The untold truth of Rickrolling

Rickrolling started out as a MySpace-era prank and became one of the first internet memes to successfully break into the mainstream since Ally McBeal danced with a CGI baby. We've known about it for so long. Our hearts have been aching to tell the story, but until now, we were too shy to say it. Inside, we both know what's been going on. We know the game and we're gonna play it.

In the beginning, it was indecipherable forum in-joke nonsense

Rickrolling is a bait-and-switch prank that got its start in 2007 on an internet forum called 4chan. Instead of sending someone an image of a duck with wheels, a user made them watch the music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley. We're not exactly sure where to start to attempt to have that make sense, but here goes.

4chan is an anonymous, image-heavy American internet forum modeled after the Japanese anime forum 2chan. Founded by Christopher Poole (forum name: m00t) when he was 15, the forum members frequently played pranks on each other and indulged in early attempts at what basically became what we know as internet culture today. At one point, moot installed a word filter on the forum that changed every instance of the word "egg" to "duck." This then changed every instance of the word "eggroll" to the word "duckroll," which forum denizens then decided should be represented by a duck with wheels. This then evolved into a bait-and-switch prank where people would post links with clickbaity titles that would lead anyone clicking them to said duckwheel image. If you don't get the "joke," that makes two of us, but hey — we're just reporting the facts here.

Then came the trailer for the then-new Grand Theft Auto IV, which was so popular it crashed the Rockstar Games website. An enterprising 4channer put out a video on YouTube in May 2007 pretending to be the new GTA4 trailer, but instead was the video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," and thus, the Rickroll was born.

The reason for choosing this video in particular are unclear. Know Your Meme has posited that the juxtaposition of the soulful baritone in the song with Astley's youthful scrawny ginger looks may have contributed some unintentional hilarity to suddenly having that video pop up onscreen. It's notable that according to VH1's Pop-Up Video, even record producers didn't believe Astley's voice was real at first. Or maybe it's just because of the cheesy '80s look and goofy dancing. In any case, the original Rickroll video is sitting at 76 million views and Astley's official version of the video is at 228 million, as of the time of this writing, and there's literally no way to tell who is watching it ironically or not.

Rick Astley was baffled by it at first, but joined in the fun in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

While the phenomenon was brewing on the internet, Rick Astley was completely unaware of it until he was actually Rickrolled himself by a friend. He didn't get it. He didn't even understand at first that it was supposed to be a prank at all, and wasn't sure what sharing his music in this context even meant. Was it making fun of him? What was the joke? As the pranks escalated in scale, with members of 4chan's Anonymous activists blasting the song through boomboxes at Scientology protests, he began to be a bit creeped out by this bizarre internet thing attached to his song.

He eventually warmed up to it, however, even if all these millions of video shares only earned him whatever the British version of Taco Bell money is in YouTube ad revenue. "I think it's just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it," he told the Los Angeles Times. By Thanksgiving 2008, he was ready to join in the fun himself, making a surprise appearance performing the song on the Macy's Day Parade float for the Cartoon Network series Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends. All things considered, the appearance seems to have done more for Astley's career than the cartoon itself, which was canceled less than a year later. Bummer.

For April Fools' Day, YouTube made every video a Rickroll

Depending on the kind of person you are, April Fools' Day is either your most or least favorite day to get on the internet. Every major website has elaborately planned pranks set up that either delight, confuse, and inspire you to have fun watercooler talks on break, or actually make your day that much more tedious by having to root through the piles of deliberately fake news crossing your social media feed.

Rickrolling has been incorporated into internet April Fools' traditions since the beginning, even by politicians such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. YouTube took it up a notch, however, booby-trapping every featured video on the site to go directly to the Rick Astley video above. Great fun for them, but probably not so much for folks trying to monetize their own YouTube videos that day.

A college student's amateur film project Rickroll fooled the New York Times

While instances of Rickroll pranking were in full swing, a particular video caught the attention of the New York Times, who used it as a centerpiece for a 2008 piece on the phenomenon itself. Recorded by then-film student Pawl Fisher, it depicted a women's basketball timeout being hijacked by pranksters blasting the song over the PA system. The video is displayed on the scoreboard and a young man dressed in an approximation of Astley's preppy outfit dances through the bleachers onto the court, lip-synching the song. Members of the audience exchange bewildered stares but soon begin to dance along, as the cheerleading team adjusts their routine to follow the beat. It looks totally fun, and is also totally fake.

The video itself was recorded over the course of several games, and most of the audience reactions had nothing to do with the lip-synching dancer, who only performed once before a game. Clever edits and camera angles brought the whole thing together, which itself wasn't really intended to become as big a sensation as it did. Fisher himself, who appears in the video as the scrawny Rick Astley impersonator, has since become a huge bodybuilder and his film work has shifted from viral comedy videos to documenting his intense workout regimen, which was nowhere near the plot twist we were expecting.

Nancy Pelosi created a special introductory video for the official House of Representatives YouTube channel

In order to attract attention to the newly created House of Representatives YouTube channel in 2009, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi produced a rather unusual introductory video. It begins by following a couple of cats mulling around in a Capitol office, staring out windows, messing with things (including Pelosi's ceremonial gavel) and getting all over the antique furniture. You know, cat stuff.

Thirty seconds into the shenanigans, you can probably guess what happens. Yes, visitors found themselves Rickrolled by the then-third most powerful person in America. Subsequent videos are distinctly more dry, and like most of our own embarrassing attempts at internet viral novelty, the account seems to have been abandoned years ago, with only a handful of remaining public videos. We kinda wonder what those cats are up to now. Quick, someone upload a video!

The White House would occasionally get in on the fun, too

The Oregon State House created a Rickroll April Fools' video that required bipartisan cooperation

Speaking to NPR in 2011, Democrat Jefferson Smith described the process that went into an April Fools' video the Oregon State House released which had lawmakers reciting Rick Astley lyrics. He reassures everyone that the video editing itself was done by volunteer aides, and not on the taxpayer dollar.

However, it did entail on-the-clock cooperation between several Oregon lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum to each incorporate a snippet of lyrics in their floor speeches, without wasting floor time by deviating from the topic they were speaking on. As such, some phrases were more difficult than others, and it was hard for others to not laugh the first time a lawmaker said "never gonna give you up" on the House floor. In any case, never let anyone tell you that Republicans and Democrats can't compromise.

A web developer broke Vine's servers attempting a Rickroll

Vine is a discontinued video sharing service once associated with Twitter where users composed extremely short looping video clips. The day the Vine app went mobile, web developer Will Smidlein wanted to see how far he could push the software. Cloning some of the Vine API features using his own software and uploading them through a jailbroken iPhone to bypass upload security features, he uploaded the full three and a half minute "Never Gonna Give You Up" video onto software designed for videos 10 seconds long.

As soon as people started sharing the video, Twitter servers began to fail and the 16-year-old Smidlein found himself being contacted frantically by back-end Twitter engineers asking him to take down the video so they could fix things. After removing the video, Smidlein apologized for the stunt. When asked by WKYC Cleveland whether he would strike again, he responded "We'll see," so hopefully nothing happens to this kid to inspire him to go supervillain.

Jack White (not that one) Rickrolled himself for charity

Jack White — the choirmaster from Southampton you've never heard of, rather than the indie rocker you probably forgot existed until just now — had a wild idea for a charity fundraiser. He decided to lock himself in a hotel room for four days with nothing to entertain himself but a consistent stream of the Rick Astley video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" that he was not allowed to turn off. He also resolved not to bathe the whole time, and to subsist on nothing but porridge and water, because why only be sort of miserable, when you can do so much worse to yourself?

All donations were to go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and he intended to livestream the entire ordeal. The latter proved to be difficult, because trolls descended on the livestream, harassing White and his seven-year-old diabetic cousin, who inspired him. White was already struggling with the onslaught of horrible comments, but when they started harassing his cousin, it proved too much, and White stepped down from the challenge. Thankfully, his brother James stepped in and continued the charity drive, and between the two of them, they overcame the donation goal by nearly a quarter, raising £2,486 of a £2,000 target. The campaign itself won the support, of sorts, from Rick Astley himself, who posted about it on his official Facebook page, although even he admitted the stunt sounded crazy.

The Foo Fighters Rickrolled the Westboro Baptist Church in counter-protest

The Westboro Baptist Church is an example of the uglier side of internet organizing. They've organized protests against the homosexual community with pastor Fred Phelps for decades. However, in the late '90s, their infamous offensively-named website whose name we can't say here made them early (and disturbing) internet stars. As the years went by, the church has since branched out to picketing concerts, celebrity and military funerals and even screaming at kids that Santa isn't real, which is just sad.

A frequent target of their protests is the band Foo Fighters, otherwise known as a group of ridiculously nice and charming ex-Nirvana members that wouldn't harm a fly. Even the band itself isn't entirely sure why, but they never backed down at a chance to troll the trolls back on their own turf. While performing in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2011, they arranged an entire impromptu concert across the street from the protest, but in 2015 they planned something a bit more intimate. They parked a pickup truck with the band and friends hanging out and dancing in the bed to the classic Rick Astley song to blow off steam before their performance.

Just goes to show that if you're looking to draw attention to yourself, maybe confronting a rock band isn't your best bet. That's pretty much their job.

After leaving their audience hanging for over a year, the creators of Rick and Morty Rickroll them

Whether you love it, or are confused by it, or both, the creators of the Adult Swim cartoon The Adventures Of Rick And Morty clearly get a perverse pleasure toying with the expectations of their fanbase. Season 3 of the controversial but hugely popular show was confirmed back in fall 2015 before Season 2 was even complete, and fans have been eagerly awaiting its release ever since. On February 20, 2017, Adult Swim teased an exclusive sneak peek at the first episode of the new season ... or did they?

You guessed it: another Rickroll. It quickly became one of the most popular videos on YouTube that day, with fans all over the world queuing up for the disappointment. This didn't exactly go well with all of the fans, but for the others who lost count of how many times co-creator Dan Harmon has smashed their hopes and dreams, and yet they've come back for more ... they're clearly never gonna give Rick and Morty up... never gonna ...

We'll stop now.