RickRolling: A look back at the Rick Astley internet phenomenon that's still going strong

28 September 2020, 17:42 | Updated: 18 August 2022, 15:32

Rick Astley
Rick Astley. Picture: RCA/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Rick Astley has become an unlikely internet hero over the past decade, thanks to the tongue-in-cheek usage of his biggest hit, 'Never Gonna Give You Up'.

We've probably all been RickRolled at least once. You click on a link that looks interesting and inviting, only to be met with the familiar drum intro and dad-dancing of Rick Astley's 1987 number one smash.

Your initial reaction is 'eugh, not again'. But this soon gets replaced by 'this is a tune, though'.

So what is RickRolling and how did it start? And what is Rick Astley's own opinion of it? Here's all the facts:

  1. What is RickRolling?

    Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up (Video)

    RickRolling is an online prank and an Internet meme, which features an unexpected appearance of the music video for Rick Astley's song 'Never Gonna Give You Up'.

    The meme is known as a form of 'bait and switch', using a disguised hyperlink that leads to the music video.

    Read more: TV weatherman slags off Rick Astley, not knowing he's listening

    When victims click on a totally unrelated link, the site with the music video loads instead of what they were expecting, and thus they have been "rickrolled".

    The meme has also featured using the song's lyrics in unexpected places.

  2. How did it start?


    The use of the song for prank purposes goes back to 2006, on the 4chan imageboard website, from an early meme known as 'duckrolling'.

    In 2006, site moderator Christopher 'm00t' Poole created a word filter replacing the word 'egg' with 'duck' as a gag. On one thread, where 'eggroll' had become 'duckroll', an anonymous user posted an edited image of a duck with wheels, calling it a 'duckroll'.

    The image became very popular, and became the target of a hyperlink with an otherwise interesting title, with a user clicking through having been 'duckrolled'.

    In March 2007, the first trailer for the Grand Theft Auto IV videogame was released. Views were so high that it crashed its company Rockstar's site. Several users posted copies of the video on different sites, but one user on 4chan actually linked to the 'Never Gonna Give You Up' video claiming to be the trailer, tricking lots of readers

    This prank quickly replaced duckrolling, and thus created the game of 'rickrolling'.

  3. What does Rick Astley think of Rickrolling?

    Rick Astley's Daughter Taught Him About Rickrolling | The Graham Norton Show | BBC America

    By November 2008, Rick's video on YouTube had over 20 million views and was now considered a viral video, however Rick initially seemed indifferent to his newfound fame.

    When Rick was asked about the trend in March 2008, he said: "it's weird," as he had not performed much at the time, but he found the new interest funny.

    However, at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rick made a surprise appearance on a float for Cartoon Network to lip-sync to the song, making it technically the biggest rickroll yet!

    Read more: Rick Astley facts every fan should know

    In general, Rick has said he is not bothered by the phenomenon, saying that he finds it "bizarre and funny" and that his only concern is that his "daughter doesn't get embarrassed about it."

    A spokesperson for Rick's record label released a statement which showed that Rick's interest with the phenomenon had faded: "I'm sorry, but he's done talking about Rickrolling".

    However, since the meme's beginnings, Rick's career has seen a resurgence, including releasing three well-received albums, successful tours and even live team-ups with Foo Fighters.

  4. Is it still being used?

    via GIPHY

    Perhaps not as much as its height in the late 2000s, but you can still get Rickrolled if you're not careful while browsing through Reddit and other sites.

    In August 2019, at Petco Park in San Diego during a Major League Baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the San Diego Padres, the Padres' scoreboard began to play 'Sweet Caroline' - a tradition at Red Sox home games. As the Neil Diamond song was about to reach the chorus, the video-board suddenly switched to 'Never Gonna Give You Up', much to the hilarity of the crowd.

    Later that year, a Sunday night NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers also saw a case of rickrolling when the PA announcers, after a Chargers touchdown, pranked the crowd by playing the beginning of the Styx song 'Renegade', only to transition into 'Never Gonna Give You Up'.

    Rick himself got Rickrolled on a Reddit post in June 2020. A user claimed to have met Rick backstage when they were 12 years old, but posted a link to the song instead of a photo of the encounter. Rick later confirmed he had been tricked.

    Full circle!