You can’t force internet greatness. The stars have to line up, the joke has to be funny and online users have to be ready to understand your genius.
Air Force Master Sgt. Shawn Cotter invented the Rickroll. He should have a statue or at least a plaque in the Internet Meme Hall of Fame. This story is absolutely true and is a crucial part of the documentary about UK singer Rick Astley and his biggest hit.
And, seriously, do you think anyone would’ve made this documentary about Astley if Cotter hadn’t invented the Rickroll? Absolutely not!
If you’ve read this far and don’t know what a Rickroll is, we’ve got you covered but are a bit confused as to how you’ve had the patience to make it to this point.
Anyway, the embedded video below picks up at around 15:55 when Astley himself begins talking about the Rickroll phenomenon and introduces us to Cotter.
Cotter explains how as a 19-year-old Air Force member, he created an online meme tsunami. Back in 2007, when the online video streaming service was less than two years old, Cotter decided he wanted to be a YouTuber. He learned about the song when he looked up “songs that were popular the year you were born,” and since he was born in 1987, “Never Gonna Give You Up” was on the list.
Like most great ideas, Cotter’s wasn’t totally original. There was a popular meme at the time called the duckroll, where random links took you to a picture of a duck on wheels. A funny joke, but not that funny.
Cotter swapped it out for a link to Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” on YouTube, and the meme caught fire. Views grew exponentially. The joke kept on going. There was even a guy who tattooed a QR code on his leg that Rickrolled you if you scanned it.
Astley has embraced the absurdity of the situation and now seems grateful for how the Rickroll has kept him in the public eye as more than just a guy who had that hit record back in the old days.
This new Vice video is a step toward giving Cotter the credit he deserves for creating an important moment in online culture. If you weren’t around in 2008, it’s hard to explain just how big meme culture was at the time and how the Rickroll was king of Meme Mountain. Cotter may not have gotten paid for his meme, but he’s given us all a shared cultural moment and seems to have brought some joy to Astley as his career has been extended by something that started out as a joke.
If you really want to know the entire story behind the writing and recording of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” just rewind the YouTube video to the beginning and learn how Astley was a pop superstar in the UK in 1987.
And if you’ve always been annoyed by the song, just be glad that Cotter went with the No. 1 song on the list and didn’t invent the Starshiproll and force us all to hear “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” on repeat for the last 15 years.
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