Rich Men North of Richmond controversy: why is the US chart-topping song so divisive - who is Oliver Anthony?

Oliver Anthony's hit song 'Rich Men North of Richmond' has become controversial while topping the US chart at the same time. (Credit: radiowv/YouTube)
Oliver Anthony's hit song 'Rich Men North of Richmond' has become controversial while topping the US chart at the same time. (Credit: radiowv/YouTube)

Country singer Oliver Anthony has made US chart history with his controversial hit song 'Rich Men North of Richmond' after he became the first act ever to top the Billboard Chart without having any chart history prior.

The song, which was released first as a Youtube video on 8 August, has become an overnight viral hit and it gained attention on social media. It has been described as an "conservative anthem" by fans with US right-wing conservative figures such as Republican politician Marjorie Taylor Green and conservative commentator Matt Walsh among those praising the song.

However, the lyrical content of the song has gained criticism from some who claim that 'Rich Men North of Richmond' perpetrates stereotypes.

It comes after a similar controversy over Jason Aldean's country song 'Try That In A Small Town'. Aldean defended his chart-topping hit after some labelled the song "racist" and "offensive".

Here's everything you need to know about who Oliver Anthony is and why there has been such a controversy surrounding his song.

Who is Oliver Anthony?

Oliver Anthony is an American county singer from Virginia, believed to be in his late 20s to early 30s. He is said to have begun writing music in 2021 and before the release of 'Rich Men of Richmond', often filmed himself singing and performing on his mobile phone.

In a video posted to his own YouTube channel, Anthony said that making music gavce him an "outlet" after going through some difficult times.

His big break came when West Virginian music channel radiowv asked him to perform and record a song for their YouTube channel. This would become the breakout hit 'Rich Men North of Richmond'.

In a statement to Billboard about the song, Anthony said: “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.”

Why is 'Rich Men North of Richmond' so controversial?

Since being released as a performance on the radiowv YouTube channel on 8 August, the video has racked up more than 32 million views. However the lyrical content has become a sticking point for some critics.

Lyrics include lines such as "Lord, we got folks in the street/ Ain't got nothin' to eat/ And the obese milkin' welfare" and "But God if you're five foot three/ And you're three hundred pounds/ Taxes ought not to pay/ For your bags of fudge rounds" have been identified as pointing out food peverty but has also criticised as fatphobic rhetoric. It has also been described as perpetrating the 'welfare queen' stereotype, a derogatory term used to describe those in receipt of benefits from the state, specifically to describe and stigmatise black, single mothers in this situation. Rolling Stone journalist Joseph Hudak labelled the welfare lines as "Reagan-era talking points".

The line 'I wish politicians/ Would look out for minors/ And not just miners on an island somewhere' has also been picked up as jabs at the child sex trafficking case involving Jeffery Epstein and his private island. Critics have said that this line is one which likens itself to the unfounded Qanon conspiracy theories that child abuse is widespread throughout the elites and condoned by liberals.

In the song, Anthony also criticises the taxation of wages for working Americans, stating: "Cause your dollar ain't s**t/ And it's taxed to no end/ 'Cause of rich men/ North of Richmond /I been selling my soul/ Working all day/ Overtime hours/ For bulls**t pay".

Jay Caspian Kang, of The New York Times, said of Anthony's hit: "Depending on your politics, [Anthony] is either a voice sent from Heaven to express the anger of the white working class, or he is a wholly constructed viral creation who has arrived to serve up resentment with a thick, folksy lacquering of Americana."

Anthony has defended his song by stating that he is speaking for working people and is aspiring to be a "voice" for this demographic. The singer has stayed away from giving many interviews since the song went viral, but in a video filmed one day before the song was uploaded he said: "I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have."