By Harrison Gregoire

Rick Astley is a seminal British figure and a cultural icon. Through his music, Astley has provided an antidote to quotidian drudgery, has served as a bulwark against musical deprivation, and has protected against degradation in modern music. “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Astley’s signature song, is an eternal global anthem, enthralling and captivating audiences since the close of the 1980s. As described in the London periodical Time Out: “Those synthesized strings, that thumping boots-and-pants beat, Astley’s weirdly robust croon and his romantic-wooing-as-used-car-salesman pitch (‘You wouldn’t get this from any other guy’) … It all adds up to three-and-a-half of the most effervescent minutes in the ’80s canon.”[1] Doubtless, Mr. Astley’s significant contribution to the cultural zeitgeist has exposed him and his creative output to plenty of imitators. Now, Mr. Astley and the entire musical industry must confront a difficult copyright question.

In the song’s refrain, Astley unequivocally professes his loyalty and affection to the unnamed subject: “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down.”[2] Those words were especially prescient: in his newly filed copyright suit, he implores the court to “never give up” copyright protection of his golden pipes and family-oriented reputation.

The offending song “Betty (Get Money)” was released June 10, 2022, as the lead single of Minnesota rapper Yung Gravy’s third studio album, Marvelous. “Betty”,unfortunately, is a vacuous, ham-fisted, and insipid counterfeit of the brilliant “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Gravy’s “Betty”fails not for a lack of swagger, but for a lack of creativity. The writing team relied on the “immense popularity and goodwill of Mr. Astley,” such that itspredecessor and template would propel it to commercial success.[3]

Yung Gravy fugues between his own voice and his producer’s, Popnick, who recreated Astley’s original voice “from the ground up” to ensure nearly perfect imitation. Modern music production, through track editing and other vocal effects, empowered the Defendants to create a virtually indistinguishable copy of Mr. Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”  

One of Mr. Astley’s primary arguments is that the public was widely misled to believe that Mr. Astley sang or was directly sampled on “Betty (Get Money)”. Mr. Astley’s complaint cites prominent culture sites which wrote that it was Mr. Astley himself on the track, evidence that a substantial portion of the public was under the impression that Mr. Astley and Mr. Gravy had collaborated on the song.

The complaint concedes that Mr. Gravy obtained a license to use the “underlying musical composition” of “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Conversely, however, Mr. Gravy’s attempts to secure Mr. Astley’s voice on the track were fruitless. A license to interpolate the original underlying musical composition does not authorize use of the original artist’s voice. Mr. Astley’s permission would be the ultimate prize. Ever since the release of “Never Gonna Give You Up”, its stunning composition and unsurpassed feel-good factor have been the subject of global admiration. Why else would the producers need to imitate Mr. Astley indistinguishably, if not to co-opt that same nostalgia and comfort of the original? They had the rights to the underlying musical composition; this simply was not enough.

The main issue of the case will be the extent of copyright protection for an artist’s voice. Does Mr. Astley’s right to publicity extend to his voice? The court must decide whether Gravy’s vocal imitation rises to the level of commercial exploitation.[4]

Doubtless, an artist with Mr. Astley’s statute and reputation understands the influence of his music and the need to preserve his image. Mr. Astley made a lasting impact on the world of music. With influence come solicitations for collaboration, sampling, and featuring. It is the prerogative of Mr. Astley to protect his voice, image, and likeness. As an influential artist, he and his songs have garnered significant popularity and goodwill around the world. All this to say: Mr. Astley’s voice and reputation are tremendously valuable.

Likewise, Mr. Gravy has captured a global audience. His work often samples older songs: on his 2018 hit “Mr. Clean”, Mr. Gravy included The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” as the primary melody of the song. His formula works: “Betty (Get Money)” has amassed over 181 million Spotify streams. “Mr. Clean” has 229 million streams.

Sampling is often beneficial for new artists and copyright holders alike: the sampling artist integrates the sample into a new song, repackaging the product for an unfamiliar audience. The work is exposed to a new audience, while a licensing agreement or a lump sum compensates the original artist or owner. The rights holder may or may not agree to the request.

Here, however, Mr. Gravy may have gone too far. Instead of respect for the song and the artist, lyrics like “Yeah, Rocking Rick, clapping Astleys like the 80s”[5] and a vocal imitation of Mr. Astley sounding like he sings “get money” are antithetical to the family values of the Brit-pop icon. Imitation, apparently, is not the sincerest form of flattery.

Both parties in this lawsuit have the individual notoriety and influence to create good precedent moving forward. The court should not “let us down” by allowing a counterfeit to appropriate a timeless singer’s voice and reputation.   

[1] Andrzej Lukowski, The 60 best ‘80s songs, Time Out (Aug. 9, 2022),

[2] Rick Astley, Never Gonna Give You Up (RCA 1987).

[3] Rob Arcand, Rick Astley Enlists “Blurred Lines” Lawyer to Sue Yung Gravy Over Vocal Impersonation, Pitchfork (Jan. 27, 2023),

[4] Id.

[5] Yung Gravy, Betty (Get Money), YouTube (June 10, 2022),