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How Queen Changed ‘We Are the Champions’ to Assist COVID-19 Relief

“Just like we sent our young men and women into two world wars to fight, these young men and women are now fighting for us and risking their lives every day,” says Queen’s Brian May

Queen + Adam Lambert had to postpone their record-setting Rhapsody tour to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they haven’t let that stop them from uniting virtually to aid the relief effort. The band has created a new version of “We Are The Champions” entitled “You are The Champions,” along with a music video, to benefit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

“Just like we sent our young men and women into two world wars to fight, these young men and women are now fighting for us and risking their lives every day,” Queen guitarist Brian May tells Rolling Stone. “That’s what this song has become about. It’s for everyone who is out there working and putting their life at risk.”

The band has been sheltering at their respective homes since the Australian leg of the Rhapsody tour wrapped on February 29th. “I haven’t seen my kids or my grandchildren for about three months or so,” says May. “The feeling of loss of freedom and loss of ownership of your life is quite painful. Some days I think I’m okay and I can deal with this, and some days I feel quite despondent.”

To pass the time and lift his spirits, May began posting homemade performances onto his Instagram page. They soon grew into guitar tutorials and something he called #JamWithBri where he invited fans to add their own parts onto his compositions. “The only platform I had, in a sense, was Instagram,” he says. “I couldn’t even get to my studio since that is in the country and I’m in town.”

He invited Queen drummer Roger Taylor and Adam Lambert one night to join the fun. “I hoped we would then have something we could call a record,” says May, “and we could we use it in some way to help people through this crisis.”

They decided to tackle “We Are The Champions” with a little alteration. Early thoughts revolved around changing the opening lyric to “you’ve paid your dues” to honor everyone working during the pandemic, but they felt unsure about changing something so iconic and beloved. It wasn’t until Lambert laid down his vocals that he decided to tweak the chorus at the end to “you are the champions.”

“We told him to experiment and maybe do a few different versions,” says May. “He came up with changing those words in the last chorus and I think it was a very good solution, just perfect. It takes a different turn at the end.”

The experience brings May’s mind back to the moment in 1977 when Freddie Mercury first presented the band with the song. “We all had slight doubt,” says May. “We said, ‘Fred, are you sure about this? Does this not sound big-headed?’ Fred said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. It’s about everybody. That’s the way everyone should feel. They can conquer. They have the power inside them. We are the champions means that we are all the champions.’ We went, ‘Oh, okay. We get it.’”

The new video for “You Are The Champions” drives the point home even further by showing empty cityscapes across the globe and frontline workers braving the disease to help those in need. Dr. Rory Taylor, Roger Taylor’s daughter, has been treating COVID-19 patients these past couple of months, but she took time to hold up cards reading “Stay Safe All. You Are The Champions” in the video.

“I find the whole thing very emotionally effecting, I must say, even though we’ve building this thing,” says May. “I still look at it and get a lump in my throat.”