Caryn James reports that ‘Rich Man North of Richmond’ by Oliver Anthony has exploded into a sensational viral phenomenon, marking yet another cultural flashpoint contributing to America’s deep divisions.
Whether he accepts it willingly or not, Oliver Anthony appears poised to emerge as a central figure in the ongoing cultural clashes that have deeply fragmented the landscape of American politics. Just last week, Anthony’s track ‘Prosperity’s Lament,’ a poignant critique of the Washington establishment and expansive government, found its way onto the airwaves of a West Virginia radio station’s YouTube channel, igniting an explosive online phenomenon. In a mere forty-eight hours, it garnered a staggering two million views and was shared more than twentyfold. Millions have already tuned in to witness this extraordinary spectacle. Oliver Anthony, an imposing figure with a colossal beard and an acoustic guitar, takes center stage amidst a rustic tableau, portraying the quintessential blue-collar toiler, his resonant voice carrying the lyrics, ‘I’ve bartered my soul, toiling day and night, overtime with no rhyme or reason — a lament shared by souls like yours and mine.
Although he wasn’t particularly targeting the working-class “you” who noticed, right-wing lawmakers were supporting the song in only a few days, which precisely meshes with several conservative narratives critical of the government’s taxation and welfare. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, among others, termed the song “the forgotten American’s anthem.” Kari Lake, a Trump-backed Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, called it “a song for the moment in American history.” The article was broadcast on the ABC News website, where it was dubbed a “conservative anthem.” Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, on the other hand, stated that “progressives need to listen to this,” and that Anthony’s perspective on the issues is “better than the left’s in solving all problems.” The song’s media interest has expanded dramatically.
Rich Man North of Richmond is the latest in a series of contentious cultural flashpoints that expose America’s political divides, as well as its pop culture and stubbornness. Other recent instances include Jason Aldean’s country single Try Date in a Small Town, which had a video showing violence and Black Lives Matter rallies, as well as lyrics implying that “good old boys” in America might set their own laws. On his New York Times podcast, music critic Jon Caramanica described the song as “dog-whistle material, red meat for the [conservative] base.” While Aldean rejected any racial undertones in the song and described it as a celebration of small-town virtues, others have termed the criticism “not just unfair, but dangerous.”
Recently, the film Sound of Freedom, which was released, became an unexpected American smash. Some detractors have recast the anti-child trafficking tale in their own words, while others claim it mirrors unsubstantiated QAnon conspiracy theories about liberal elites neglecting child sex crimes. In an interview, Sound of Freedom director Alejandro Monteverde expressed his displeasure, noting how much it pained his heart to be wrongly labeled with the QAnon moniker.
Rich Man North of Richmond by Oliver Anthony depicts a rural, working-class white hero, and the song recalls the narrative of criticisms voiced by certain conservative politicians. In his lyrics, he refers to it as “big dairy welfare,” and he says, “I want politicians to pay attention to miners, not just kids,” which some believe is a reference to infamous sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Anthony states in another section of his introduction video that he chose to speak out about child abuse “when I started seeing it normalized.” When the Aldean video was criticized, his wife, Brittany Aldean defended him on Instagram, saying, “Why not focus on real stories like child trafficking instead of making songs about them?” The notion that child abuse is being disregarded or “normalized” parallels the unsubstantiated but prevalent QAnon myth once more.
The Try Date in a Small Town video was deleted from Country Music Television, as was the six-second clip of Black Lives Matter imagery, due to copyright difficulties, according to Aldean’s record company. However, the controversy aided sales. According to The Hollywood Reporter, demand for the video soared by 999% following the video’s reaction, which had decreased just two months after the song’s debut.
And Anthony’s earlier songs were about drinking and working, so this current scandal might change everything. In a private video, he claims to have discovered discipline and purpose. We may learn more if and when he speaks about politics. For the time being, his song may be simply another weapon in the cultural battles.