Walking through town the other day, I saw three teenage girls, arm-in-arm, cheerfully singing away in the unselfconscious manner borne of youth. For a moment, I couldn’t tell what they were singing, but as they passed by, I realised that it was Bohemian Rhapsody. And they weren’t singing it in an ironic, post-modern way; they were simply singing away, with tremendous glee, at a song that was first released probably 30 years before they were born.
It made sense to me, because only recently I’d heard reports that the Academy Award winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody had managed the rare feat of re-entering the British cinema Top 10 because kids were starting to discover the band’s music. An audience that the film’s producers had probably never even envisioned were making Bohemian Rhapsody a hit all over again! It makes a mockery of the media analysts and trend-chasers who insist that teenagers’ tastes are mired in a certain anodyne modern idiom. Could it be that YouTube and Spotify are actually starting to fulfil the role for which they were created and are opening up the wider arena of popular entertainment to a younger audience? Or is it just that kids will single-mindedly seek out what they like regardless of that the aforementioned media analysts tell them they should be liking?
But what would attract the kids of today to the music of Queen; music which, even in its day, was labelled by its harshest critics as overblown and pompous? Isn’t it obvious? Teenagers are all at heart deeply melodramatic; they love the grand gesture, the epic flounce, and no-one’s flounce was more epic than Freddie Mercury! The music of Queen is drawn in broad strokes; flourishes of opera, ornate bursts of guitar, pulsing heartbeats of drums and bass. For all its erudite nature, it screams of teenage angst, its need to scream from the rooftops ‘I am different!’ And although a lot of this may have been Freddie Mercury’s struggles with his own self-discovery, it works just as well as a metaphor for teenage rebellion.
Freddie Mercury is also a very attractive character to the kids of today. When he was a teenager, homosexuality was hidden, repressed – hell, it was illegal! But to today’s teens, for whom different forms of sexuality are increasingly just a way of life, he’s a bit of a poster boy. The days when all that a teenager had to do to rebel was put on a leather jacket are long gone. Their granddads wear leather jackets! And even boys putting on make-up was old-hat by the 1980s. But Freddie always ploughed his own trough; no-one else was prancing across the stage in a harlequin patterned leotard in the 1970s. The film Bohemian Rhapsody takes a lot of time to examine Freddie’s struggles with his own sexuality and his story is ultimately a tragic one, but it’s a historical document – and a cautionary tale – to the youth of today. They have it much easier, but there is still much to be learned from Freddie.
It’s not all about sexuality though; it’s about knowing your goals and going for them, no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. Farrokh Bulsara stood out in 1960s Britain because he was camp, he was ‘foreign’ and he had noticeable buck-teeth; but he had an unswervable confidence in what he has capable of. He had to become Freddie Mercury – almost playing a character – to bring that dream to fruition. It’s a powerful message that doesn’t go unnoticed by the youth of today. Songs like I Want It All and I Want to Break Free speak directly to young people struggling to find their own identity with an impact that is lacking in the kind of cookie-cutter pop that is more directly marketed at them.
Critics of Bohemian Rhapsody moan that it is too light and it doesn’t go deeply enough into Freddie’s lifestyle and his famously bacchanalian parties, but in giving a pen-picture depiction of his lifestyle, the film has obtained a ‘12’ certificate in the UK, which has made it instantly more accessible to teens. Ultimately, you have to think about what Freddie Mercury himself would have wanted: a prurient introspection of his private life, or an inspirational, aspirational legacy for the kids of today? No matter how old the various ‘dinosaurs of rock’ may be getting these days – be it The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zepplin… or Queen – their modus operandi is still to stir up the rebellion of youth. Rock isn’t about making music to please 70-year olds; it’s about the ‘cry of youth’.
It’s great that, in today’s society, you can be a granddad or a great-granddad and still be listening to rock without being considered a weirdo, but there’s not one of those famous rock bands of the 60s or 70s who wouldn’t be absolutely delighted to know that the teenagers of today were rediscovering their work. The Beatles are unique in being rediscovered by generation after generation of (usually college age) kids, but Queen aren’t far behind – and they’re getting them younger. Queen are a band that not only produced an astounding catalogue of really good music, but they’re a band that truly mean something to fans of all ages. I was delighted to hear those three girls singing Bohemian Rhapsody because it gave me faith in today’s kids; faith that they will rebel, they will find their own direction… and hopefully they won’t make the same stupid mistakes we did!