Although South Korea is more readily associated with K-pop and its cult group BTS, Queen enjoys enormous popularity there.

When he was a teenager, Baek Soon-yeob, a 57-year-old businessman from Jeju and stalwart of the British rock band, used to listen to pirated copies of Freddie Mercury, the singer of Queen who died of complications of AIDS in 1991.

Queen's music was banned in 1970s South Korea, where military dictator Park Chung-hee's regime also banned men from growing their hair.

Freddie Mercury's songs "helped me move forward, despite all the obstacles in my way," Baek told AFP.

1.77 meters high, the bronze statue of the singer raising his fist was unveiled Thursday at the seaside in Jeju Island.

It cost Mr. Baek 50 million won (37,000 euros) and eight years of procedures.

“I sent the first emails in 2014 asking for the rights,” he explains.

He repeated this request monthly to Queen, but received no response for seven years.

Finally, in 2020, members of the group and its production company agreed to meet him in Seoul, on the occasion of Queen's first concert in South Korea.

Homosexuality still taboo

This concert was organized after the phenomenal success in 2018 of "Bohemian Raphsody", the film-biography of Freddie Mercury, seen by ten million spectators in South Korea, or a fifth of the population.

The statue of Mercury commissioned by Baek is only the second in the world to be officially approved by the Queen label.

The other is in Montreux, Switzerland, where the changer lived and had recorded his albums.

Despite Queen's popularity in South Korea, Mr. Baek faced opposition from some local residents.

Some complained that "the statue of a homosexual" was erected in their home.

Wearing a Freddy Mercury mask, Kim Pan Jun, president of a South Korean Queen fan club, poses next to the singer's statue on April 21, 2022 in Jeju Island ANTHONY WALLACE AFP

Although legal, homosexuality remains largely taboo in South Korea.

Local television channel SBS was criticized last year for cutting a scene from "Bohemian Raphsody" in which actor Rami Malek kisses a man (the film was not censored when it was released).

Mr Baek said he hoped the statue would help "people who are critical of sexual minorities to reconsider their views".

Some Queen fans made the trip to Jeju to attend the inauguration.

The band's guitarist, Brian May, assured them in a video message that he was with them "in thought", and that Freddie Mercury would have appreciated the tribute.

"I'm sure Freddie is giving us his blessing from up there in heaven," said fan Kim Pan-jun, owner of a Queen-themed bar in Seoul.

© 2022 AFP