Queen’s famous set at the behemoth charity concert Live Aid plays a central role in the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” What made it so memorable on July 13, 1985, and does it still hold up? Here’s a breakdown of the music, the moves and that subversive studded armband.
A doubly subversive star
Mercury’s pinnacle bow at “Live Aid” was charged by a poignant sense of subversion. Here was a gay man stuck in a pop culture moment that continued to insist his identity remain shielded in code. But what glorious code he chose! Through his balletic gait and florid presentation, Mercury rubbed the nose of Live Aid’s global audience in a powerful brand of effeminacy, seducing them into adoring something they might otherwise view with contempt.
Here, too, was a man of Parsi descent, who had grown up in Zanzibar and India before moving to Britain in his late teens. Together, those roles made Mercury a double outsider, a two-fisted underdog fighting for his day. On this particular one, Mercury’s raw will and broad talents elevated him to a stage whose televised exposure gave him the chance to conquer the world. Yet, for Mercury — and for all those who appreciated the gigantic challenges in his life — his performance meant more. As the ultimate outsider, Mercury used his slam-dunk display to personify, and amplify, Live Aid’s broadest message: hope.
The power of the matching armband
It was simple what he wore. Just some Wranglers, faded, high-waisted, tight. White Adidas, a white tank top, and a black, studded belt that probably required every buckle hole get cinched to be that snug. But the armband was complicated. The armband matched the belt, and in matching it — with his hair slicked back and that full mustache and the chest hair — Freddie Mercury took “simple” to “daring” to “gay.” The look was “gay leather daddy” but in what we’d now call dad jeans. Basically a conflation of hard-core and normcore.