This is about as simple as it gets. Freddie and Brian watching the telly, getting sad and writing a song about it.
There’s an amount of emotional whiplash coming straight out of something that treated death and abandoned hope as something fill a stadium with and in to this. We just have a simple, super short guitar ballad, played quietly, with simple but impactful lyrics over the top.
Is this the world we created
What did we do it for
Is this the world we invaded
Against the law
So it seems in the end
Is this what we’re all living for today
The world that we created.
On the one hand, it’s trite as fuck, and falls into that trap of focussing on how sad it is for someone to see someone else suffering. On the other hand, it does mostly take responsibility, including acknowledging (‘the world we invaded | against the law’) the crime of colonialism.
It does always frame it as a question though. Taking the focus away from responsibility, and back on the fear of having done something wrong. Which again, is avoiding the point.
And of course, it’s best known for its performance at Live Aid 85, which I’m too young to remember except by reputation (and actually used to mix up with the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in my head, for a while). Part of the finale, it’s exactly the sort of tone of that event. With all the side-eye that demands, but also maybe some of the praise. I still don’t really know the value of awareness raising, but it’s so easy to see the smugness of it, that I don’t know how to measure or think about the real cultural impact of what was happening at the time. There’s a falseness to a load of wealthy rock stars suddenly developing a conscience, but there’s also a realness to the idea that the way people were looking at the world was changing. You can’t really undermine the impact of 1.9 billion viewers across the world.
And so Freddie and Brian did their job. They expressed a sadness for people to connect with, hoping to help take responsibility and make some changes.
But of course, the real problem is that the chances aren’t simple. You can’t just throw money at problems and walk on. And of course, songs like this aren’t here to think about what to do, they just want people to listen, pay attention.
But it’s not clear if that’s enough.
And married to Hammer to fall, which revels so hard in the hopelessness of controlling the world and our lives, it makes for a strange diptych.
The final verse reaches for god, and almost sounds like it’s ducking the blame, trying to turn us into people who lost sight of someone else’s plan, rather than people who are responsible.
If there’s a God in the sky looking down
What can he think of what we’ve done
To the world that He created.
It’s the kind of sentiment that sticks in my craw, not because it features a deity, but because it seeks to void responsibility and look up to an invisible father figure for punishment.
Although maybe that’s my lapsed Catholic upbringing, always equating God with unusable guilt.
I’m probably sounding just as trite and preachy and lacking in solutions as the record, so I’ll stop.
I just think that the explicit political message here is weaker than the implicit ones we’ve seen elsewhere in the back catalogue. The problem with spelling out your message is that it just doesn’t cut as deep, or feel as personal.
But, it’s also a hard message to argue with.
Because, on the most basic of levels, this is very much the world we created.
And we do have to deal with that.
Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.
Illustration by Emma.