How 'Bohemian Rhapsody' & 'Wayne's World' Made Queen a Streaming Champion

ISSUE 12 2019 - PRESS PHOTO
Alex Bailey
Rami Malek stars as Freddie Mercury in Twentieth Century Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody. 

Last December, Universal Music Group announced that Queen’s 1975 single “Bohemian Rhapsody” had become the 20th century’s most streamed song, with over 1.6 billion global streams at the time. Since frontman Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, surviving members Brian May and Roger Taylor, along with longtime manager Jim Beach, have kept the band’s brand strong through tours with American Idol alum Adam Lambert and robust merchandising and licensing efforts. But it was last fall’s Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody -- which has surpassed $900 million in worldwide grosses (according to Box Office Mojo) and won four Oscars -- that pushed Queen into a streaming stratosphere typically reserved for contemporary pop and hip-hop.

While classic rock acts often struggle to adapt to modern music consumption, Queen has evolved into a streaming powerhouse. “Whether it’s [through] sporting events or a song placement in television or film, Queen songs are such a part of everyday culture,” says Allison Hagendorf, Spotify’s global head of rock. “Even before the trailer came out, Queen held our spot for top catalog artist. They’re currently in our top 10 list of artists globally, a total anomaly for a catalog artist.” Spotify’s global top 200 songs chart (for the week ending April 25) features four Queen songs -- more than streaming titans Halsey and Juice WRLD, and easily more than any other legacy act. Leading the pack, of course, is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which has topped 7 million cross-platform U.S. streams every week since the film’s Nov. 3 release. It re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks last fall, peaking at No. 33 on the chart dated Nov. 17. 

This isn’t the first time Queen’s six-minute tour de force has reclaimed the spotlight. In 1992, thanks to Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s Wayne’s World singalong, “Rhapsody” rocketed to No. 2 on the Hot 100 -- seven spots higher than its original peak 16 years prior in 1976. “That was such a cultural moment. We all learned every lyric and re-created that scene,” remembers Hagendorf, who was 12 at the time. While Wayne’s World gave the song a majestic renaissance, she says, streaming is endearing it to yet another untapped audience: “What’s getting me so excited [about Queen’s latest surge] is that it’s not only baby boomers and Gen X, but millennials.” 

This article originally appeared in the May 11 issue of Billboard.