We are in semi-denial that “The Great Pretender” is not an original by the late great Freddie Mercury. If there ever was a pretender of the greatest magnitude, it would be the Queen rock band’s frontman, Freddie Mercury. Why? We will get to that in detail in this song breakdown.
“The Great Pretender” was a cover by Freddie Mercury during his short-lived solo career and released as a single in 1987. The song was later included in the tracklist for ‘The Freddie Mercury Album,’ on November 24, 1992, exactly one year after Freddie’s passing. The entire album contains materials from his solo run. In the US, the same album was released with the title ‘The Great Pretender.’
“The Great Pretender” was originally recorded by the American band The Platters in 1955. The song was a major success, reading #1 on Billboard Hot 100, and the Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at #360 on their ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time‘ list. Freddie’s cover version reached #4 on UK Singles Chart.
The song was written by The Platters’ producer Buck Ram. Legend has it that he wrote the song in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, where the group was performing.
“The Great Pretender” Music Video by Freddie Mercury
The music video for “The Great Pretender” includes Freddie Mercury re-enacting some iconic scenes from some of his iconic music videos throughout his career such as “Radio Ga Ga”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “It’s a Hard Life”, “I Want to Break Free”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “One Vision”, and “I Was Born to Love You”. These different phases from different songs are one reason why Freddie was the greatest pretender. Watch the music video below.
It is also noteworthy that Freddie Mercury shaved his iconic moustache in this music video.
In the description of the music video on YouTube, a section reads; “He was the ultimate showman, but he kept his private life away from the prying eyes of the media; a larger than life rock star who loved disco, classical music, and ballet. He was a restless spirit, a true chameleon who reveled in his own contradictions.”
“The Great Pretender” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
In an interview in 1987, Freddie Mercury explained that he felt as if this song relates to him a lot when asked for reasons for covering this track.
Freddie Mercury is still known to be one of the greatest showmen on the live stage. His vocal skills were unparalleled and his showmanship is untouchable. Queen’s live concerts were a sight to behold. The theatrics were on another level.
Despite all of these glitz and glamour, Freddie Mercury was a very private person. He did have raging parties in his houses which were equally glamorous as his live concerts. But it was only a cover for what he really was-lonely.
Freddie Mercury was openly bisexual in an era where homosexuality was frowned upon. Tabloids were more interested in whom he was sleeping with rather than the incredible talent he held. So, for the most part of his life, he had to be a pretender. He pretended that none of it bothered him. This song also includes the lyric “Just laughing and gay like a clown” which, both metaphorically and realistically, applies to Freddie.
Freddie’s only known true love, Mary Austin left him when she found out he was bisexual. Freddie had to pretend he was straight for most of his relationship with Mary Austin to protect it. But it came to a point where it was too difficult to keep secrets from her. Mary Austin still did keep in touch with him until his death. However, Freddie Mercury never found a love as strong as Mary’s until Jim Hutton until later in his life. In between, Freddie Mercury jumped from one lover to another in search of that one person to fill the void in his heart. This conquest only resulted in Freddie Mercury contracting AIDS, from which he died in 1991.
Freddie Mercury also hid the fact that he had AIDS from his closest friends, Queen members, for quite some time. He kept his sorrows and pains to himself and wore a smile on his face for the millions of fans around the world. In May 1991 (6 months before his death), Freddie even performed his last visuals and vocals for “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” with a big smile on his face, hiding the fact that he was almost dead inside. Freddie sang “I still love you” in the song to all his fans, pretending it was all okay.
Freddie Mercury was the great pretender for the most part of his life.
The lyrics on “The Great Pretender” are from a man who is stricken with loneliness and out of love. He sings how he pretends as if everything is okay, but inside he is hurting. But he does not want to show this to anyone else. He thinks that he cannot bother anyone else with his personal issues.
However, the singer knows that charades can only go so far. He breaks down in silence when he thinks about his situation. His heart reminds him that he is in need of company every now and then.
I’m wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you’re still around
The singer says that he wears his heart like a crown pretending that his lover is still around. However, the reality of the situation is that his heart is pricked and bleeding, and nothing of the glamour of a crown!
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.