'Rickrolling': Rick Astley 2.0
The LA Times drops some science on the Rickster's return to web fame and Anonymous anti-Scientology glory.
Gotta love the internets.
On a frosty Canadian morning, a masked crusader tromps across a parking lot, over a snow bank and onto the sidewalk. He has a loudspeaker strapped ominously to his chest.
He halts, aiming the speaker toward the building across the street. “This is a song by some dead guy,” he says. And then, music booms forth:
“Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you.”
It’s an anti-Scientology protest, and across the street, a dozen or so warmly dressed young people begin to dance and sing along, waving their picket signs in rhythm to the familiar tune.
“It’s a bit spooky, innit?” said Rick Astley, the singer who made the song famous in 1987 and who is not dead. With considerable help, including assists from RCA Records, the webmaster of Astley’s U.K. fan site, and his manager at Sony BMG, I tracked down Astley at his home in London last weekend. He spoke for the first time about the phenomenon called Rickrolling, best described by example: You are reading your favorite Hollywood gossip blog and arrive at a link urging you to “Click here for exclusive video of Britney’s latest freakout!!” Click you do, but instead of Britney, it’s a dashing 21-year-old Briton that pops onto the screen. You, sir, have been Rickroll’d.
Over the last year or so, Astley has watched with puzzled amazement as “Never Gonna Give You Up” has been mocked, celebrated, remixed and reprised, its original music video viewed millions of times on YouTube, all by a generation that could barely swallow its Gerber carrots when the song first topped the pop charts.
“I think it’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it,” Astley said. “But that’s what brilliant about the Internet.”
Search for Astley’s name on YouTube and you’ll find dozens of instances of the campy, infectious video, which features a heavily coiffed Astley bobbing and swaying behind oversized sunglasses. He’s flanked by two blond backup dancers (one of whom apparently didn’t have the footwork down), and a male bartender in short shorts who excels at spontaneous back flips.
Rickrolling is an example of an Internet “meme” (defined by Wikipedia as “any unit of cultural information ... that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another"). Its less sophisticated memetic forebear is the “duckroll,” where the roll-ee is misdirected to an image of a duck on wheels. And the Rickroll has sired many memelets, including the Fresh Prince roll, the rainroll (plopping you in front of a video of Tay Zonday’s "Chocolate Rain") and even the Reichroll, where Astley’s song is spliced with footage of Adolf Hitler for an unsettling sort of lip sync.
With all the online momentum it’s gathered, the Rickroll has now trundled its way into the real world, too. The spectacle of trench-coated pranksters blaring the song into unsuspecting crowds has become a symbol of harmless, geeky rebellion. As the blog LAist.com noted last week, and the New York Times reported Tuesday, a recent basketball game at Eastern Washington University was interrupted by a dancing Astley imitator, and there’s now a small YouTube library of the anti-Scientology group “Anonymous” Rickrolling different church locations.
And, thankfully, Astley isn't trying to transform this modest campy pop revival into a sad attempt at a cash grab...although he will be going on tour this summer with, like, OMG, only like the most bestest of awesomest 80s acts ever: Bananarama, Nick Heyward, Heaven 17, Paul Young, and ABC.
How's that for nostalgia, kids?
But even still, with all the renewed attention
to his work and his — albeit 20-year-old — image, does Astley have any
plans to cash in on Rickrolling, maybe with his own YouTube remix?
“I don’t really know whether I want to be doing that,” he said...“I think the artist themselves trying to remix it is almost a bit sad,” he said...“Listen, I just think it’s bizarre and funny. My main consideration is that my daughter doesn’t get embarrassed about it.”