Queen – The Show Must Go On (Lyrics Review and Song Meaning)
This song will be marked in the history books as one of the last songs recorded by the late great Freddie Mercury of Queen. As per Brian May, Freddie was in a very bad shape due to complications in AIDS when he recorded the song in 1990. This makes “The Show Must Go On” one of the true reflections on Freddie’s attitude to life, as he is The Showman of Rock music from 80’s to-date.
“The Show Must Go On” is largely a reflection on lead singer Freddie Mercury’s attitude on life. Even when recording this song in 1990, Freddie Mercury was severely ill to a point where he could not even walk properly. Brian May wrote this song for Freddie, and he recalls asking Freddie; “Fred, I don’t know if this is going to be possible to sing.” And Freddie Mercury’s response; “I’ll f*cking do it, darling,” he says after downing a shot of Vodka to numb the pain.
Freddie Mercury kept his HIV/AIDS condition hidden from the public until the last moment. He had already revealed it to his band members, which they all accepted quite well. On 23rd November 1991, Freddie announced to the public that he is ill with AIDS and on the following day he passed away.
“The Show Must Go On” made into Queen’s 1991 album ‘Greatest Hits II’ released just six weeks before Mercury’s death. The song has cracked into top 10 positions in almost all the country’s music charts at some point.
The below recording of the song comes from a man who was drawing closer to his deathbed. Can you hear a difference?
Listen to Queen Perform “The Show Must Go On”
This song is a celebration of life. The phrase ‘show must go on’ is a term on how a show/performance/drama should continue no matter what happens for the audience in attendance. The artist may be sick, their family members may be dying or they could have just broken up with their love, but the show must go on. The show-biz is either make it or break it. There is no middle ground. And Freddie Mercury was the king of showmanship.
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “The Show Must Go On”
Queen raises some severe questions on life that have asked and not answered in the past few centuries. “What is the true purpose of life?”
“Empty spaces” could be a reference to how Freddie Mercury could never fulfil some of his life desires in his lifetime. He wanted to be with the love of his life-Mary Austin, who moved on after finding out that Mercury was bisexual and had many partners. Freddie wanted to break free from the shackles that locked him up as a bisexual person in the 80’s. However, this sexual life was heavily publicized and criticized by media. He was betrayed, stomped upon, he achieved glory and immortality, he never had children, he got sick, he loved, he lived, and the rollercoaster ride continues on. There were many empty spaces in Freddie’s life and we do too.
“The score” that we know is the imminent death. You could be as immortal as Freddie Mercury, but your body still fails you.
So what exactly is everybody looking for in life?
Brian May talks about the distinction of ‘good vs evil’ in the next line. Is a soldier committing a crime when he kills his enemy? May calls this a ‘mindless crime’ because the soldier has no say in it. He just shoots.
“Pantomime” is a dramatic, theatrical entertainment. Queen compares the moral struggle for ‘good vs evil’ to be a huge, bogus theatrics.
“Hold the line” is a term from the military, where soldiers are ordered to hold their positions against an incoming enemy attack. Much like the soldiers do not back down, Queen asks their fans to not give up on them because the show will go on!
Watch Queen and Elton John Perform “The Show Must Go On” Live in 1992
These lines are Brian May’s tribute to Freddie Mercury who has brought the once school-club band to become the biggest Rock band ever. Freddie was a showman of vivid theatrics and even in his last days, he did not back down from the game. His energy and attitude to life were unparalleled.
From the Queen biopic movie ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ we can see how Freddie Mercury pushed the band to break into the world arena, and how his vocals helped the band to become one of the biggest acts in the world, living through decades.
“Inside my heart is breaking
My makeup may be flaking
But my smile, still, stays on”
The above are possibly some of the most reputed lyrics from the history of music. These are a reflection on Mercury’s fading health during the 1990’s when this song was recorded.
Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1987 and he passed away in 1991. Treatments for HIV/AIDS were pretty much non-existent back then and we can assume that towards 1990, Mercury’s health would have been deteriorated quite bad. His heart breaks that he has to leave the stage at the young age of 45.
Jim Hutton-Freddie’s partner for the final 6 years of his life-says the following about the song;
“To me, the most autobiographical line was: “My make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.” That was true. No matter how ill Freddie felt, he never grumbled to anyone or sought sympathy of any kind. It was his battle, no one else’s, and he always wore a brave face against the ever-increasing odds against him. – Jim Hutton
Freddie was known for his notorious costumes, makeup and theatrics. Even when his life was drawing to a close, his showmanship did not fade away. He was brave enough to admit his mistakes and keep pushing on for the band.
Queen is again questioning on the purpose of life in the second verse of “The Show Must Go On.”
Freddie Mercury was a free spirit. He did not want to live by the standard societal codes. He did not care when EMI refused to accept the 6-minute-long “Bohemia Rhapsody” calling it “bloody forever.” He did not care about wearing a dress and makeup in “I Want To Break Free” video. Freddie took many chances and they paid off. Talent alone does not get you to places in the show-biz, you have to have a bit of luck as well.
Towards the end of Freddie’s life, he had pretty much experienced life at its wholesome. He had partied, he had loved and lost, he had found love again, he had been bisexual, he has had the biggest concerts, he has been nobody, he has done drugs, he has won over generations of people and the list goes on. Everything is a learning to answer the ultimate question of life. Nearing his death, Freddie feels as if he is drawing in closer to the answer. However, Brian May composed the lyrics to “The Show Must Go On” possibly with Freddie Mercury in his mind.
The last lines of the second verse speak about Freddie’s unfortunate ending. Taking a turn around the corner could be a reference to death. It also could be meaning that he found the answer to life and would be making some severe changes to his life.
Another day dawns on and Freddie Mercury draws closer and closer to his death. Although it is sunshine outside, inside of him its full of darkness. But he takes on the world with a smile, because ‘the show must go on!’
Freddie had a colourful soul with a vivid imagination. He is still considered one of the greatest showmen in Rock music, or even music for that matter.
“Fairy tales of yesterday” could be a reference to their music, which he believes would keep on growing. His prediction was correct. He feels like he is free now that the death is around the corner.
Freddie Mercury always brought on the show. He was dramatic, talented and lovable. Probably overkill, but that overkill impacted future generations as well.
Mercury must find a way to carry on with his performance because the show must go on!
Truly an iconic classic hit from Queen and the relation to the frontman Freddie’s life makes “The Show Must Go On” very special.
There are no live performances of this song with Freddie doing vocals. However, the song has been played and performed countless times since 1991.
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