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A Dissection of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, the Most Popular Song About Einstein’s Theories of Special/General Relativity

May 7, 2020

 

Out of all the needlessly overblown classic rock bands, one of the most important and influential of
them is Queen. They revolutionized the use of almost cabaret-like song structures, theatrical musical elements, and topped off with one of the all-time best rock singers. They are also well-known for their scientific contributions to theoretical cosmology and astrophysics, which Brian May has a PhD in.


The band intentionally left out most of their scientific ideas in their music for fear of alienating the
general public, but it was late in their career that they decided to finally merge both sides, and it
resulted in one of the greatest rock songs ever made about relativistic changes in mass and time at
speeds exceeding the speed of light.


In this song, Freddie Mercury sings about being a theoretical part of a Type III civilization (under
Kardashev’s scale), referred to by Kardashev as a “galactical civilization” which would be able to control energy at the scale of its host galaxy, thus having overcome the barrier of travelling faster than the speed of light.


In the first verse, Mercury writes about the experience of faster-than-light travel as a feeling of
“ecstasy”, a sentiment repeated in the song about the euphoria of being able to control the universe at relativistic levels. He refers to himself as a “shooting star leaping through the sky” and “defying the laws of gravity”. He even specifically points out the fact that he is “moving at the speed of light”, a clear reference to a galactic civilization’s ability to move at relativistic velocities.


In the first verse the lyrics also speak about being to “turn the world inside out”. This is a lyric added by Brian May as a reference to a Type III civilization’s ability to alter the velocities of galactic bodies at will, and the effects of mass dilation on Earth at faster-than-light travel. This lyric can be mathematically analyzed and interpreted using common relativistic equations.

 


The equation for relativistic mass dilation is: where m 0 is the Earth’s “regular” mass, v is the Earth’s
velocity relative to the observer, and c is the speed of light.


In normal relativity, turning the world “inside out” (interpreted as severely decreasing the Earth’s mass) would not be possible as the maximum velocity v would be the speed of light c, thus making the relativistic mass actually increasing towards infinity as v approaches c. But since Mercury has the ability to transcend that barrier, he is able to (assuming Mercury is an observer at rest) send the Earth on a flight path travelling AWAY from him at velocities exceeding -c (negative because the Earth is moving away from the observer). As the velocity v approaches infinity, the denominator also approaches infinity, and makes the relativistic mass approach 0. This method of faster-than-light travel away from the observer would essentially make the Earth disappear from Mercury’s perspective, thus having “turned the world inside out”.


As you can see, the lyrics for this song were unquestionably based on the theoretical ability to transcend the boundaries of relativity in astrophysics, a field in which Brian May is extremely active, both academically and experientially. One could even go as far as saying this song was the first true “math rock” song, as the (fairly recent) explosion of songs written about theoretical math and physics would imply. In any case, “Don’t Stop Me Now” was the perfect ending to Freddie Mercury’s career, leaving behind observations that will apply to the entire universe long after he was gone.

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