Now and since time immemorial, is a constant state of change and the meaning of events, things, people, and everything else is determined by us. We assign meaning to things until vilifying them until we deem fit — That’s what the existentialist would say. More relevant to the essay, it’s no surprise that a song’s meaning can change over time as well. The goal of this paper is reinvestigate and analyze the reception history of famous 80’s pop hit. For the purpose of gamification and tension, I will refrain from stating the name of said song until the ending portion of the paper. Until then the song will be referred to as the song.
Newly entering the music arena in 1987, the focal song was part of the artist’s debut album not known by most people. Interestingly, it was not until a year later that it the song gained its fame and notoriety. The narrative implies that it was not until the late 1988 when a certain famed DJ gave the song a spin on his turn tables in front of a mass of people, this was DJ Larry Levan. This is when the song really picked up and began its momentum.
Very interestingly, we should note that 1988, our focal song replaced George Michael’s extra controversial hit Father Figure. The artist’s songs would debut high on the charts for the year’s remainder while the focal song specifically stayed for 13 weeks on the Billboard Top 100; one thing to note is that the song that replaced our focal song would also be by the same artist. Unanimously, the focal song had claimed the number 1 spot in various charts worldwide. It’s ultimately a recurring question in music as to whether the artist was/is liked for the kinds of musical pieces they made or because of who they were as a personality. In other words, did people actually like his music or were the people just following a fad/trend? Irregardless, we can say that he was well liked and well received by the people at that time given that:
Our focal song was part of his debut album and it peaked at number 1 for thirteen weeks.
The song that replaced our focal song was another song by the same artist.
Most of the songs that the artist released peaked within the top 10 of most charts.
Given that the advent of the internet was within the recent years, there isn’t much online opinion with regard to our song that is sourced from the 80’s. We can extrapolate a however that the general population had a positive view on the artist and his songs.
As time would pass, the song’s fame would fade and become part of the nostalgic radio stations and compilations. It was absent from the public eye up until 2007 when a societal anomaly took place resurrecting the hit song in a Frankenstein-like manner. In 2007 pop culture, the video game Grand Theft Auto IV was announced and a user on the video game section of 4chan claimed he had a sneak preview of the game. When people clicked the video link they were led to a video of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, our focal song for the essay.
The song gained a notoriety in the late 2000’s ceasing its prior status as a renowned pop dance song to holding a new status as a prank meant to deceive and annoy a person. The meme spread like wildfire and everyone began incorporating in various ways. It became one of those societal phenomena that started out as a funny gag but became an annoyance over time. With the rise of the internet culture, it was usually these people who initiated the prank. Colloquially put, it was an inside joke for the young people because when the younger generation heard it, it was as a prank and as a meme.
We can say this because of certain key moments when the song was played publicly or brought to light. The first was during a Mets game in 2008 where people could vote as to which song would be played during the game’s eighth inning. One source mentions that the fact that Never Gonna Give You Up won the top spot for the Mets game’s sing along brought about confusion to the management. The second was during the 2008 MTV European music awards where he was voted, through electronic votes, as the Best Act Ever; the song had been released 20 years ago at this point. The third being during the Macy’s Day Parade when a cartoon themed float was performing their songs only to be interrupted by a live performance by Rick Astley; sources claim that Astley was well received for this praising his good sense of humor.
Around the late 2000’s until the early 2010’s, this is when the public scorn was developed regarding the song. At this point, it had been overplayed and oversaturated just like how it loss it’s momentum in the 80’s. Relevantly, this was a meme. In other words, it was a joke between the “kids”. When big brands began playing into the meme and capitalizing it, it turned out just how any joke would if a parent had told their kid: it became corny and loss it’s fun factor. I believe that phenomena alongside the oversaturation of the song through memes contributed to its second fall. It came to the point that Rick didn’t do anything musical in the public eye for a long while.
In the last few years until the present, society has progressed and with the trend of times, we can wonder, how is the song seen today? Both Rick and his song is seen in a genuine light and with authenticity. Now that he’s older, he is back to making music independently. It seems that his point of view is to make music because he wants to; he even jokes that no one would listen to it but still made it to commemorate his 50th birthday having realized his luck and gratitude to how things played out over the years. The general discourse is that he’s a good sport and shows a love for the work he’s done in his 80’s. Rick shows respect and gratitude to his work in the 80’s stating that it contributes to who he is as a person and performer. To provide contrast to Rick’s reaction, there’s a common discourse regarding the vocalist of Smashing Pumpkins on how he hates and loathes playing some of their hits that originally made them famous.
The discourse according to the song’s music video says that it’s liked 3M times and disliked 141K times with a total view count of 4.5M. The relatively recent comments all have positive messages. Most of them are generic positive statements exclaiming love for the song. Particularly interesting is how most of the comments send the idea that Never Gonna Give You Up is a genuinely good song and that it’s always been a good one.
In 2017, Rick had an impromptu performance with the Foo Fighters during one of their live concerts. The discourse of the video says that it’s well received commenting on how Rick is a good sport, some commenting how they wanted a studio version, some saying how Rick is still relevant even up to today’s time. In the video, you’d see the crowd of rockers and rockettes screaming the lyrics of a bubblegum pop song from the 80’s; it’s truly interesting. Just a few months ago, the creators of Westworld trolled their fanbase by releasing a 25 minute video spoiling for an upcoming season. After a few minutes, it was actually somber piano cover of Never Gonna Give You Up performed by the cast.
In conclusion, we see how an unknown pop star became a household name in the 80’s by gaining and maintaining a high status of fame during the 80’s and early 90’s making dance pop music that was catchy. As the trends of time would pass and let his stardom fade and the rest into the background (mid 90’s to late 2000’s), it’s as if he was disturbed from the grave through an internet meme that had impacts as far as the political and social realms. The initial part of this period was well received as a good joke but as the years passed, it became an annoyance (late 2000’s to early 2010’s). In this day and age, it’s actually received positively — it was a multiple succession of rise-and-falls over the years. My inference regarding the positive reviews it’s receiving in this day and age is
Society today values the human and relatable aspect of artists. If you’re true and authentic, you’re liked; vice-versa. Rick displays authenticity; he’s doing what he’s doing now because he wants to and not to capitalize over anything.
The time period when it fell out of favor (late 90’s and early 2010’s) was due to a saturation of the song being played on every station or every hyperlink.
Now that the internet babies are young adults, we have a broader perspective and when we see or hear the song, we acknowledge and appreciate the song truly being catchy (it was #1 for a long time after all) and that the song has become a part of our childhood with the rise of memes. Nostalgia is embedded into us.
Personally I’ve always liked music of from the 50’s to some of the music today. The 80’s holds a special place in me for my own reasons. When the Rickrolling spread, I disdained the song over time. True enough, as a lover of 80’s music, I couldn’t deny that I liked the song; it’s programmed robotic drums, jumpy synth bass riff, whip-like snare, over-reverbed and over-chorused vocals, the nasal laser synth and cartridge-based horn patch. In a way, it’s the same feeling when you like a song and you hear it over and over again, you get sick eventually. After a break, you listen to it and you’re back to liking it. To the reader of the essay, it would be in good faith and spirit that I’d request for you to notate the first letter of each line on the first page, starting after the title, as an emphatic element of the essay.