Rick Astley was recounting his experience as a young pop star on a recent afternoon at a West Hollywood hotel when just such a specimen happened to pass by.
Best known for his 1987 smash Never Gonna Give You Up — as well as a certain internet phenomenon that song’s video eventually spawned — Astley appeared not to notice Niall Horan, beloved by millions as the blond dude in Britain’s One Direction, as Horan walked quickly through the hotel’s restaurant, trailed by handlers.
To an observer, though, the moment had some serious cosmic resonance, almost as if the universe were demonstrating who Astley was before he gave it all up in the early ’90s.
“After four or five years of hit songs, I didn’t know what was going on anymore,” he said as he casually sipped a cappuccino. The singer, now 50, described ancient days spent shuttling from one television appearance to the next in a blur of endless promotion.
“I’d get back to my room, somewhere like this, and look at myself in the mirror and go, ‘What are you actually doing anymore?’”
Unable to come up with an answer that satisfied him, Astley soon entered an almost comically early retirement, stepping away from music for the most part to concentrate on raising his daughter.
“And I never once regretted it,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t miss singing (and maybe some of the perks that go along with it).
So now, like so many faded pop stars before him — perhaps even like young Horan will do someday — Astley has returned. Earlier this month, he released a comeback album, 50, full of handsome, rootsy tunes he delivers in his still-strong voice.
On October 13, he marked its release with a concert at downtown’s Theatre at Ace Hotel — only his second Los Angeles show in decades following a gig in August at the Troubadour.
Asked about the difficulty of reviving a long-stagnant career, Astley laughed and compared the mission to a midlife crisis.
“It might be just as daft as what other men do at my age,” he said.
Yet his self-deprecating manner belied the success he’s already found at home in the UK, where 50 entered the pop chart at No 1 when it came out there earlier this year.
That warm reception likely has at least a little to do with the way Astley’s blue-eyed-soul sound has come back into vogue thanks to singers like Sam Smith and Robin Thicke (whose recent Back Together single plays like a super-charged Never Gonna Give You Up).
But Astley himself was quick to credit another factor: rickrolling, the online prank whereby someone clicks a hyperlink expecting to find one thing but instead is confronted with the sight of Astley dancing around in a very ’80s raincoat.
The meme started gathering steam around 2007 but has shown a stubborn resistance ever since, exploding in popularity again over the summer when Melania Trump came inexplicably close to quoting the lyrics of Never Gonna Give You Up in her speech at the Republican National Convention.
“If you tried to put a dollar value on it, it’d be crazy,” Astley said of the free exposure rickrolling provided while he was lying low. On YouTube, for instance, Never Gonna Give You Up has racked up a quarter of a billion spins.
What’s more, the song’s enduring popularity led to a lucrative deal with Virgin Mobile, which licensed the song for a commercial — and helped finance the home studio Astley built to record 50.
Has he occasionally tired of the prank? Of course.
“There have definitely been times when I’ve thought, ‘Can’t we find a daveroll or a maryroll?’” he said.
But mostly he’s tried not to sweat the idea — to stay breezy in the way he wasn’t quite able to the last time stardom was taking shape around him.
“You can’t control something like this, so the only thing you can do is have a bit of fun with it,” he said with a shrug. “And, you know, it’s what got everything going again.