Rick Astley burst onto the pop scene in the late ’80s, seemingly out of nowhere. The earnest, feel-good vibes of his debut single, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” clinched the No. 1 spot in 25 countries, including the US and the UK. Soon after, a 21-year-old Astley found stardom on a global stage that endured across eight Top 10 singles and millions of records sold.
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Despite finding success with a number of tracks, it is undoubtedly “Never Gonna Give You Up” that has stood the test of time. Two decades after its release, the song “rickrolled” its way back into the public consciousness in the mid-2000s. Today, the internet meme is still going strong, and subsequently so is “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The track itself has amassed over 500 million streams and 1.2 billion views on YouTube. Clearly, a sizable portion of the world is familiar with this Astley track, but do they know the story behind the song? Let’s look into the meaning behind “Never Gonna Give You Up” below.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” was written and produced by the hit factory of songwriting, Stock Aitken Waterman. The trio created a number of hits for Bananarama, Kylie Minogue, and Sinitta. Pete Waterman spotted Astley singing in a soul band and brought him into the studio to make tea for the other artists while they worked out what song to give him.
Inspired by the syncopated bassline from Colonel Abrams’ 1985 hit “Trapped,” Waterman claims they wrote the entire thing in just three minutes, but in a 2017 interview with The Guardian, his co-writer Mike Stock said, “He’s lying… It all took a couple of months to get there.”
Behind the Lyrics
The lyrics fell into place after Astley overheard a besotted Waterman on the phone with a girlfriend. Astley apparently joked with the producer, “You’re never gonna give her up.” They worked the story around a bit and made Astley the one who was laying it all bare, but the general meaning behind the idea was still intact.
Right from the opening lines, it’s clear that Astley wants to put his devotion out on the table. He then rattles off a “car salesmen-Esque” pitch in the chorus, relaying a series of promises to the object of his affection. The chorus has become iconic and gone on to inspire a number of memes.
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
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
Odds are if you’ve been on the internet for a fair few years you’ve come across a rickroll at least once.
The internet phenomenon grew out of a prank on the obscure anime fan pages on the website 4chan. In 2006, the site’s moderator ran a word filter replacing every use of the word “egg” with “duck.” As a result, a thread about “eggroll” became “duckroll.” One contributor took the joke one step further by posting a “bait and switch” hyperlink that promised unrelated content but instead took visitors to a picture of a duck on wheels.
The following year, one user began using Astley’s video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” instead of the duck image and the trick took off like wildfire on the internet. Links were popping up left and right, taking visitors on a surprise journey to Astley hand jiving in a tan trench coat.
In April of 2008, Youtube itself got involved, redirecting an estimated 6 million web surfers who clicked on its featured videos towards Astley’s music video. The song’s feel-good nature translated well into the light-hearted joke. Although the earworm melody does burrow deep into the brain.