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Rickrolling is a bait-and-switch practice that involves providing a web link supposedly relevant to the topic at hand, but actually re-directs the viewer to Rick Astley’s 1987 hit single “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The URL is often masked or obfuscated as a randomly-generated shortlink to conceal its true source from the experienced users. Whenever someone clicks the link and unintentionally summons Rick Astley’s song, he or she is said to have been rickrolled.
Rick Astley’s solo debut single “Never Gonna Give You Up” was originally released as part of his 1987 album Whenever You Need Somebody. Upon its initial release, the single became a number one hit on several international charts including the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. One of the earliest known “Never Gonna Give You Up” videos was uploaded to YouTube on May 15th, 2007. Since its debut, the video has gained over 48 million views (as of May 15th, 2011).
The bait-and-switch phenomenon had its beginning on imageboard site 4chan as a spin-off of an earlier practical joke known as duckrolling, in which an external link with a sensational title (i.e., a specific picture or news item) would be redirected to an edited image of a duck with wooden wheels.
According to 4chan founder m00t, the “Rickroll” phenomenon began on /v/ (videogame board) circa May 2007, when someone posted a link to Rick Astley’s music video disguised as a sneak preview for the then newly released videogame Grand Theft Auto IV. Due to the the trailer’s high demand at that time, GTA fans on /v/ fell victim to the bait-and-switch prank and the joke became quite popular on 4chan. This account has been further corroborated by Wikipedia as well as Google Insights, which shows that search interest in “rickrolling” apparently began in April / May 2007.
Many people have expressed the opinion that the most attention-getting aspect of the video is Rick Astley’s unexpectedly deep voice in contrast to his youthful looks. According to VH1’s PopUp Video, record executives who heard his recordings didn’t believe it was his voice either at first.
In February 2008, during the Anonymous’ Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology, “Never Gonna Give You Up” was played from boomboxes, performed, and shouted. The UK daily The Guardian called it “a live rick-rolling of the Church of Scientology.”
YouTube’s April Fools Prank
On April 1st, 2008, every featured video on YouTube’s front page redirected to the Rickroll music video .
New York Mets
In April of 2008, the New York Mets posted an online poll to select the song for the 8th inning sing-along. On April 4th, 2008, FARK users bombarded the poll with upvotes for “Never Gonna Give You Up.” On April 7th, the Mets announced that the song had won with over five million votes. Rather than using the song for the 8th inning, it was apparently used during the home opener, much to the displeasure of Mets fans.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
In November 2008, the Rickroll meme came to a full circle when Rick Astley himself appeared on a float during the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, lip synching to his classic hit from 14 years ago.
MTV Music Awards: Best Act Ever
Rick Astley was nominated for the Best Act Ever award for the MTV Europe Music Awards in November 2008, when the voting forum was flooded by fans of the Rickrolling phenomenon. Astley has voiced his approval of the off-beat joke, stating “MTV was thoroughly Rickrolled.”
Oregon House of Representatives
In February 2010, a bipartisan group of Oregon Representatives planned to pull off the “Rickroll” during House sessions. Each of the participants was given a portion of the lyrics of “Never Gonna Give You Up” to subtly plug into their statements during legislative discussion. This scheme was finally revealed on April 1st, 2011, when Representative Jefferson Smith and his co-conspirators edited and uploaded a video of various representatives making their statements, put in proper lyrical order of the song.
Textual Derivative: WikiLeaks Rickroll
Just as the world was fully grasping Wikileaks for the first time, amid dense publications of top secret cables, the arrest of Julian Assange in the UK, and Operation Payback which included serious attacks on Visa, MasterCard, Amazon and Paypal, one purported Wikileak document titled “England: Reliability and Longevity of UK-US Relationship Confirmed” was probably more read than any other:
Originally posted on the eve of December 9th, 2010, readers who clicked through the hidden link were led to a document that includes the lyrics to the Rick Astley’s song:
SUBJECT: ENGLAND: RELIABILITY AND LONGEVITY OF UK-US RELATIONSHIP CONFIRMED
REF: A. LONDON 365 B. LONDON 366
Classified By: Consul General Robbie Honerkamp for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D )
1. (S/NF) Summary: We’re no strangers to love. You know the rules and so do I.
A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of. You wouldn’t get this from any other guy.
I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling. Gotta make you understand.
2. (C/NF) Chorus: Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you.r
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.
3. (S/NF) We’ve known each other for so long Your heart’s been aching but You’re too shy to say it
Inside we both know what’s been going on We know the game and we’re gonna play it
And if you ask me how I’m feeling Don’t tell me you’re too blind to see
4. (C/NF) Chorus: Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.
White House Tweet
On July 27th, 2011, Twitter user @wiggsd tweeted “This WH correspondence briefing isn’t nearly as entertaining as yesterday’s.” The official White House Twitter account, @whitehouse, replied to the tweet with a link to the Rick Astley video on YouTube.
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