“Rich Men North of Richmond” Appalachian country-folk singer Oliver Anthony took to YouTube, following his working-class anthem’s rise to the top of the charts and use in this week’s Republican debate, to express how he feels about the reception of his hit by those across the political spectrum.
“The one thing that has bothered me is seeing people wrap politics up into this,” Anthony said. “I’m disappointed to see, it’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I’m one of them.”
“It’s aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies and act like we’re fighting the same struggle here, like it was trying to present the same message,” the singer continued. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and I tried to be polite to everybody, and I’ve talked to hundreds of people the last two weeks. It seems like certain people want to just ride the attention of the song, maybe make their own selves relevant, and that’s aggravating as hell.”
Anthony said in previous YouTube video introducing himself, which this serves as a sequel to, that he sits “pretty dead center down the aisle on politics.”
Thursday’s GOP debate went so far as to open with a question about the song, which has come to be associated with conservative politics as a favorite of right-wing pundits and politicians. The song’s lyrics aim to describe what Anthony sees as the working man’s plight in the United States under a controlling government, which has traditionally been a frequent refrain of conservatives.
“The number one song on the Billboard Chart is called ‘Rich Men North of Richmond.’ It is by a singer from Farmville, Virginia, named Oliver Anthony,” that question began.
“His lyrics speak of alienation, of deep frustration, with the state of the government and of this country.” After playing an excerpt from the song, co-moderator Martha MacCallum asked, “So, Gov. DeSantis, why is this song striking such a nerve in this country right now? What do you think it means?”
Anthony has shot to unexpected fame as the song’s exploded onto the top of the Billboard, Apple Music and Spotify charts. Certain political campaigns’ co-opting of the song has helped lead to more listeners.
“The other thing that I find aggravating as well, it was funny seeing [my song] at the presidential debate, because I wrote that song about those people, so for them to have to sit there and listen to that, that cracks me up,” Anthony said. “But it was funny kind of seeing the response to it — like, that song has nothing to do with Joe Biden. It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song’s written about the people on that stage and a lot more too. I’m really trying to say it’s hard to get a message out about your political ideology or your belief about the world in three minutes and some change. But I do hate to see that song being weaponized.”
Anthony addressed the polarized political divide and how it has affected him and his song.
“I see the right trying to characterize me as one of their own, and I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess in retaliation. That s–t’s got to stop,” he concluded. “If you watch the response videos on YouTube to the song, it’s not conservative people responding to the song. It’s not even necessarily Americans responding to the song. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything get such a positive response from such a diverse group of people, and I think that terrifies the people that I sing about in that song. They’ve done everything they can the last two weeks to make me look like a fool, to spin my words, to try to stick me in a political bucket.”
Many progressive music fans have questioned the rise of Anthony’s single, one that takes a lot for an artist with no industry backing. The Virginia native, a factory worker and now farmer in his early 30s, has profited an estimated $40,000 a day from sales and streams of his music.
In Anthony’s previous introduction video, he revealed a past of substance abuse and explained that he began recording music in 2021 when things weren’t going well for a lot of people due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had sort of gotten to a point in my life where even things that I did care about didn’t mean anything to me anymore,” Anthony said in that video.
He also described the lyrical content.
“[The song] touches on my time in Western North Carolina working in the factory, and it talks about some people that live north of Richmond, Virginia, because I’m sure you’re very well aware of who can make life a little more difficult than it should be,” Anthony said.
Another theme the song touches on is human trafficking.
“I think one of the worst things that a human being can do is take advantage of a child,” he added. “I can’t begin to conceptualize what has to happen to someone in order for them to think that’s OK.”
He also mentioned suicide as an important topic of the song and something that should be talked about more.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene called “Rich Men North of Richmond” the “anthem of the forgotten Americans,” while failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said she couldn’t listen to the song “without getting chills.”