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Rick Astley Nirvana Mashup

March 15th, 2010 by Charlie Edwards Leave a reply »

DJ Morgoth (audio), Thriftshop XL (video), “Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up,” 2008. Video, uploaded to YouTube, color, sound; 3:53 min.

This seamless mashup of Rick Astley’s 1987 pop hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Nirvana’s grunge anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991) was released in the middle of 2008, when the practice known as “Rickrolling” was becoming popular among mainstream internet users.  Rickrolling began as a simple prank on the cult imageboard 4chan: a user would click on a misleadingly-named link and find herself watching Astley’s original (unoriginal) video. But it quickly evolved into something much bigger. It was unarguably a meme – millions of users worldwide were rickrolled – but, beyond this, rickrolling became a disruptive countercultural act, mobilized on- and offline for protest or lulz. In February 2008, the song was broadcast at anti-Scientology demonstrations by the group Anonymous. In April, the New York Mets conducted an internet poll to select an eighth-inning singalong song – five million voters wrote in “Never Gonna Give You Up.”  In November Rick Astley, whose career had been lackluster since the early nineties, was voted MTV Europe’s “Best Act Ever,” and rickrollers in the UK attempted to resist the entrenched dominance of a TV talent show by pushing his record to the top of the Christmas singles chart.

As the meme peaked, though, its subversive power eroded. YouTube rickrolled its users on April Fool’s Day, and at the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Rick Astley unexpectedly performed (or rather lip-synched) the song from a float, rickrolling 50 million viewers.  Nancy Pelosi even rickrolled anyone who clicked on her tour of the Speaker’s Office  when the Congressional YouTube channel launched in January 2009.  Encyclopedia Dramatica has thus declared it an “old meme.”  

The mashup melds seeming antitheses – eliciting outrage from some Nirvana fans who find it disrespectful to the memory of the lead singer, Kurt Cobain (he committed suicide in 1994). It was “Teen Spirit”, though, that propelled Nirvana to mainstream success; their album Nevermind ultimately went 10x Platinum, outselling Astley’s debut by five to one. The mashup can be read, perhaps, as comment on a culture that eats its young, and elegy for those young, who from this distance seem equally innocent, and lost.

Note that in spite of objections by the copyright holders both video and audio remain widely accessible on YouTube and file-sharing sites.

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