A previously unknown and unsigned musician has topped the US charts with a song that blames urban elites for the troubles of working-class Americans. How did the right turn “Rich Men North of Richmond” into a hit?
Oliver Anthony, a previously unknown and unsigned musician, has topped the US charts for a second week with a song that blames urban elites for the troubles of working-class Americans.
To some, “Rich Men North of Richmond” is a heartfelt country song. To others it’s more sinister.
The lyrics talk about low paid jobs and poverty, but there are also references to right-wing tropes about people on government welfare, and alludes to conspiracies about sex trafficking among political elites, with references to the billionaire and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.
“Rich Men North Of Richmond” has now spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100: Oliver Anthony is the only person to have had a song debut at number one without having any previous chart history. The song was also played at the first Republican presidential debate.
The track’s success is partly down to its content. It strikes right at the heart of America’s cultural divide: the track was shared and praised by dozens of Republican political figures and right-leaning influencers, including Joe Rogan, a popular libertarian podcaster.
It’s not the first time that the American right has propelled an apparent outlier into the limelight. Earlier in the year a controversial country song got right-wing backing after its music video was criticised for allegedly encouraging vigilante violence.
The video for “Try that in a small town” by country star Jason Aldean featured images of looting and demonstrations like the ones seen during the Black Lives Matter protests. The accompanying lyrics suggested that in a “small town” that would be met with violence. There was a backlash and in response it was pulled by a country music channel. But fans responded by paying for downloads to push it up the charts and the song reached number one in the top 100.
Despite how his song has been interpreted and embraced by America’s right, Oliver Anthony does not identify as a conservative. Last week, he responded to the attention his track has received in a video posted online. “It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I’m one of them,” he said.
Today’s episode was written and mixed by Ella Hill.