Freddie Mercury is one of my biggest idols. And no, in case you are wondering this isn’t a “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Queen” bandwagon fan piece. I feel like we all know a person who as soon as they saw the movie decided to obnoxiously play “Don’t Stop Me Now” at every party they went to. I’ve had a poster of Freddie striking his iconic and all too familiar pose taped to the wall of my room since middle school. In fact, it feels like I’ve known Freddie for quite a while now.
I was first introduced to Freddie when I was in kindergarten. My dad had come from work, probably on a Friday night, and decided to order a live recording of Queen performing at Wembley on pay-per view. I remember being sandwiched between my parents on our La-Z-Boy and feeling utterly confused about what I was watching. At the time, I didn’t understand any of the lyrics that the crowd echoed back to the band. I also didn’t understand why a stadium full of people were losing their minds over a moustached man rocking a canary-yellow jacket and white pants while prancing across a stage. However, I do remember that there was something about his commanding presence on stage and his swagger that had me glued to the screen. By the end of the performance, I started to believe in the magic behind Freddie Mercury and he’d won me over as a fan.
My parents didn’t hesitate in taking advantage of this. We have too many home videos of me as a kindergartner singing and dancing to Queen songs that my parents still like to watch to my embarrassment. There’s even one of me belting out the rather raunchy lyrics to “Fat Bottomed Girls” much to the amusement of my father who can be heard laughing behind the camera to the horror of my mother. Between you and me, there was a period of time where simple things such as my parents love for classic rock that maintained their unwavering determination to live the American Dream. My Dad worked really hard during the day to climb the corporate ladder as an immigrant. My Mom had immigrated to the United States and shortly afterwards become a mother and beat leukemia and was trying to sort of figure out how to get back to normalcy. But it was on those friday nights, when my dad struggled to hit the high notes, that my parents just seemed like two kids who had left everything behind in India and dreamed of raising a family in America.
Looking back at it, Queen’s music has meant so many different things to me and have served different purposes in my life. “A Night at the Opera” has sort of been an album that I’ve grown up with. But with each listen, one message that I’ve taken away from Queen’s music is that one should always unapologetically be themselves and be confident in who they are. It amazes me and gives me a lot of pride to think about a person who started out with so many insecurities ended up living life to the fullest without caring what others thought of him. He was insecure about his heritage, his looks and his identity but somehow built up enough confidence to wear sequined leotards on stage and have masses of people chant out lyrics that could make you blush.
It was this sense of confidence and almost a sense of belonging that got me through feeling more of an American when I first moved to Bangalore, India in the sixth grade. It also got me through feeling more of an Indian when I moved back to Ann Arbor at the beginning of high school. Generally Freddie’s music also helped me navigate growing up in high school and even now in college. Queen’s a band that prided themselves on belonging to the misfits and outcasts in the room and I genuinely felt their sentiment. There have been plenty of times this year when just listening to Queen has changed my mood, given me confidence when I badly needed it and lifted the cloud of anxiety which a lot of us have over our heads in college.
Freddie will always be an inspiration and an icon to me and his spirit and music will continue to make me believe in myself. But I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t admit that Bohemian Rhapsody was one of my favorite movies of the year. I was very proud to see Rami Malek deservedly win the Oscar for Best Actor. There was a part of his acceptance speech that really touched me. It was the fact that a film about a gay immigrant who found his voice is being celebrated this year means that we’re longing to hear more stories like that. Be bold, be daring and speak your truth.