A Night at the Opera: Performance, Theatricality, and Identity in the Music of Queen
Many discussions of the rock band Queen (vocalist Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bassist John Deacon) reference their theatricality, yet few analyze what makes Queen’s music and performances theatrical. Through examining Queen’s theatricality from different angles, this thesis shows the different layers of Queen’s performativity and its relationship to identity. After an introductory chapter that surveys the literature about Queen, the second chapter of the thesis analyzes the theatricality of Queen’s music from a stylistic basis. The chapter begins by addressing Queen’s camp theatricality through their use of music hall, operetta, and musical theatre styles. It then addresses their drama-based theatricality through their use of opera and film music styles. The third chapter analyzes Queen’s performance of gender and sexuality through their use of different genres. It first discusses Queen’s participation in the genre of glam rock, in which they performed a more feminine persona, but were still understood as heterosexual. Then it explores Queen’s disco and funk influenced music and Mercury’s “castro clone” image as simultaneously a more masculine and more homosexual performance. Finally the chapter analyzes the various rock genres Queen used throughout their career in order to perform heterosexual masculinity, including hard rock, stadium rock, and heavy metal. The fourth chapter focuses primarily on Mercury’s performance of ethnicity and nationality through his music. Taking into account his history as a first-generation Parsi Zanzibarian who immigrated to London, it first looks at his and Queen’s expressions of “Britishness” through the figure of the British pop dandy and their use of the British national anthem. Then it turns to discussing the influence of Mercury’s Persian and African heritage on select songs. Finally, it examines religion as it relates to cultural identity, specifically Mercury’s Zoroastrian heritage and the ways he used the aesthetics of heavy metal to articulate his place within that religion. The fifth chapter concludes the thesis by taking a holistic view of how all of these layers of performativity operated simultaneously, endowing Queen’s music with a deep and complex sense of theatricality.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Musical theatricality -- Performing gender and sexuality -- Performing ethnicity and nationality -- Conclusion -- Appendix
M.M. (Master of Music)