'Rickrolled basketball game' video is '80s pop fiction

In prank that stymied the mass media and the online video world, college student makes it look like he'd hijacked the speakers at a basketball game and played Rick Astley's big hit.


This post was updated at 9:19 AM PT on Thursday to reflect the correction issued by the New York Times.

Wow, we all fell for this one.

An NBC affiliate in Spokane, Wash., reported Tuesday that one of the Web's most popular viral videos of late was a fabrication, in a prank that fooled the national news media and plenty of YouTube loyalists.

The video, called "College Basketball Game Gets Rick Roll'd," purports to show a timeout in a women's basketball game between Eastern Washington University and Montana State University interrupted by a performance of the '80s pop hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley. The 1987 tune has become the subject of an online phenomenon called "rickrolling," in which a Web user is tricked into clicking on the link to the song's music video. Real-life rickrolling--randomly playing the song as a means of surprise or disruption--has turned into a popular offshoot among pranksters.

The basketball game video is hilarious. But it's not real.

The New York Times ran a story about the video earlier this week, and creator Pawl Fisher seemed to indicate to Times reporter Evelyn Nussenbaum that the video was authentic. But he backpedaled after the NBC affiliate KHQ-TV contacted a number of people affiliated with the university who seemed to indicate that no such prank had gone on, and it seems like his claims of authenticity to the Times were really just another layer of pranking.

Here's what appears to have happened: A guy dressed up as Rick Astley, identified by the Times as Davin Perry, really did run around the EWU basketball arena, lip-syncing to the song. But the bizarre interlude did not actually disrupt a timeout in a game, according to EWU representatives quoted in the KHQ-TV story. Video of people dancing to the music, as well as game footage, came from several other EWU games. Learning the truth was, to say the least, an epic disappointment.

The Times issued a correction to its story on Thursday: "The stunt, which involves a person lip-synching the 1980s hit song 'Never Gonna Give You Up' while dressed as the British singer Rick Astley, was performed before the start of four separate basketball games, and the pranksters distilled the performances into a YouTube video," the explanation read. "The March 8 game, between Eastern Washington and Montana State, was not interrupted by a performance."

On the bright side, the media attention was likely what triggered Astley, now 42, to break the silence about his revived popularity and give the Los Angeles Times an interview.

Surprisingly, the video's popularity was not accompanied by the usual level of scrutiny and skepticism that many " too good to be true " YouTube clips are subject to. Perhaps it's a sign of how online video is no longer an unfamiliar new medium that inherently draws suspicion.

Or maybe it was just a giant Rickroll.

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About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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