How Rick Astley broke the internet with ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’


Image: screenshot from “Never Gonna Give You Up” in YouTube/Rick Astley via ETX Daily Up

What do Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” have in common? These songs have all surpassed one billion views on YouTube. It’s a feat that’s all the more impressive for Rick Astley’s hit, which has long been a subject of light-hearted mockery on the internet.

Unwittingly becoming one of the key figures of internet culture, Rick Astley is enjoying immense popularity online, thanks to his dance-pop hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song’s official video has just reached a symbolic milestone on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than a billion times by nostalgic music fans, as well as by rickrolling internet users.

Rickrolling refers to one of the first YouTube memes. It’s essentially a prank, involving sending someone an impromptu link to the kitsch video of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and tricking them into watching it. It all started in 2007 on the 4chan forum, as is the case for many memes. An internet user in search of popularity posted what was supposedly the trailer for the highly anticipated “Grand Theft Auto IV” on the forum. However, the video redirects video game fans to Rick Astley’s video, leaving them well and truly rickrolled.

From meme to PR tool

While some people started deploying ingenious strategies to avoid being fooled, the phenomenon quickly went beyond the realm of the internet to reach the public at large. In 2008, the civil disobedience group Anonymous broadcast Rick Astley’s hit during demonstrations against the Church of Scientology. And the trend took off, so much so that the British singer was invited that same year to perform the song during the famous Thanksgiving Day parade organized by Macy’s.

A decade later, “Never Gonna Give You Up” has left its mark on pop culture. The song featured in the movie “Bumblebee,” as well as at the very end of the credits of the animated film, “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” While Rick Astley was initially a little surprised by the unexpected return of his youthful hit, he seized the opportunity to advance his career. The artist began posting regularly on social media during the COVID-19 lockdown, entertaining his fans with videos of his songs, lockdown playlists and even a new TikTok account.

To mark the symbolic milestone of one billion views for his 1980s hit, the singer-songwriter has announced the release of the track as a limited-edition blue vinyl. The 2,500 copies on sale, all signed by the artist, have already found takers, according to Rick Astley’s website. JB


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