“Never Gonna Give You Up” passes one billion YouTube views–but that doesn’t tell the real story.

When Rick Astley released “Never Gonna Give You Up” on July 27, 1987, no one outside of a handful of computer geeks knew anything about this thing called the “internet.” We just looked at the video as a weirdly catchy performance by this redhead with a weirdly deep voice.

But in 2006, the 4chan imageboard starting annoying people with something called “duckrolling,” a practice where some unsuspecting person would click on an interesting-looking link and end up with a picture or video of a duck on wheels, hence “duckrolling.”

The big switch came a year later with the debut of the trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV. Anticipation for the game’s release was so big that the Rockstar Games website kept crashing. One 4chan user thought they’d have a little fun with a bait-and-switch. Instead of promising a link to a working Grand Theft Auto IV trailer, clickers got “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

The gag spread from there. That’s how duckrolling became rickrolling.

The practice exploded starting in 2008 and eventually became the internet’s Delta variant for punishing clickbait suckers. And this week, the video passed one billion views on YouTube (as of this morning, 1,002,456,692 for the official video that wasn’t posted until October 25, 2009). This makes it only the fourth music video from the 80s to reach that level.

However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. How many times have you been rickrolled only to click away from the video within five seconds? A video doesn’t count as viewed unless you watch it for 30 seconds. If we were to add in all the glimpses from rickrolls, how many people have really been exposed to this dancing ginger? There’s no way of telling, but the mind boggles, really.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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