NEW YORK – How does Rick Astley deal with the fact that one of his songs is part of the biggest internet meme of all time? He’s obviously rolling with it.
“Listen, let’s be honest, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ kind of became something else,” he says. “The video and the song drifted off into the airwaves and became something else and I’m so thankful for that.”
This song turns 35 this year and is still very much alive, sustained by a second chapter as a gentle banter in which someone lures you with a tantalizing online link that instead points to the video for this 1987 dance-pop hit refers. It’s called rickrolling.
Thirty-five years later, Astley sings it this summer on tour with New Kids on the Block, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue for the 57-date The Mixtape Tour 2022. A remastered version of his 1987 debut album was also released, featuring Never Gonna Give You Up, of course.
“I’ll never have a song that big, and I kind of knew that when it happened. I was kind of like, ‘We’re never gonna beat this.’ But I was also kind of like, ‘Well, how bad is that?’”
Astley has always been much more than just this song. After exploding in the late 1980s, he left show business in frustration, only recently re-emerging with powerful albums 50 in 2016 and Beautiful Life in 2018.
“Often the second act is more enjoyable because you have more control and enjoy every minute,” said Alistair Norbury, president of repertoire and marketing at BMG UK, which signed Astley.
The passage of time – and the fact that Astley is such a sweet guy – has softened any hotness. He says he understands how the past can look different through rose-tinted glasses. Rock stars recently told him they love his voice.
“And I was like, ‘Really? I thought you hung me in the village square,” he says, laughing. “Back then they probably would have, but I think over time it just changes your perspective.”
Astley, 56, is the youngest of four who grew up near Manchester, England. His sister played a lot of progressive rock and adored David Bowie. One brother was a huge Queen fan and he remembers Queen’s Night at the Opera album being played on repeat. Astley has absorbed everything from Stevie Wonder to The Smiths.
He was in a band at school – they once performed The Police’s “So Lonely” with Astley on drums and vocals – who wiped the floor when the bands battled with rivals. He went to gigs and dreamed of becoming a music star.
He remembers being amazed one day when he spotted The Smiths bassist walking through town. “That can happen?” he remembers thinking. “You may be from a town where I buy my records, but you were on ‘Top of the Pops’ last week?”
Astley was only in his early 20s when he recorded his debut album Whenever You Need Somebody with the songwriting and record producing trio Stock Aitken Waterman, who had written songs for Bananarama and Dead or Alive.
“I’ve sold a lot of records. I had a lot of hits and then it got to a point where it’s like touch and go – how is that going to go now because you have another record to make?
Burned out and frustrated, he left at 27. “I guess I just didn’t have it in me. I just didn’t. I didn’t want that,” he says.
He admires pop stars like Madonna or Kylie Minogue for their longevity. “I don’t really know how they did it,” he says.
Being a pop star sucks, and Astley says it’s happened to him, too. “I think my days were numbered anyway, but I think I just got out before they kicked me out, you know?” He didn’t perform for 15 years.
Unlike other pop stars, he had not invested his ego in his looks or how others perceived him. “I was never cool. I wasn’t cool when I had my hits,” he says. Astley has nothing but compassion for those chewed up by the glory monster. “It must be incredibly painful.”
Astley reemerged from self-exile in 2016 with “50”, named, with a hat to Adele, for his age at the time, a strong album that shifts from gospel to electro-funky.
Norbury recalls hearing the first few demos of the album and being impressed. He asked Astley’s manager who wrote them. The answer was “Rick Astley”. He asked who the co-author was?” The answer was, “Nobody”. Who produced? “Rick.” Then who played all the instruments? “He played all the instruments.”
Norbury calls Astley “probably one of the hardest working people in this business and always does so with good humor and a spirit of collaboration and partnership.”
Rickrolling began in 2007 — in YouTube’s infancy — and initially confused Astley. His song and video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” were used as part of an internet bait-and-switch, but what did that mean?
“I’ve been thinking about it and worried and wondering what it was. And our daughter said to me — she was about 15 at the time — she just kind of said, ‘Do you realize this has nothing to do with you?’” She also predicted, “There’s going to be something else next week or tomorrow. “
“She was a bit wrong because it still kind of swirls around here and there,” says Astley. “But the vibe of what she said was, I think, really, really valuable. I embrace my past, but I don’t have to embrace the rickrolling thing in the same way because I accept the fact that to some extent it has nothing to do with me.”
The song has reached 1.2 billion streams on YouTube and 559 million Spotify listeners. Time Out magazine was always a little puzzled by Rickrolling when he asked why no one wants to hear the lively Megajam, saying it was “three and a half of the most bubbly minutes in ’80s canon”.
Astley, of course, sees “Never Gonna Give You Up” differently than the people who try to mess with friends with it. He concedes the video is “incredibly cheesy late ’80s,” but “it’s a good reminder. It’s like a nice memory.”
For Astley, it’s the song that brought him to Copenhagen, where he met his wife, Lene Bausager. Without this song he would not have had his daughter or traveled around the world. “I’ve been to some of the most amazing places in the world that most people have on their bucket list.”
He’s thinking back to the days when he was a new artist looking up to established acts. Now he’s a seasoned pro with an arsenal of songs including an instant crowd pleaser.
“At the time I was green with envy and feeling totally insecure and stuff like that. Now when I go on stage and sing these songs, I just think, ‘Yeah, how lucky am I? Is not that great?'”
https://nypost.com/2022/06/23/rick-astley-grateful-for-twisted-success-of-never-gonna-give-you-up/ Rick Astley ‘grateful’ for twisted success of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’