Zander Carver, Campus Carrier asst. features editor
On July 27, 1987, Rick Astley released his bestselling song “Never Gonna Give You Up” to the world. The song was voted that year’s number one single by “Smash Hits” magazine and was voted as the Best Act Ever by MTV Europe in 2008. After this award, the song peaked as number 70 on the UK charts during the holiday season for the year.
The reason that this particular song rose to that level of popularity in 2008, 21 years after its initial release, is because of an internet phenomenon called rick-rolling.
Rick-rolling is a bait-and-switch prank in which someone posts a link somewhere with a misleading title, like “Go watch this incredible home video,” or “check out this cool life hack,” and when the link is clicked instead you get the music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Rick-rolling, as it was dubbed, became the most popular trick to pull on the website 4chan throughout 2007, and by April Fool’s Day of 2008, YouTube had gotten in on the trick, causing every video featured on their home page that day to redirect viewers to Astley’s music video.
Memes come and go, some hit and some miss. While there are memes that reach legendary status like “We Are Number One,” which was voted as Meme of the Year in 2016 by Reddit, on the dank memes subreddit gets very little recognition four years later. Other memes die out without much memory, like the Left Shark meme, which stayed popular online for less than a week. Through all of this, twelve years after its spike in popularity, Rick-rolling still happens regularly in 2020.
In 2008 Rick Astley had only recently come out of his early retirement and has admitted in several interviews that he was nervous about embracing this meme, not wanting to use it to further his career. In November 2008, the artist fully embraced the meme when he emerged from the Cartoon Network “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” float and surprised the crowd and viewers by rick-rolling them in person.
In his return to touring with music, Astley has stopped to embrace the meme on several different fronts, appearing at the iHeartRadio headquarters in 2016 where he walked in during a broadcast as his song was played by the host after saying it was an exclusive new song by another artist. Another instance of Astley rick-rolling in person saw him come up on stage with the Foo Fighters to perform a remixed version of the song in the London O2 arena.
Because the artist behind the song takes the meme and fully embraces it, including it in his performances even after releasing several new albums since the song released, appearing at multiple music festivals throughout the years to perform the song, and the internet still plays the bait-and switch-prank over three decades since the song’s creation and 13 years since the meme’s inception and it’s still popular, I believe rick-rolling is the greatest meme of all time.