Oliver Anthony's viral country music hit "Rich Men North of Richmond" not only topped the charts seemingly overnight, it even found its way into the discussion at the first Republican presidential primary debate.
But in a new YouTube video shared Aug. 25, Anthony said it's "bothered" him how his song has become associated with politics.
"It's aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I'm one of them," he said.
"Rich Men North of Richmond" became a viral sensation earlier this month. By Aug. 19, Anthony's song had hit No. 1 on Apple Music's U.S. and global top 100 charts. But what is the track about, and who is Oliver Anthony?
The folksy song tells the story of a working-class narrator who's frustrated by years of hard toil resulting in low wages that only get eaten up by taxes.
Though everyday people have made the song a success, "Rich Men North of Richmond" — which lashes out against wealthy legislators in Washington, D.C. — has also charmed some Republicans in office, including Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene who called it "the anthem of the forgotten Americans who truly support this nation ... with their hard earned tax dollars."
In addition to "Rich Men North of Richmond," Anthony's other songs are landing on the iTunes top 40 US country chart, all of which joined together Aug. 18 to knock Jason Aldean's controversial song “Try That in a Small Town" to the No. 4 spot.
Judging from Anthony's recent social media posts, even he's been shocked by all the attention. "I'm sitting in such a weird place in my life right now. I never wanted to be a full time musician, much less sit at the top of the iTunes charts," the musician wrote Aug. 17 on Facebook.
"I still don’t quite believe what has went on since we uploaded (the song). It’s just strange to me," added the Virginia-based musician.
Why was 'Rich Men North of Richmond' brought up at the Republican presidential primary debate?
The song espoused by conservative influencers was featured in the first question of the night on Aug. 23 for the eight Republican presidential hopefuls on the stage in Milwaukee at the debate.
“It is by a singer from Farmville, Virginia, named Oliver Anthony — his lyrics speak of alienation, of deep frustration with the state of government and of this country,” Fox News' Martha MacCallum, one of the moderators, said during the debate.
She then directed at question at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“So, Governor DeSantis, why is this song striking such a nerve in this country right now?” MacCallum said.
DeSantis replied the country is "in decline" but that the decline is "not evitable."
“We also cannot succeed when the Congress spends trillions and trillions of dollars,” DeSantis added. “Those rich men north of Richmond have put us in this situation.”
He then finished by saying government needs to work to lower gas prices.
What has Oliver Anthony said about politics?
While Anthony has become a Republican talking point, the musician had made it clear that he doesn't want the association.
"It's aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we're buddies and act like we're fighting the same struggle here, like we're just trying to present the same message," he said in a video sharing his candid reflections Aug. 25.
He also said the mention of his song at the debate was "funny."
"Because it's like, I wrote that song about those people," he said, with a laugh.
"That song's written about the people on that stage, and a lot more, not just them, but definitely them," he added.
He also accused both sides of the political spectrum of "weaponizing" the 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," he said. "That s---'s got to stop."
In addition to condemning conservatives, he also addressed "the left," saying they've called "Rich Men North of Richmond" an "attack against the poor."
“If you listen to my other music, it’s obvious that all of my songs that reference class defend the poor," he said. "... That's what I like to sing about."
Instead, he says the positive responses to his song have come from people across political identities.
"That terrifies the people that I sing about in that song," he said. "They've done everything they can the last few weeks to make me look like a fool, to spin my words, to try and stick me in a political bucket. And they can keep trying, but I'm just going to keep on writing."
At the end of the 10-minute video, Anthony got emotional.
“I don’t know what this country is going to look like in 10 or 20 years if things don’t change," he said. "There’s been too many people die. There’s been too many people sacrifice everything they’ve had. People die before they’re even 18. Just for us to all sit here and do the stupid s--- it is that we do every day that keeps us all beat down and divided. That’s what I want to see stop."
How did the 'Rich Men North of Richmond' become a hit?
Oliver Anthony was virtually unknown before “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral on social media this month.
It all started on Aug. 8, when the YouTube channel RadioWV, which shares footage of outdoor performances by Appalachian musicians, posted a video of Anthony singing "Rich Men North of Richmond." The video has received more than 20 million views.
RadioWV later shared the clip on its TikTok account.
Social media users began sharing the video, as did Anthony, who posted the clip on his official account on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. Anthony's video received more than 25 million additional views.
Fans' fervor for the song carried over onto purchases on iTunes and Apple Music, where it's become a No. 1 hit.
Who is Oliver Anthony?
In his Aug. 17 Facebook post, Anthony revealed that his real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford, and that he took his stage name from a grandfather who grew up poor in Appalachia.
The musician shared anecdotes about himself, telling fans that he dropped out of high school in 2010 and went on to earn his GED certificate.
Anthony has worked "multiple plant jobs in Western NC," and was injured while working at a paper mill in 2013. "I worked 3rd shift, 6 days a week for $14.50 an hour in a living hell," he wrote.
More recently, he's worked in "outside sales in the industrial manufacturing world."
"There’s nothing special about me," Anthony wrote. "I’m not a good musician, I’m not a very good person. I’ve spent the last 5 years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it."
He added, "I am sad to see the world in the state it’s in, with everyone fighting with each other. I have spent many nights feeling hopeless, that the greatest country on Earth is quickly fading away."
In a seemingly since-deleted Youtube video, Anthony said in July 2023 that he'd promised God he’d get sober for help following his dreams, Taste of Country reports.
What is 'Rich Men North of Richmond' about?
Social media users praising the song have commented to say they feel as though Anthony is singing about their lives.
In many ways, the song follows in the footsteps of the working-class anthems written by country music legends like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash.
“I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bull---- pay," Anthony sings on one of the song's verses.
The song's chorus talks about politicians wanting to "take control" of constituents.
"Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do/ And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do/ 'cause your dollar ain’t s--- and it’s taxed to no end/ Cause of rich men north of Richmond.”
What are fans saying about the song?
Though “Rich Men North of Richmond” has earned the admiration of Republican politicians, including Rep. Green and and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who said she can't listen to it "without getting chills, it's clear that the song appeals to working-class Americans.
“Keep speaking for the people! Your voice is louder than any politician in this country and we want to hear you not them!” one fan told Anthony in a Facebook comment.
"You are the voice that we, the blue collared American people, need," wrote another.
"Awesome song!" added someone else. "Thank you for speaking/singing the truth. As a cashier in a grocery store I see it everyday."
Some listeners even cheered for a verse of the song that lashes out against “the obese” who misuse “welfare” to purchase junk food:
Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds / Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds
Fudge rounds are a Little Debbie snack cake with two chocolate cookies sandwiching a chocolate creme filling.
One listener on X called the body-shaming verse, the "best lyrics in the history of music."
What are the full lyrics to the song?
I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bullshit pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away
It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to / For people like me and people like you / Wish I could just wake up and it not be true / But it is, oh, it is.
Livin’ in the new world / With an old soul / These rich men north of Richmond / Lord knows they all just wanna have total control / Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do / And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do / ‘Cause your dollar ain’t shit and it’s taxed to no end / ‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond.
I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere / Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat / And the obese milkin’ welfare.
Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds / Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds / Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground / ‘Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down.
I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bullshit pay