Return to Rickroll (thing)

Yet Another Internet Meme that Can't Be Gone Soon Enough or The Revenge of Conveyor Belt Pop

Rickrolling is a term that describes the use of the 1980s hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" in an inappropriate setting, unsolicited manner, or any other way intended to create annoyance for the victim and questionable amusement for the rickroller.

If you're as ancient as some of us here are, you will undoubtedly remember Rick Astley, the former drummer whose alleged good looks elevated him from studio gofer to ephemeral teen idol. As one of the performing monkeys in the Stock Aitken Waterman menage, he was taught to feign talent and lipsync "Never Gonna Give You Up" to a catchy, insipid disco (or synth-pop, but I'm not sure that we made such a distinction then) tune in 1987. Astley had a remarkably long-lived career and enjoyed some success even after parting ways with the Trio That Destroyed British Pop More Than Cliff Richard Could Ever Dream Of. Unless you listened to the wrong radio stations, Astley and "Never Gonna Give You Up" were fortuitously forgotten until mid-2007.

"If I was a young kid now looking at that song, I'd have to say I'd think it was pretty naff, really." --Rick Astley

If you're slightly less ancient, you'll remember internet novelties like the Dancing Baby and the Hampster Dance (sic), which we now collectively call memes. Their success was often huge and was proportional to their annoyance factor and to the amount of your CPU time that they could tie up indefinitely. They also tended to be fairly short-lived and remain somewhat contained. Rickrolling breaks the mold by having persisted for about a year at the time of this writing and escaping from the internet into Real Life. Google trends suggests that the rickroll peaked in early April 2008 and places it well below the The Llama Song, but above the Hamster Dance and the Dancing Baby. It has not levelled off yet following its April 1 spike, though.

"Rickrolling" is a classic bait and switch meme in which internet users are surreptitiously directed to the original video of "Never Gonna Give You Up" [As Seen On (M)TV When It Still Played Music]. It makes use of the usual tricks like hidden links in e-mails and web sites, "check this out" chain letters, and the likes. It's resulted in millions of hits to the various copies of the video, which shows that people will still click on anything you tell them to. Rickrolling has become something of a sport, having been introduced to live events. Events so far have included basketball, ice hockey, and baseball games in the United States, where the meme has taken hold more than anywhere else. Even YouTube (UK) got in on the act by making all video requests rickroll as an April Fool's prank in 2008. Its most bizarre use so far has to be in protests against the Church of Scientology. Astley himself is rather bemused by the revival of his childhood hit but is reported to have found the Scientology thing quite funny.

What seems to have happened is that some time in June 2007 some prankster on 4chan purposely adapted "Never Gonna Give You Up" into something capable of qualifying as an internet meme and celebrated the song's 20th anniversary of forgettability by pushing it back into prominence. Of all the crap that gets posted, how this one managed to crawl out of the dumpster that is 4chan is a mystery but then all sorts of vile virtual vermin have emerged from the *chan sewer to become the cockroaches and silverfish of the web. Supposedly this particular manifestation of net.evil is etymologically related to a less successful meme involving a duck on wheels. Go figure. I'm sure the creator got infinite lulz out of it.

Personally I like to live under the rock that is not having Macromedia Flash installed on my primary workstation so it took me a few months to discover the rickroll. While most rickrollers are fairly benign and just direct people to a YouTube copy of the video, some rickrollers aren't satisfied with that. A few of them use things like javascript trickery to create a vicious loop of rickrolls and break even a usually hardy browser. I guess that's what I get for roaming the Dark Side, which is usually defined as reading my ex-mother-in-law's chain letters. Frankly, though, as a form of pwnage it's kinda tame. Even the one that's javascripted to pop up each line of the song when you try to close the browser.

Rickrolls can be avoided by not clicking on any old junk people tell you to. Should your friends be the of kind who give you wedgies, put out their cigarettes in your beer, or send you rickroll links, you're best off if you're using Firefox as your browser. There are a few add-ons like YouTube Tooltips and NoScript that can help you avoid the rickroll or its potential consequences. If you use a different browser you might be close to defenceless.

The consequences of internet memes are generally unpredictable and sometimes just result in creepy scenes in Ally McBeal or unoriginal copycat memes. We also live in a wicked world full of telemarketers, TV judges, and Angel re-runs. But we have done nothing bad enough to deserve a re-release of Rick Astley's Greatest Hits, prompted by the sudden resurgence in this song's popularity. Can we please, please, please make Rick go away and have the hamster dance back instead? Or even better, goatse.cx?

Anyway, enjoy the good times and watch out for the rickrollers. I kiss you!

Additional input from zoeb, mkb, Swap, Senso, Tem42, and RoguePoet. Thanks!

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