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80s pop star Rick Astley explains his exile and return to music

Rick Astley walked away from the music industry at the height of his pop star success in the 1980s and says he never regretted it.

“When you’re in the middle of it, some people rise to it and they become that life and that’s who they are,” Astley said in a phone interview from his home on the edge of London, England.

“I was in a situation where I couldn’t come to grips with it. I just used to look at myself and say ‘is this really what you want to do?'”

And so, the British baritone known for hits like Never Gonna Give You Up, Together Forever and It Would Take a Strong Strong Man walked away from the business in his twenties with enough money and his “sanity,” he says, and with the goal of focusing on his newborn daughter.

The 50-year-old singer has released a new album called 50 and is performing a series of concerts around the world, having already stopped in Toronto and Los Angeles, among other cities. Many have sold out. He says he plans to do more Canadian shows next year.

Canada has always been good to me.”

Astley said his time away from the spotlight made him realize how much he missed performing.

“Not being famous for years, I came to appreciate it,” he said, adding he also “wanted to wake people up to the fact that I’m not dead.”

Astley fell victim to a number of online hoaxes claiming he had died.

While Astley’s fame was relatively short-lived, his music and videos remain a symbol of the Brit pop crossover in the 80s, the synth-pop sound and baggy clothing.

“The first video, Never Gonna Give You Up, I turned up with a bag of clothes,” he said. There was no stylist; the clothes were all his own.

In a last-minute decision by the team behind the heavily memed video, they decided to go “double denim.” The look would not only set a trend at the time, but decades later would unintentionally find a new audience.

Through an online prank that spread worldwide several years ago, people would get disguised links that would unexpectedly play Astley’s famous video. When someone clicked on unrelated material and Astley’s signature jig popped up, it came to be known as getting “rickrolled.”

“It’s been amazing, that thing,” he said. “I can imagine with certain artists, it would destroy them. But I think it’s just a bit of fun. It’s not personal. It’s not even nasty. I think it’s been good for me.”

The singer says he got rickrolled himself by a friend at one point but you won’t catch him watching the videos that made him famous.

“I’ve learned to forgive myself”, he said, laughing. “I try not to look at them. It’s a bit like looking at school photographs.”

CBC | Arts News