One of the major aspects of what is arguably Queen’s most well known song, Bohemian Rhapsody,” is its confusing lyrics. The theatrical storytelling includes multiple narrators expressing different points of view, and the story, though emotional and intense, can be hard to follow. This confusion is only amplified when one tries to understand the lyrics as symbolism, but it is likely that there was a method to Freddie Mercury's madness.

A hidden message

Around the time the song was written, Mercury had just ended a 7-year relationship with a woman named Mary Austin.

The continuous references and apologies to “mama” in the song could be addressing Austin instead of Mercury’s actual mother. This would be an appropriation of the trope that is common in styles like the blues that refer to non-maternal women as “mama,” which would not be surprising considering Mercury’s tendency to take influence from a wide variety of musical styles. The apologies for “killing a man” could be seen as the pain it caused Mercury to put an end to his double life by giving up on his unfulfilling heterosexual romantic relationship and leaving Austin, effectively killing that part of him.

The suffering that the song’s narrator laments is symbolic of Freddie’s struggle to smother his homosexual urges despite a biological need to pursue members of the same sex.

This pain could also refer to the regret he felt at having to hurt someone he cared so deeply about. Thus, even Queen’s earliest and most well-known music carries an air of ambiguity in terms of Freddie’s sexuality.

Ambiguity expressed through music

The song “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” is another example of this sexual ambiguity that characterized Mercury's music.

The song, heavily influenced by the glam rock sound, seems to be sung from two separate perspectives: that of the loverboy who takes pride in his romantic abilities and that of someone else addressing the lover boy and praising him for said abilities. It is not always easy to tell when each perspective is being used, which results in the possibility that the song might be heard as Freddie addressing a male lover.

This is reinforced by the fact that even when the non-loverboy perspective is speaking, the voice is still Freddie’s, and so the listener hears Mercury himself sing lines like “he’s my good old fashioned lover boy.”

Even the concept of the song itself is significant when analyzing sexuality. In rock music, love songs are often hypersexualized and overtly masculine. This song, though it does contain one or two references to sex, is focused primarily on the romance aspect of courtship rather than sexual conquest. The speaker relishes the opportunity to treat his dates as a gentleman would. This is a far cry from the masculine hypersexuality rock audiences were accustomed to. Yet, Mercury created the song uninhibited by the standards he saw before him in the rock world.

He is careful, however, to keep the references to homosexuality subtle and unclear so as to maintain his credibility as a rock artist.

A champion's legacy

Whatever his intent was when he wrote these songs, Mercury has become a rock idol as well as a queer idol. One of the first and most successful non-heterosexual men to enter the rock scene, Mercury skillfully toed the line as he traversed a hypermasculine, hypersexual, and heteronormative space, all the while creating unforgettable art. It is difficult and painful to look back on his music for messages from beyond the grave, but at the same time it provides us with some comfort, in that we can still hear his voice despite his tragic end.