Astley in November, 2007, thanks to LATimes
One video on YouTube for 80s hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley has over 7.5 million views and another has 5.3 million. This is due to the Internet meme of “Rick Rolling,” a prank in which users are lead to the catchy pop song from a misleading link.
The Internet-based group Anonymous blasted Astley’s 1988 hit during worldwide Scientology protests this February, a tribute to the meme and to the way the Internet can quickly spread ideas. The Guardian points out that the best use of the Rick Roll was a response to a site by Scientology trying to discredit the group. The cult registered the domain Anonymous-Exposed.org and posted a video that claimed their detractors were somehow inciting hate speech against their “religion.” Anonymous realized that they didn’t register the domain without a hyphen and just copied the entire site and posted it to AnonymousExposed.org with the “Never Gonna Give You Up” video in place of Scientology’s video. The smiling face of a young Rick Astley is an hilarious F you to the cult and a testament to the way they have no clue.
Astley has finally spoken about the way his 20 year-old song has a new life on the web. He’s going to tour the UK soon with some other 80s stars, but says he’s not going to take advantage of the song’s popularity to release a remix. He says he’s not that goofy guy anymore, but calls it “hilarious” that the anti-Scientology group has appropriated his old hit.
“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…”
For his part, Astley was nothing if not modest about his new cultural role. “If this had happened around some kind of rock song, with a lyric that really meant something — a Bruce Springsteen, “God bless America” … or an anti-something kind of song, I could kind of understand that,” Astley said. “But for something as, and I don’t mean to belittle it, because I still think it’s a great pop song, but it’s a pop song; do you know what I mean? It doesn’t have any kind of weight behind it, as such. But maybe that’s the irony of it.”
Astley would never put the song down, mind you. It’s just that, as he says, “If I was a young kid now looking at that song, I’d have to say I’d think it was pretty naff, really.”
(Wikipedia on “naff”: British slang for “something which is seen to be particularly ‘cheesy’ or ‘tacky’ or in otherwise poor aesthetic taste.”) “For me it’s a good example of what some of the ’80s were about in that pop sort of music way. A bit like you could say Debbie Gibson was absolutely massive, but if you look back at it now … do you know what I mean?”
Yes, I think we do. 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’m not being an ageist, but it’s almost a young person’s thing, that.”
“I think the artist themselves trying to remix it is almost a bit sad,” he said. “No, I’m too old for that.”
Astley, who will be touring the U.K. in May with a group of other ’80’s acts, including Bananarama, and Nick Heyward, Heaven 17, Paul Young and ABC, sums up his thoughts on his unexpected virtual fame with characteristic good humor:
“Listen, I just think it’s bizarre and funny. My main consideration is that my daughter doesn’t get embarrassed about it.”
Astley was so humble and funny in his response, I really was impressed. Astley’s last album was 2005′s Portrait, which included covers of soul standards. According to Wikipedia, he lives in a suburb of London with his girlfriend and daughter, but the reference for that ended up rick rolling me so I have no clue if it’s true. It took the journalist from the LA Times some effort to figure out how to contact him and it struck me that Astley seems much more press shy than his wild past might suggest.