When a viral Internet prank becomes a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, it must mean it's time to come up with a new one.
During the parade Thursday in Manhattan, somewhere between the giant Kermit balloon and Santa Claus' arrival, a float appeared that resembled a big cartoon house with puppet characters from a kids' show called Fosters' Home for Imaginary Friends.
All of a sudden, British pop singer Rick Astley emerged lip-syncing his 1980s hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up."
America had just been "rickrolled."
In the spring of 2007, video-game players searching for a sample of Grand Theft Auto IV instead got tricked into clicking on a 20-year-old music video of Astley singing his cheesy but infectious hit from 1987.
More than 18 million Americans, according to one survey, have since been "rickrolled" - that is, they thought they were being directed to a certain Web link and got sent to a version of the Astley video instead. The response is usually befuddlement, and a chuckle. Why a select few things morph into worldwide phenomena on the Internet is never clear, but like all pop culture, something strikes a universal chord and gets propelled beyond all the other flotsam and jetsam.
More than 50 million people have viewed various versions of the Astley video on YouTube, including one where an Australian student cleverly spliced clips from President-elect Barack Obama's speeches on the campaign trail to make it appear that Obama was saying the lyrics. (That alone has been viewed 4.8 million times since August.)
A "flash mob" of 50 people, alerted by messages on sites like Facebook and Craigslist, descended on the Inner Harbor in Baltimore one Saturday last May to dance around singing the song for a few minutes. A few weeks earlier, more than 300 gathered at a train station in London to take part in a similar rickroll flash-mob. The University of Michigan Marching Band rickrolled an entire stadium of its fans last month when it broke into "Never Gonna Give You Up" after it had been announced the band would be playing another tune during a halftime show.
And the New York Mets baseball team tried it out as a song between innings. It got booed lustily at Shea Stadium, which may help explain why the team fell out of contention on the very last day of the season two years' straight. Curse of the Bambino? How about the curse of the rickroll?
Every decade's music eventually feels dated and tacky - some arrive there faster than others - and at this point, it's the '80s turn for good-natured, nostalgic ribbing. Songs from the '80s rock band Journey got revived a few years ago, including a star turn during the final scene of The Sopranos.
A goofy, little inside-joke shared by millions has been good for Astley, although in his few public comments about it, he understandably seems uncertain whether to be flattered or chagrined. The Thanksgiving parade was the first time Astley performed his own "rickroll," the Associated Press said.
Although it may have gone over the heads of much of the television audience of 50 million, it became the highlight for many viewers who quickly made it one of the week's top YouTube videos and one of the most popular topics on the MacysDayParade Twitter feed.
"Just when I thought I would never watch Macy's parade ever again, & then they go & have Rick Astley sing on a float!" wrote one. "Awesome."