Farrokh Bulsara or, as the world knows him, Freddie Mercury, was one of the most talented men that the world has ever seen. Everything that Freddie did in his life was an art: his persona, carefully constructed, his outfits, lovingly maintained and lavishly designed, the theatrical performances that are still burned into the mind’s eye of every audience he ever amazed. The full package was something too dazzling to take in all at once, like looking at the sun with your naked eye. Everything about Freddie Mercury was as he had made it, from his mane of hair to his home. Mother nature gifted him with a four-octave vocal range, and boy, did he make the most of it. He was an integral part of Queen; some might argue that he was the only thing that made them work as a group. Whatever your feelings on that topic, you can’t deny that Freddie Mercury was a driving force behind hits to get you hyped, even today, long after he has left this mortal coil. Join us as we remember the one and only Mister Mercury, thirty years after his passing.
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The only son of a quiet and traditional family, Mercury’s early life was that of boarding schools in Zanzibar, an escape from the revolution, and a move to Middlesex in England. By the time he was only eighteen years old, Farrokh was already transforming into the person who would eventually be Freddie Mercury. He was influenced by cabaret-style performances, which is clear from his stage persona. Naturally, he was a fan of Liza Minelle in all her incarnations, but particularly in Cabaret. The excess and raw sexual energy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show brought out another side of his performance persona. They gave him permission to accept his sexuality as it was. Mercury thrived in the ’70s: a time of sexual and social upheaval and revolution. Queen’s 1975 hit Bohemian Rhapsody used traditional operatic parameters in a new way: this was the birth of the rock opera. After years of neat and tidy artists like The Beatles, Mercury and Queen were a glass of water in the desert to the audiences of the world. Mercury’s over-the-top style drew its inspiration from stars like David Bowie, Elton John, and Robert Plant. Indeed, Bowie’s incredible style, both personally and in performance, would lead to one of the best-known collaborations of all time, Under Pressure, in 1981, and a lifelong friendship between the two men.
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Though many Queen fans may not agree, we believe there was never a time in Freddie Mercury’s career (solo or otherwise) when his music faltered. His fashion sense and his musical sensibilities whet hand in hand. Mercury himself believed that Queen was like no one else: more like Minelli than Zeppelin, more showbiz than traditional rock n roll. This feeling was exemplified in the release of I Want To Break Free in 1984. The video that accompanied the track caused nothing short of a scandal, with the band members appearing in drag, and was soon banned on MTV in the US. This, naturally, only added to the song’s popularity. Mercury and his bandmates experimented with costumes and fashion for their entire career. Mercury never went by the rules but preferred to break them and make things up as he went along, to significant effect. Indeed, more costumes than outfits, the looks have inspired fashion designers as recently as 2019, when both Balmain and Watanabe used Queen tracks for their runway shows.
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The Impact of an Icon
The cultural impact of an icon like Mercury is felt to this day. His fashion and musical sensibilities are now so interwoven with pop culture that it is impossible to consider without his contribution. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Madonna are just a few of the stars that would not be who they are without an influential giant like Mercury.
In terms of gay and bisexual culture, Freddie Mercury was something of a zeitgeist: a public figure who felt and articulated their joys and sorrows. His tragic passing took a toll on the world, yes, but on the gay community in particular. Some of his later work, in particular Live Aid, brought much-needed help and attention to the Aids crisis, which would later claim his life. When he was honored at the 1992 Olympic opening ceremony, there was not a dry eye in the house. Barcelona played, and people all over the world paid their respects to a man in a million. His tragic passing was not considered in vain.
Whatever your experience of Freddie Mercury, be it live in concert or growing up with his music, it cannot be denied that his influence will last forever.