no

Oh, mamma mia, mamma mia

Mamma mia, let me go

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me

The court’s verdict is clear. They will not ‘let him go;’ ; he will not be accepted for who he is. 

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?

So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby

Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here

Freddie moves on to the next stage: Anger. Having been rejected by society, Freddie lashes out. You think you can love me when I fit this mold you perceive to be good, and then, once the veil is removed, you can leave me here to die, alone?

Nothing really matters, anyone can see

Nothing really matters

Nothing really matters to me

Freddie now transitions into the final stage of grief: Acceptance. He fully embraces his nihilism, bringing the song full circle from the outset. One could even see this showing that the beginning was the end all along: perhaps that first verse was really foreshadowing the end of his journey, and the song reflected how he came to this nihilistic acceptance of his fate.

Alternatively, Freddie hasn’t reached acceptance, rather he is still in the midst of his struggle. He reverts back to his repressive thought: pretending nothing matters to cope. The final line reflects his full embrace of meaninglessness:

Any way the wind blows…