The song, which has been embraced by the right, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100
An unlikely, controversial hit is topping the Billboard Hot 100.
After officially dropping on Aug. 11, country artist Oliver Anthony’s single “Rich Men North of Richmond” debuted at No. 1 on on Monday.
The stripped-down country song has become a viral sensation and gained a great deal of criticism, as its politicized lyrics have been embraced by the right.
The song is the breakout release of Farmville, Virginia singer-songwriter and former factory worker Oliver Anthony (who performs under his grandfather’s name and whose real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford). According to Billboard, the track about socio-political issues first gained traction on TikTok before it was uploaded to the radiowv YouTube account on Aug. 8, which highlights independent country artists in the Virginia and West Virginia area.
Although YouTube streams — which hit 32 million at the time of publishing — were not counted in the chart data because the music video was not uploaded to Anthony’s own account, downloads, official streams and radio plays accounted for his debut at No. 1, per Billboard. He is now only the sixth artist to ever to do so; following former One Direction artist Zayn Malik and his solo debut, viral “Harlem Shake” artist Baauer; and American Idol alums Carrie Underwood, Fantasia and Clay Aiken.
Of the song’s success, Anthony told Billboard, “The hopelessness and frustration of our times resonate in the response to this song. The song itself is not anything special, but the people who have supported it are incredible and deserve to be heard.”
“I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day / Overtime hours for bulls--- pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away,” Anthony sings on the track. “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.”
He goes on to refer to the political elite in Washington D.C., singing, “‘Cause your dollar ain't s--- and it's taxed to no end / 'Cause of rich men north of Richmond.”
The country singer also makes references to several problematic tropes, including child sex trafficking and people in poverty. “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,” he sings. “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.”
Anthony shared a video on YouTube on Aug. 7 in which he outlined his political beliefs before the viral sensation premiered on radio wv the following day. “I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have,” the “Rich Man North of Virginia” artist says, mentioning how he disagreed with conservatives “wanting war” during his childhood and noticing “controversies when the left took office.”
As Variety pointed out, the song has gone on to be embraced by a handful of high-profile right-wing politicians and personalities including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, conservative commentator Matt Walsh, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, and former Mumford and Sons band member and far-right country artist Winston Marshall.
Despite claiming to have centrist views, Anthony has yet to comment about his rising conservative fan base.
On Aug. 17, he shared a statement on Facebook after going viral to introduce himself to his new audience, and explain that he “never wanted to be a full time musician” and needed time to process his breakout success. “People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers,” he wrote. “I don't want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don't want to play stadium shows, I don't want to be in the spotlight. I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression. These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they're being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung.”
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He also vaguely addressed the backlash “Rich Men North of Richmond” has received.
“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,” the singer shared. “That being said, I HATE the way the Internet has divided all of us. The Internet is a parasite, that infects the minds of humans and has their way with them..”
He continued, “When is enough, enough? When are we going to fight for what is right again? MILLIONS have died protecting the liberties we have. Freedom of speech is such a precious gift. Never in world history has the world had the freedom it currently does. Don't let them take it away from you.”
“Just like those once wandering in the desert, we have lost our way from God and have let false idols distract us and divide us. It's a damn shame,” the statement concluded.
Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” is another divisive political country song that has become a recent success on the charts. The track, which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, has been accused of promoting gun violence and racism.
After being released in May, the song’s music video was pulled from CMT’s programming after just one week.
Despite the backlash, the song still had the largest week of sales for a country song in more than 10 years in July.
The country star, 46, has continued to stand by his controversial single. While performing in Cincinnati in late July, he said on stage, “What I am is a proud American. I'm proud to be from here," Aldean continued. "I love our country, I want to see it restored to what it once was before all this bulls--- started happening to us. I love our country, I love my family, and I will do anything to protect that. I'll tell you that right now.”
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