Whatever Happened To Rick Astley - Nicki Swift (2024)


Whatever Happened To Rick Astley - Nicki Swift (1)

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ByBrent Furdyk/

Rick Astley was born in 1966 inNewton-Le-Willows, a small coal-mining town in the north of England. His interest in music shone through when he was still a child, evident when he joined his angelic voice to his church's choir. He was just a teenager when he joined FBI, a soul group that gained a regional following. Initially the band's drummer, Astley eventually stepped into the lead singer roleafter the original vocalist exited. Astley's distinctive baritone and unusual vocal stylings attracted the attention of Pete Waterman, a record producer who invited him to London to record at PWL Studios.

Astley flourished as he learned about the recording process, and eventually recorded enough original music for his debut album, 1987's "Whenever You Need Somebody."The first single released from that album changed everything:a catchy pop ditty called "Never Gonna Give You Up."Not only did the track rocket to No. 1 on the charts — remaining there for five consecutive weeks and ranking the year's top-selling single in Britain — it remains Astley's signature song, more than three decades after its release.

Since bursting on the scene in 1987 with what is still his most successful song, his career since then has experienced a dramatic series of ups, downs, twists, turns, and odd confluences that have brought him from has-been to internet meme to a showbiz comeback that nobody could have ever predicted. Keep on reading to find out the whole story about whatever happened to Rick Astley.

The reason he decided to retire at age 27

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"Never Gonna GiveYou Up"wasn't just a hit in Rick Astley's native Britain, but also internationally, hitting No. 1 in 25 different countries(including two weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot 100 in the U.S.). At the time, Astley had just turned 21. He followed up with a second single,"Whenever You Need Somebody," which hit No. 1 in seven countries. While his subsequent releases over the next few years never recaptured the glory of his first single, there was no denying his talent and success.

In 1993, Astley was driving to London's Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to New York when he was hit by a sudden epiphany. Having recently welcomed his first child —a daughter —with wife LeneBausager, Astley abruptly decided to turn around, head home and skip the flight. He then announced he was retiring at age 27. "I don't necessarily feel my personality really suited being a pop star,"he told Australia's "Today."

According to Astley, he felt as if he was no longer in control of any aspect of his life. "I had control over nothing," he told the Daily Mail. "I'd made enough money to say, 'I don't need to do this.'" Looking back on his decision to step away while at the peak of his career, Astley holds no regrets. "I kind of feel that if I hadn't of done it then I would have self-imploded," he told Page Six.

He spent more than a decade away from the music business

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There have been many music acts that have announced retirement plans, only to return a few years later after a change of heart (and the need to refill the coffers). Not Rick Astley, though; after retiring from music in 1993, he pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, at least from a pop-culture perspective — no one-off shows, no special guest appearances on other artists' albums, nothing. For all intents and purposes, Astley was gone —and that was the way he needed it to be.

His primary focus during these years was to be with his wife while they raised their daughter, Emilie. In an interview with British TV series "Stock Aitken Waterman: Legends of Pop"(via Retropop), Astley was well aware that his unique circ*mstances allowed him the rare privilege of spending those precious years with his family, rather than continually chasing his next hit."I was super lucky that I had a massive amount of success in a very short period of time, somebody gave me a truckload of money for it and I could say 'Okay, I'm done!'" he explained.

Of course, Astley hadn't entirely forsaken his music career. In 2000, he released a single, "Sleeping,"followed by his 2001 album, "Keep It Turned On."In 2007, he stepped back into the limelight when he received an offer to join 1980s nostalgia tour Here and Now, effectively ending his retirement.

He wrote songs for other artists

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In addition to writing and performing his own pop hits, some of the songs Rick Astley wrote were recorded by other singers. As American Songwriter pointed out, among these was the 1988 single "Is This Really Love?"from singer Jon Otis. Astley recorded his own version a few years later, appearing on his 1991 album "Free."

Astley continued to write songs during his retirement, including "Mission Statement."Co-written by Astley, the song was recorded in 1999 by Fish (the stage name for Scottish singer Derek Richard Dick). Astley also co-wrote "We All Need a Miracle,"recorded by Dutch singer René Froger in 2000.

Discussing his songwriting process during an interview with SongFacts, Astley explained how his early years in the studio working with hitmakers Stock-Aitken-Waterman (a.k.a. the production trio comprised ofMike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman) pushed him to learn the secret of writing pop hits. "Every song they wrote was about a hit. They didn't want to write album tracks, they weren't interested in that. And one thing I don't like about the way I approach songs sometimes is that I've got that sort of ingrained in me a little bit,"Astley explained. "I have calmed that down now, but I've always had that thing of, 'Well, if it's not a hit what's the point in finishing it?'"

An Internet prank hastened his career comeback

In the decades after the release of "Never Gonna Give You Up," Rick Astley's signature hit never really went away. However, the song burst back into public consciousness in the most unexpected of ways in 2007, when someone devised a prank on the 4chan websitein which users clicked on a web link purporting to take them to a trailer for video game "Grand Theft Auto IV" and were instead greeted by Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" video. Variations of the prank — which came to be called Rickrolling — eventually bled into the mainstream.

Suddenly, Rickrolling was a thing, appearing in such unexpected venues as the Oregon legislature and the New York City subway.Even then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi got into it, posting a YouTube video of cats frolicking in her office before Rickrolling viewers. The phenomenon hit its nadir in autumn 2008, when Astley himself interrupted some puppets' musical performance during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to sing "Never Gonna Give You Up" for a truly epic Rickroll.

"It's pretty cool. I can't complain," Astley said of the phenomenon in an interview with Tone Deaf, admitting that Rickrolling certainly contributed to the career resurgence he experienced."Twenty, 25 years later, they still queue up ... people still want to come out and hear me sing those songs," he marveled. "I kind of think to myself: 'I'm a lucky bugger.' I just try and enjoy it."

His initially didn't understand Rickrolling

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Rick Astley was first introduced to Rickrolling when a friend sent he an email that surprisingly linked to the "Never Gonna Give You Up" video. At the time, he didn't get the joke. "I just thought ... why is he doing that? Why is he sending me an email, of my old song? Does he not think I've seen that video? Does he think I really have to go on YouTube to see it one more time?" Astley told Tone Deaf.

It wasn't until his teenage daughter explained the concept to him that he realized he'd somehow become the focal point of an internet phenomenon that was far bigger than him. "Because she's of that generation, she could see it with different eyes," Astley recalled in an interview with ET Canada. "And even though it was her dad, she could see it and say, 'Look, it doesn't have anything to do with you, just let it go over your head ... don't get involved, don't try and use it.'"

Astley has never been the type to take himself all that seriously, and ultimately came to appreciate the humor behind Rickrolling. He's also recognized that it's not meant to be a dig at him. "I know some artists would be horrified by having one of their songs turn into a prank,"Astley told The Guardian, "but I think it's great."

Rickrolling garnered his video ta billion YouTube views

There's no denying that the unexpected ubiquity of Rickrolling brought a whole lot of attention to Rick Astley's 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" and its accompanying music video, three decades after it first climbed up the charts. That became apparent in 2021, when the video surpassed a billion views on YouTube. Astley was, as they say in his native Britain, gobsmacked."That is mind-blowing,"Astley said of hitting a billion views in a video he shared with fans via Twitter. "The world is a wonderful and beautiful place, and I am very lucky."

Interestingly, back in 2014, YouTube took steps to prevent the video from being seen. As Billboard reported, the video —which at that time had only been viewed just under 71 million times —restricted access to the video; it reappeared later, of course.

YouTube's move proved mystifying to many, particularly given the fact that the video-sharing platform had actually Rickrolled its users a few years earlier. As Wired revealed, on April 1, 2008, YouTube pulled an April Fool's Day prank by linking every single one of the featured videos on its homepage to "Never Gonna Give You Up."

He recreated his iconic music video 35 years after its release

In 2022, Rick Astley's biggest hit marked a big milestone, the 35th anniversary of the release of "Never Gonna Give You Up." To commemorate the occasion, Astley recreated the video, shot for shot, three-and-a-half decades later.

Of course, there was a bit of financial impetus behind the decision, given that the new videowas actually in service of an corporate entity,California State Automobile Association Insurance Group, and wasn't a precise recreation as much as it was a loving spoof. That was clear toward the end of the video, when the various iterations of Astley who appear onscreen are all seen together. "Is this still a thing?"Astley asks his other selves whilewatching the video on his phone, a look of confusion on his face."Paying homage to my video for the AAA Insurance commercial — from the set to the wardrobe — has been an amazing trip down memory lane," he shared in a statement.

As Astley told USA Today, there really hasn't been a downside to having his hit song embedded within the zeitgeist. "I think the younger generation hears something and if they like it, they don't care if you're dead — if they like it, they like it,"he said. "To have a younger audience get into my songs, you have to see that as kind of a bonus, even if it's Rickrolling."

He sued a rapper for using a soundalike impersonator

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In 2022, rapper Yung Gravy released his single "Betty (Get Money)," which opens with the chorus of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," while the song itself is built upon the framework of the 1987 hit. Typically, rappers must request permission from artists when using a sample of their music, but Yung Gravy took a different approach:instead of using a sample of the song, hererecorded his own version with a different singer who sounds strikingly like Astley.

The real Astley was not amused, which came across loud and clear in the lawsuit he filed accusing Yung Gravy of ripping him off by sneaking a soundalike into the song. The issue at the heart of the lawsuit is somewhat complex; while Yung Gravy did legally obtain clearance to use the song's lyrics and melody, a process referred to in the music biz as interpolating, the rapper wasn't able to secure the rights to use the song itself, leading him to hire a soundalike singer to impersonate Astley.

The suit accused Yung Gravy and his team of deliberately impersonating Astley in an attempt to both hoodwink the public and cheat him out of royalties. "The public could not tell the difference,"Astley's lawyers wrote, viaBillboard. "The imitation of Mr. Astley's voice was so successful the public believed it was actually Mr. Astley singing." As of July 2023, the case was still winding its way through the legal system.

He collaborated with New Kids on the Block and Salt-N-Pepa

Rick Astley reveled in nostalgia when he joined New Kids on the Block, En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa for the former's Mixtape tour in 2022, a collection of acts whose popularity peaked decades earlier.

For Astley, this represented a massive shift when it came to venue, catapulting him from small stages to massive sports arenas."I kind of love the fact that last night I sung in front of 15,000 people," he told The Tennessean, marveling at his ability to maintain anonymity while remaining a major celebrity. "And then today, I'm in Bed Bath and Beyond looking for a coffee machine for the bus. I could be whistling 'Never Gonna Give You Up,' and there's no chance somebody would recognize me."

To build interest in the tour, Astley, En Vogue, and Salt-N-Pepa appeared in NKOTB's single "Remember the Time."Astley also appeared in the video, a nostalgia-driven romp referencing iconic musical acts of the past, in which he channeled Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. As for how Astley wound up on the tour, NKOTB's Donnie Wahlberg told Billboard that they'd first met when Astley appeared on his A&E reality show "Wahlburgers," and encountered each other again when they were on the same bill for an iHeartRadio concert."I knew his energy from doing the 'Wahlburgers' episode and seeing him at that show that he was game to have fun,"said Wahlberg of Astley. "He's delivered in every way."

He joined Foo Fighters for an epic Rickroll

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Among the vast and numerous array of people who've attempted Rickrolling, it's safe to say that Dave Grohl is among the most ambitious. In fact, he and his band, Foo Fighters, made headlines back in 2015 when they hilariously Rickrolled the infamously hom*ophobic, hate-spewing Hillsboro Baptist Church, driving past one of their protests in a pickup truck blaring Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up."

A few years later, during a secret show the Foos played at London's Moth Club in 2019, Astley sat in with the band on drums. And yes, as a fan-shot video posted on Instagram proved, they did indeed perform"Never Gonna Give You Up."

However, Grohl and company took things to a whole other level in 2017 when Astley assisted them in Rickrolling an entire music festival. In the midst of their headlining set at Tokyo's Summer Sonic music festival, Grohl stopped the show to introduce Astley (who had performed at the festival earlier that day), who joined the band in performing "Never Gonna Give You Up." As video of the performance demonstrated, Astley dug into his rock-star moment by yelling, "Come on you motherf***ers!" before launching into a Foo-powered version of his biggest hit.

He opened a brew pub in London in collaboration with Mikkeller

Rick Astley displayed his entrepreneurial side when he teamed up with famed craft brewery Mikkeller in 2019 to open a brew pub in London's Shoreditch area."London is a fantastic city with a great brewing scene and many new, young breweries, and we are really looking forward to becoming a part of it," said Mikkeller founder/owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø in a statement. According toBjergsø, he and Astley had known each other for a few years at that point, having become friends after collaborating on creating the singer's branded beer, Astley's Northern Hop Lager.

"Mikkel and his crew only do things the right way, and I love being a small part of that and working on fantastic beers and the London bars together,"added Astley. "I believe people want quality, and that's what you get from Mikkeller."

As Astley told The Guardian, it was his music that provided the catalyst for he andBjergsø to join forces and forge a friendship.Bjergsø, he recalled, had been a longtime fan, and once he became successful in the craft beer field, he typically sent samples to Astley, who grew to become a fan of the beer. However, he pointed out, there were limits."Some of them too weird to drink,"he explained. "He and his team call themselves beer geeks, because that's what they are really, to be frank."

Fans went wild when he finally made his Glastonbury debut

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Having shared the stage with acts ranging from Foo Fighters to New Kids on the Block, Rick Astley ticked another item off his career bucket list when he made his debut at the 2023 edition of Britain's iconic Glastonbury music festival. As Astley told Sky News, the term "Glastonbury virgin"definitely applied to him. "I've dropped our daughter off many times, but I've never actually gone through the gates myself," he said in an interview conducted the day before his performance. "That's kind of strange, considering I'm on the Pyramid Stage tomorrow... I don't know how I'm going to get to sleep tonight actually thinking about that."

According toBBC News, Astley did not let fans down, delivering a nostalgia-heavy set that featured some surprises, includinga new song, "Dippin' My Feet,"and cover versions of Chic's "Good Times," and Harry Styles' "As It Was" (the latter was described as "festival perfection"in a tweet from BBC Radio 2).

AsYahoo! Sportsreported,Astley told the crowd that playing Glastonbury had been a longtime dream, but another had been to perform a song at the festival that was integral to his learning to play drums. "I was a 15-year-old kid in my dad's greenhouse, and I played this album to death, I broke this record learning the drums to it," he said while sittingbehind the drum kit before launching into AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."

He'll always be grateful for his biggest hit

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Rick Astley is the perfect definition of an artist with an eye on the future while carefully curating his past. In 2023, Astley announced plans to release a new album —his first in five years —titled "Are We There Yet?"

While creating new music is no doubt what drives him, it's his decades-old hits that sustain him — and he's totally cool with that."Listen, let's face it, 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has sort of become something else," he toldAP. "The video and the song have drifted off into the ether and become something else, and I'm ever so grateful for it." He'd also come to an acceptance that no matter how hard he worked, he would never match the success he experienced with one song back in 1987 — something he acknowledged had both pros and cons.

Thanks to the Rickrolling phenomenon, Astley has developed a somewhat unique relationship with the song that's become his musical signature. "I don't run away from it, I don't deny it, I don't try and fight it, and there's no negativity with it,"he told Newsweek. "I embrace it a little bit, but I don't embrace it too tight because it's got nothing to do with me. Whatever the benefits are, I'm more than happy to take them. And I thank the universe and the internet for it."

Whatever Happened To Rick Astley - Nicki Swift (2024)
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