No song holds as much endless meme-value as Rick Astley‘s 1987 smash ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. The track, and of course, its distinctly 80s video, found a new life in the mid-00s in the form of Rickrolling, and honestly, its cultural gravity on the internet is yet to wane.
The swirling synth layers, pulsating drum machine, and its world-beating chorus are instantly recognisable globally. Greta Thunberg Rickrolled her audience at a conference a few weeks ago. The song was featured in a pivotal Ted Lasso moment. Rick was met with rapturous applause after hitting the stage with Blossoms (a band with a very Gen Z fanbase) in the UK recently.
The man’s meme-power simply cannot be underestimated.
Considering the track’s timeless value, it’s featured on the soundtrack for Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy game, alongside a bunch of other iconic tracks by artists like Blondie, KISS, Billy Idol and more.
To celebrate the occasion, we were lucky enough to talk to Rick Astley — the Rick behind the rolls — about the impact of his tune, how continually stoked he is about being a viral sensation, and what he actually thinks of Rickrolling.
Here’s what the icon had to say.
PEDESTRIAN.TV: You’re part of the upcoming Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy game soundtrack — are you a fan of the franchise?
Rick Astley: I absolutely loved the movies. I think Star-Lord is that slight antihero type — he’s super cool but also sort of an absolute geek and an idiot at the exact same time. I really liked that because sometimes, when the superhero is just perfect, it can make them boring. Whereas he’s somebody you could sit next to on a bus, and all of a sudden, he gets his cassette player out, then the domain and feel of everything changes.
I think that the Guardians Of The Galaxy are a band of misfits too — I’ve often considered myself a bit of an underdog, to be honest, because I don’t regard myself as being a pop star. I was in a band with my mates and got spotted, and that’s how it happened to me. In the 80s, it was very much about hair, the look and the trousers. I mean, there was some amazing music, obviously. But, it was very much about the way you looked, and I looked about 11 when the video first came out [laughs].
One of the things I love about the movies and what they’ve done with the game as well is that they’re using classic songs. I think it’s great on so many levels because kids are introduced to music without actually knowing it through gaming. It’s kind of subliminal when you do that. Kids just end up loving that tune, and they don’t know whether the artist is alive, whether they made the record last month, or whether they made it 30 years ago. So I really liked that side of it. I think it’s really, really cool.
So when they said they wanted to use the song [Never Gonna Give You Up] in the game and everything, I was totally up for that.
PTV: So, you’re actually Rickrolling Twitch streamers as part of the game roll-out — is this the first time you’ve ever been the one doing the Rickrolling?
I never used to do anything with it [Never Gonna Give You Up]. I used to just look the other way and just ignore it. And then I kind of thought this is ridiculous because it’s me in the video, right? Yeah, I’m that dude. I’m a lot older, but it is me. So I didn’t want to chase it. If I’m honest, I thought it was better just leaving it to do its own thing.
But when the guys [Square Enix] got to us, they pitched this one idea that I just thought it was amazing. I’m kind of controlling players of the game, through the internet, and obviously kind of Rickrolling them. But they don’t really realise it’s me doing that, so I’m kind of like the Bond villain in my little land. I’ve got all the screens and everything, and I can sort of manipulate the control and what have you. I just thought it was really clever.
PTV: Do you remember the first time you became aware of Rickrolling?
I was on holiday in Italy, on the Amalfi Coast. We had my wife’s Mum and Dad with us on holiday, and my friend Rickrolled me in an email twice. He did it the first time, and I thought, whatever (he’s English, but he lives in LA is a record producer). And so he did it again. I didn’t know what he was doing. I was like, ‘why has he done that?’ ‘what is this?’. So I think like, the third time, I just called and asked what he was doing.
He kind of explained to me, but it still didn’t really sink in. Because you have to remember, YouTube was in its infancy back then. So it was hard to get your head around it a little bit, not just because it was such a bizarre thing to do anyway. But the idea of people just sending a link was still kind of new-ish.
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PTV: Why do you think Never Gonna Give You up still holds such a huge place in our hearts?
Never Gonna Give You Up is the song that keeps giving as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, everyone knows it. It was a big hit in the day, but 30-odd years later, you’d never think people outside my age group would know it.
I think it’s sort of reached another sort of place now. It’s part of the rich tapestry of music of the ages. It’s just one of those tunes that sit in that canon of rock and pop stuff, really. If you look at the list that they have used in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, they’re also that kind of tune — they’re sort of just something else now. I think that’s what music sometimes does. It locks into an era.
PTV: As an artist who lived the 80s, why do you reckon we’re all still so hung up on 80s nostalgia?
One of the main things is that a lot of stuff in the 60s and 70s, the footage is usually from old TV shows. Whereas everything from the 80s is a proper video. If you go find something from the 60s for YouTube, it’s either just a photograph of the artists and the tracks playing, or it’s them doing Ready Steady Go filmed in black and white.
When you search 80s videos, you get Duran Duran videos where they cost, you know, half a million dollars and they’re in South America, or they’re in the Caribbean, or they’re doing something crazy in the jungle. You get the Michael Jackson stuff, the Madonna videos. They were massive, like mini-movies. So it’s solidified as some of that music in a way that never happened before because it’s so visual. The younger generation of people is unbelievably connected to this visual side of things.
Roll on, Ricky-boi.