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Vote for Rick: English pop star's memes take social media by storm this election season

Astley's song 'Never Gonna…' was loved and loathed, but it was successful.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Apr 15, 2019, 02.06 PM IST
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Agencies
rick
Rick Astley
It is 1988. A mix tape made by a Gujarati record store owner for about Rs 40 slides into a Panasonic cassette player. A new pop star from England called Rick Astley starts singing a song called 'Never Gonna Give You Up'.

Popcorn starts popping out of the stereo. By the end of the song, the occupants of the house are drowning in popcorn. Yellow clouds of popcorn rumble down the stairs and fill up the road.

'Never Gonna Give You Up' was jaunty enough to inspire such visions without having to ingest hallucinogens. Purists hated its excessive cheer and naïve promise of ideal romance (Astley practiced what he preached. He has been married to his wife Lene for over 20 years). Many also pretended to hate it out of peer pressure.

I liked the song. The lyrics were BS, but the number was catchy and energetic. I wasn’t one for making devil horns to angry heavy metal, even though I had enough angst to do that. I went to some rock concerts at IIT Bombay’s Mood Indigo. But many of the guys doing the troubled metalhead routine seemed phoney to me.

'Never Gonna…' was loved and loathed. But it was successful. It topped the charts in 25 countries and outsold The Rolling Stones in 1987. You can’t have those numbers without some merit. Astley, just 21 at the time, became a wealthy celebrity.

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He had a few more hits. But by 27, Astley got so tired of the demands of celebrity life that once, on the way to Heathrow to catch a flight, he broke down and decided he had had enough. He took the incredibly sensible decision of quitting and embraced quiet domesticity.

And then in the last decade, an internet prank plucked Astley out of his peaceful lull and placed him back in the limelight. The joke — called Rickrolling — involved baiting people with a deceptively titled link. When they clicked on it, whoa, it was Rick Astley singing 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. A forgotten 80s name was once again on the lips of the young.

Currently it is election mood in the UK and India. And Rick memes are in circulation. Vote for Rick, they say. He will never a) Give you up b) Let you down, and so on. From most accounts Astley is that rare chart-topper who did not blow his money, health or life in general. It has helped him have a sense of humour about his song being parodied, or about being called Dick Spatsley (by a UK music magazine) and Lick Ashtray (by some people in Japan, he said).

“I have no problem with it (Rickrolling),” Astley said in an interview. “It’s done me a lot of good, probably. And reminded another generation [about me]. If someone had messed around with it and cut it all up and made me look stupid — I mean I look pretty stupid anyway in that video — if it was nasty, then I’d be probably a bit pissed off, but it’s not. It’s like, ‘We’re choosing that video because it’s a full-on Eighties, cheesy video’. There’s no getting away from it now and I’ve got to own it because if I don’t, it’s like being petty.”

Wish Astley was truly contesting elections in India, where political lies, ambition and propaganda are taking on a dangerous dimension.
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