A year ago I have attended – through the online stream – a Moscow seminar dedicated to the immersive theater, the experimental productions that draw their audience into action. Sometimes the actors address the spectators, sometimes they pull them on stage, and sometimes the whole play is centered on the relationship between actors and audience. According to theater historians, the emotions of such participants are often mixed; along with the excitement, people sometimes report the sense of humiliation and even violence. I never experienced the real immersive theater, however, last year, when I took my kids to an interactive comic show, I could not help but be very glad to be seated far enough to be safe from being pulled on stage.
After this, I realized that though I have not gone through the phenomenon of immersive theater shows, I am certainly acquainted with the emotional experience of being a rock music fan. I thought that it would be interesting to compare these experience, and that’s why I recorded a podcast (in Russian). I thought of the rock shows that I have attended so far as well as of the stories that I heard from my friends and fellow fans; I asked myself a question – do we get this feeling of participation as we watch our heroes sing and play on stage? In my podcast, I talked about rock audience, starting from the 1950s, when people would sit quietly, sometimes swaying a bit but definitely not dancing or singing along, then I mentioned Beatlemania, when girls (and boys) started getting up and screaming – and then… I came to the moment when one British band decided that paying attention to their audience was as important as being masterful on stage. This marked a beginning of a history of a unique bond between the band and their fans that only strengthened with years. And yes, I am talking about Queen here.
For my podcast, I remembered the following three moments from the history of Queen: starting with the year of 1977, when members of the Queen fan club were invited to participate in filming of the “We Are the Champions” music video; after the shooting, the band played a short gig for the fans – as a thank-you gesture. My second example was, of course, the Live Aid show, and the moment when people started clapping their hands in Radio Gaga, just as the audience did in the music video (by the way, which was also recruited from Queen fans). If you watch any interviews shot around this epic event, you will hear how amazed everyone was – including Queen themselves – of the fact that the audience that did not consist entirely of Queen fans willingly participated in their performance providing the visuals for this wonderful song. And my third example was about Brian’s performance of “Love of My Life” in 2018 that I watched on livestreams (at that point, I have not attended any QAL concerts yet). As soon as Brian would take his acoustic 12-string guitar, the audience would start turning on the flashlights on their phones, again, providing a beautiful framework and atmosphere for this song.
I thought that if all these things cannot be called immersive, then nothing can be identified as such; as Brian said in the “Rock the World” documentary, they realized very early that the audience became an essential part of their performance. The amount of people’s participation in their performances is indeed very high, always was, and still is. Even in the last two years of myself being an active Queen fan, I have seen them recruiting extras from the fandom for the concert scenes in Bohemian Rhapsody movie; I have recorded BoRhap on my phone, and afterwards was astonished to find out that my voice, along with thousands of other fellow Queenies, was used in the film for the Live Aid sequence. When watching the film for the first time, I was struck by the thought that the emotions that we see on the faces of the audience in the Live Aid sequence, are real. The people that sing along, cheer, and cry on screen are real fans, and this makes the emotion that you experience while watching this film even more authentic. No wonder that every seance of BoRhap in the movie theater started with Rami thanking us for “being a fan.”
I can say that being a part of an audience of a rock show is one of the most spiritual and unifying moments one can have in their lives. I remember singing along Hey Jude with 16 thousand of people at Paul’s concert; I lovingly cherish the feeling of happiness that I felt when Bobby McFerrin was teaching and guiding us to sing with him, including the stunning performance of Ave Maria, one the most touching moments that I was lucky to experience live. And of course I will never forget the two shows of Queen and Adam Lambert, with their incredible energy and unique bond that we all felt; I have written enough about this, so I will not repeat myself here.
Three days ago, Queen published three new music videos; they consisted entirely of fans’ contributions that they submitted for this project: they either sang and played instruments, or danced, or sent fan art in various forms. I think that the result is quite stunning: it shows the utter respect and love for this band’s audience; it is also an ultimate recognition of fans’ response that so often translates into the works of art. By encouraging their listeners to create and share their art and dancing / musical skills, Queen are including them – and by all means, all of us – into their history. The name that they gave to this project is “YOU are the Champions” – is probably the major and most important message that they translate through their music, their live shows, their interviews, and social media accounts. Something that speaks to me through Freddie’s words “You can be anything you want to be / Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be / Be free in your tempo, be free, be free / Surrender your ego, be free to yourself.”
Thank you for including us into your music and history, and congratulations to all the inhabitants of Queen universe.
Katya Neklyudova, 2019