The Rickroll is one of the most famous yet polarizing memes on the Internet. It's a classic Bait-and-Switch, where you're linked to a web page that purports to be something relevant to whatever you're reading, only to click on it and find yourself watching the music video of British singer Rick Astley's 1987 pop hit "Never Gonna Give You Up".
How did it become so popular? It's simple, it's mostly harmless, and the song itself is pretty catchy. That said, several have found ways to avoiding it — they either simply checked the copyright info on the YouTube link to see if it featured the song (or "content from Rick Astley Official Channel"), or memorized the YouTube link for it.
It grew to be more than just an Internet meme, though; it was one of the few memes to break out of the Internet and into general popular culture. People were trying this in Real Life, trying to foist the video (or even a live performance of the song) on large public gatherings. Newspaper articles were even written about the phenomenon, to the point where discussions of the song on its own merits as a song were very rare. It also means that Rick Astley himself was very much aware of the meme (he was quite baffled by it and starting to get really annoyed that it's all anyone ever wants to ask him about, but he eventually grew to accept and embrace it).
So who started it?
Like a lot of memes, it started on 4chan. It's actually a variant of the duckroll, which consisted of links to a picture of a duck on wheels◊. Duckrolling was actually part of a particularly elaborate trolling method where the point of the link was to send you to a post in another thread — such a redirect forced your browser to load the entire thread, which was super annoying, and there wasn't any easy way to distinguish such links from links to other posts within the thread (which were much easier on your browser). The duck would be in the post you linked to, and its entire point was to remind you that you got pwned.
That being said, no one's certain exactly how it transitioned to the Rick Astley video specifically. It may be a reference to an earlier joke involving the song. One possible candidate is Nick Lowe's song "All Men Are Liars", which mocks Astley and at one point transitions into the chorus of "Never Gonna Give You Up"; another is Mystery Science Theater 3000, which included the song in its riff on Attack of the Eye Creatures because a character resembled Astley. One factor is probably the lyrics of the song itself, with Rick professing how he will never tell a lie in one line. Whatever the case may be, there's almost certainly an "in-joke" element to it, as there is with many Internet memes; part of the point is to make you ask, "of all things, why that?"
The first victim of the Rickroll is commonly believed to be Kylie Minogue — but in a very meta sense. She and Astley were both members of the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory back in The '80s. Apparently, they rushed through the production of her song "I Should Be So Lucky" because Astley was supposed to use the studio to record later that day. Looking at the production dates, it's not impossible to believe she was the first person to have been sidelined by a performance of "Never Gonna Give You Up". Despite the popularity of this video, the first Rickroll victim was not Bill O'Reilly.note
And where can we see it outside its natural habitat?
- Cartoon Network is the all-time offline champion of Rickrolling, culminating in a successful conspiracy with Rick Astley himself to spontaneously perform the song at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- The White House Communications Department, in response to complaints on Twitter that a press conference on fiscal policy was too boring, tweeted a link that turned out to be a Rickroll.
- It's possible to do a Rickroll in Scribblenauts.
- When the U.S. House of Representatives launched its YouTube channel, Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked the Rickroll. More interestingly, the Oregon State Legislature managed to do something similar without anybody noticing. More recently, the Nebraska State Legislature invoked one to break up a filibuster.
- The video "Hilarious Muppet Bloopers" takes video from The Muppet Show (particularly a segment from episode 96 where Beaker sings "Feelings") and dubs "Never Gonna Give You Up" over it, essentially turning Beaker into Rick Astley.
Commenter: The resemblance of Beaker to Rick Astley is astonishing!
- In The LEGO Batman Movie, Robin plays "Never Gonna Give You Up" while cycling through music to use for the film's climactic battle, which Batman simply groans at.
- Ralph Breaks the Internet, having a strong focus on Internet phenomena both old and new, includes the song in its second trailer, briefly foreshadowed by an epic orchestral arrangement of it. In the film itself, The Stinger purports itself to be a sneak peek of Frozen II, before Rickrolling us into a Shot for Shot Remake of the music video with Ralph in Astley's place.
- In Bumblebee, a Take That! to the meme has the song depicted as a Berserk Button for the eponymous Autobot, who destroys the cassette it's on after being forced to play just a second or two of it.
- Netizens agonized over a big missed opportunity at the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where a "celebration of British pop music", had it included the song, would have Rickrolled basically the entire world.
- On a 2014 episode of Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Rick Astley appeared during the "Singalong Live" segment, and sung "Never Gonna Give You Up" with Ant, Dec, the audience and viewers at home.
- At the Petco Park in San Diego, California in August 2019, the San Diego Padres managed to rickroll the Boston Red Sox during a singalong to "Sweet Caroline".
- The "Never Gonna" emote in Fortnite allows you to Rickroll other players.
- In Season 3 of The Masked Singer, the Astronaut performed "Never Gonna Give You Up". This probably would have been unremarkable as just one more pop song used on the show, except it was the final performance of an April Fools' Day episode.
- In the Recap Episode for Season 5, Cluedle-Doo lead all the eliminated contestants (including host Nick Cannon) in singing the song.
- Omega Layers has the message "Get layer (the layer after your highest unlocked layer) now [working 2020]" which is an external link. Clicking it leads to the "Never Gonna Give You Up" video.
- The Amazing World of Gumball has a Running Gag that's obviously supposed to represent Rickrolling, where someone will click an internet link and get a still image of a chihuahua playing a saxophone with a Suspiciously Similar Song.
- El Hormiguero often starts its seasons with a short film for which the previous season's guests are asked to record a segment. The short film for season 14 (a spoof of Titanic and The Love Boat) had Edurne break an emergency glass... to find Rick Astley himself in the middle of a performance.
- Two instances (sort of) in Episode 10 of Season 2 of Ted Lasso:
- Firstly, Rebecca haltingly breaks into the lyrics of the song when she gives a eulogy at her father’s funeral, then Ted and the rest of the congregation join in to help sing the chorus.
- Secondly (and in a more straight up version), Rebecca and her mother, Deborah, are later watching old family home movies on VHS but suddenly the original Rick Astley video pops up because Rebecca taped it over the home video (and she had actually stated she’d done so earlier in the episode).
- In the song "Fugue State" from Octet, Toby sings a YouTube link, claiming that it's where "the secret" lies. If one were to type out said link, it would inevitably lead to a Rickroll.
- In previous versions of Anti-Idle: The Game, the minigame "Mute Mute Revolution", a Rhythm Game but without the music, has one level whose notes are clearly set to the rhythm of the song. (The current version of the game no longer has this, instead having a sequel called "MMR X" with non-fixed patterns.)
- The Cartoon Network LA Twitter account put out a tweet that pretended to offer the second episode of Villainous for free, but turned out to be one of these. Albeit with the entire thing redone and animated with the show's characters.
- Sesame Street put out a video "Sesame Street presents the 80s" featuring a bunch of parodies of 80s songs like "Count To Nineteen" and "Don't Stop Your Reading". The big finale has Prairie Dawn announcing "It's The Final Countdown!" and music resembling "The Final Countdown" plays for a few seconds as Guy Smiley takes to the stage dressed in a Rick Astley costume to perform a parody of "Never Gonna Give You Up" instead.
- CMC+ features the song as the Leitmotif of Rock Lobster, with it also being played as the menu music for the April Fools' Day build.
- In the animated version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Greg clears some teenagers out of his house by playing the song on a boombox, even doing Rick's dance with a dead-serious face.
- Kitboga is a scambaiter popular on YouTube and Twitch. As of 2023, one way scammers try to get money is to send a victim to a Bitcoin ATM to buy a large amount of Bitcoin. They then ask for the QR code from the receipt and make off with the Bitcoin. In this video, Kitboga trolls the scammer by sending a receipt with a QR code that instead rickrolls him. Although he and the viewers don't get to have the pleasure of listening to the scammer hear "Never Gonna Give You Up" over the phone, Kit nevertheless has tracking on the code and thus is able to verify that the scammer and/or one of his buddies did use it and thus got rickrolled.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2021) features "Never Gonna Give You Up" as one of the licensed songs on Star-Lord's playlist, which in and of itself doesn't qualify as a Rickroll, but the fact that it's set to play automatically if you fail the game's first huddle definitely does.
In fact, the meme now automatically makes any previous use of the song Hilarious in Hindsight, if not thought of as an Ur-Example of the meme (like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 example).
Variants of the Rickroll
At this point, the Rickroll is big enough that it would be more effective to do some unexpected variant of it.
- The more obvious variants include (e.g. the "Barack Roll", right around the time Barack Obama was elected president) and the "Reich Roll" (because of course).
- YouTube gave us the "Ruth Roll", misdirecting viewers on April Fools' Day to a video of a cute dancer.
- Pokémon GO did an event on one of the biggest meme-worthy Pokémon, Bidoof. On the final day of the event, this appeared on the official Pokémon channel.
- Users of The Miniatures Page have a variation that directs you to a picture of Sean Connery as Zed.
- Fans of Chrono Trigger have said for a long time that the Leitmotif of the character Robo sounds a lock like Rickroll, hence the RoboRoll.
- The Takarazuka Revue fandom has the Zukaroll, sung by Suzukaze Mayo.
- The song itself has been remixed with other pop culture artifacts, one of the most prominent being Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which is particularly apt for such remixes as it shares the exact same time signature (and Ear Worm quality) as "Never Gonna Give You Up". This might be the Foo Fighters, during one live performance, started what seemed to be a cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", only to invite Rick Astley on stage to sing "Never Gonna Give You Up".
- Tumblr created a variant that Rickrolls the Rickroll — the video starts with "Never Gonna Give You Up" (especially its distinctive opening drumbeats) but transitions to something different. One variant transitions to a memetic segment of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek", while another transitions to a mashup of "Never Gonna Give You Up" with Darude's "Sandstorm".
- Randall Munroe's What If? blog featured an inversion in "Lava Lamp". A linked video that is labeled "The music video for Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up.'" actually goes to video of a can of pasta being overrun by a lava flow.
- 2020 brought yet another similar Bait-and-Switch tactic called Stickbugging. Here's an example of such a meme. And yes, it's overlapped with the Rickroll.
- And that same year, fans of Henry Stickmin brought us the Distraction Dance.
- SiIvaGunner, in addition to doing regular rips with the song, has also done rips involving "the new rick rolld", a video by wtfradio1000 with an odd 7-note melody playing over two still images of Rick Astley over a still from the Nyan Cat videonote .
- On the podcast Too Beautiful to Live, a phenomenon called catrolling started when co-host Luke Burbank played the audio from a YouTube video of a cat ''singing'' the theme from Game of Thrones to an unsuspecting co-host, Andrew Walsh.
- Tokusatsu fans have a variant known as Ryukirolling. This usually applies to scenes with glass shattering cutting to the opening for Ryuki.
- In 2021 Caitlyn Myers did a Japanese cover: "Rickroll but make it Anime''.
Why hasn't YouTube taken it down yet?
Because that's not how the Internet works. That doesn't mean they haven't tried; it was removed for brief periods in 2010, 2014, and 2015. The 2015 removal might have had to do with British cellular provider Virgin Mobile using the song in a number of their commercials, some of which include Astley himself. The Vevo upload of the song has remained on the website untouched since 2009, as Vevo is a joint-venture between Google and several major music companies. Claiming that YouTube has taken it down is, of course, a good way to get people to go check on it, thus unconventionally Rickrolling them.
Enjoy the Rickroll, everyone — it's preferable to the Screamer Prank.
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♫