Bohemian Rhapsody has reached 1.6 billion streams, making it the most streamed 20th-century song ever – despite our so-called short attention spans

According to Universal Music Group (UMG), the meandering, operatic progressive rock whirlwind that is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody has reached over 1.6 billion single and music video streams, making it the most streamed 20th-century song ever.

The significance of this news is not to be underestimated. We are told daily by various outlets, be they media, philosophical, academic or whatever, that our attention spans are shortening.

Freddie Mercury of Queen performs on stage at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium on 13th July 1985 in London.

In a visual sense, and in terms of the way people consume the written word, this may well be correct. However, clearly, in an auditory sense, the evidence would suggest otherwise.

For a song as musically challenging and long-winded as Bohemian Rhapsody – it clocks in at just shy of six minutes – to be the most streamed of all of those of the previous century, especially given the number of three-minute pop standards that have such enduring popularity, there is surely a real appetite for long-form, challenging audio content in the world.

Consider also the world’s most popular podcast – the Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan’s show comes out multiple times a week and regularly strays into the three-hour territory. Yet the show has 3.3 million subscribers and is a mainstay at the top of the Apple Podcasts charts.


So, you might ask, does this mean there’s been a shift since the 1975 release of Bohemian Rhapsody? Were people more resistant to lengthy audio back then and are we more receptive now?

Well, certainly record execs at the time felt that way. The band’s label, EMI, and their manager, John Reid, both advised the band to release an edited version of the song, deeming it too long gain mainstream appeal.

Both, however, were wrong in their gauging of public opinion as the song stayed at number one in the UK charts for nine consecutive weeks – at the time the longest ever placing at the top.

From left to right, musician John Deacon and Freddie Mercury (1946 – 1991) of British rock band Queen in concert, 1980.

What all of this says to me is that we’ve been telling ourselves, or rather, we’ve been told for decades that we need snippeted, short-form, bite-sized entertainment because we cannot intellectually engage with more lengthy and challenging material. Yet clearly our consumption choices and the popularity of songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody and podcasts such as Rogan’s prove otherwise. Hell, consider the popularity of all of those long, multi-part shows on Netflix and Prime that everybody is consuming.

And if you’ve managed to make it this far, through the ramblings of a bloke from West London discussing the endurance of a rock hit from the ‘70s in December 2018 then, maybe, my thoughts above about the written word could even be disprovable.

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