You really have to sit back, crack a grin, and slow clap for this Oliver Anthony guy, regardless of how you feel about “Rich Men North of Richmond,” or the Fudge Rounds line.
It’s been 23 days since the 31-year-old released his mega viral song and video. The song is spending its second week in a row at the very top of the Billboard Hot 100, beating out every single other song in America. And meanwhile, Oliver Anthony’s rhetoric has pretty much everyone who initially supported him or steadfastly rebuked him twisted up and second guessing themselves as he refuses to fit nice and neatly into their political binary.
The widespread support Oliver Anthony enjoys spans across political, social, and geographical, and racial lines. It includes an international reach, and cross-genre support well beyond country music. Hip-hop critics even love it. It’s probably the biggest musical phenomenon since Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” back in 2018. Perhaps, it’s even bigger.
Make no mistake, after an initial viral burst behind Oliver Anthony that was similar to the one we’ve seen behind similar earnest acoustic videos, it was right-wing influencers, politicians, and media types who believed Oliver Anthony was their conservative savior in popular music, singing his praises to the rafters. Meanwhile, this political element to his ascent artificially colored many people’s opinion of Anthony and the song as it continued to trend.
A lot of people went on record saying the whole thing was a hose job. It was either “Astroturfing” or Oliver Anthony was an “industry plant,” orchestrated by these right-wing operatives. And despite not a single credible report undercutting the official Oliver Anthony narrative, (and yes, we’ve seen the viral tweets that still prove nothing), Oliver Anthony eviscerated everybody’s working theories by coming out and actively distancing himself from every single one of those opportunistic political vultures who initially promoted him.
In his second explainer video posted on August 25th, Oliver Anthony stated,
The one thing that has bothered me is people wrapping up politics into all of this. It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I’m one of them. 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 trying to present the same message.
I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me, and I’ve tried to be polite to everybody. I’ve talked to hundreds of people the last two weeks. It seems like certain people want to just ride the attention of the song and maybe make their own selves relevant. And that is aggravating as hell.
Telling these political vultures folks to take a hike so his music and career wouldn’t be colored by their presence is exactly what Saving Country Music advised Oliver Anthony to do, though it’s doubtful he read it. These decisions speak to the his instincts, and the content of his character. It’s not that Anthony doesn’t want to be considered with the right wing, but that he doesn’t want to be considered in the political binary at all. As for his song being the basis for the first question of the first Republic Presidential debate, Anthony says,
It was funny seeing it in the Presidential Debate cause I wrote that song about those people, you know? So for them to have to sit there and listen to that, that cracks me up. But it was funny seeing the response to it. That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden. It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song was written about the people on that stage, and a lot more too, not just them. But definitely them.
I hate to see that song weaponized. I see the right trying to characterize me as their own, and I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess in retaliation. That shit’s gotta stop. If you watch the response videos on YouTube to this song, it’s not conservative people responding to the song. It’s not even necessarily Americans responding to the song. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything get such positive response from such a diverse group of people, and I think that terrifies the people that I sing about in that song.
And they’ve done everything they can in the last two 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 gonna keep on writing … I’m going to write, produce, and distribute authentic music that represents people, and not politics.
First impressions are a big though. And due to the Fudge Rounds line in “Rich Men North of Richmond,” Oliver Antony has a lot of critics who will criticize and and undercut everything he does. Though it won’t help with his most staunchest detractors, Anthony did address the controversial line in the same video, and explained how the song was written after he read a news article about food insecurity for kids in Richmond.
The English language is interpretive, and so I do understand that there may be some people who misunderstood my words. But I’ve got to be clear that my message like with any of my songs, it references the inefficiencies of the government because of the politicians within it that are engulfed in bribes and extortion.
Adolescent kids in Richmond are missing meals over the summer because their parents can’t afford to feed them, and they’re not in school to eat cafeteria lunch. And meanwhile, I think like 30 or 40 percent of the food bought with welfare EBT money is in a classification of like snack food and soda … And that’s not the fault of those people.
Welfare only makes up a small percentage of our budget. If we can fuel a proxy war in a foreign land, but we can’t take care of our own, that’s all the song’s trying to say. It’s just saying that the government takes people who are needy dependent, and makes them needy and dependent. 30 million people understood what I was saying, but it only takes a few to try and derail the train, to try and send out false narratives.
Oliver Anthony said it best when he said, “It’s driving people crazy to see the unity that has come from this,” and he’s right. So much money and attention is gained by playing one side against the other, couching things as either left or right, and then pitting people against each other. But where the true majority opinion resides is with people who are simply fed up with everything, irrespective of political affiliation, and they are especially fed up with the polarization. That is why “Rich Men North of Richmond” is resonating with them.
Many musicians also resent Oliver Anthony due to his overnight success. But as Anthony says himself,
I’m nobody special. I feel terrible almost that I’ve been put in this place because there are a lot of artists and musicians that are far more talented, that have put in way more hours than me. I don’t deserve to sit in the top 5 places on the iTunes charts. And the truth is I could really give a shit about the iTunes charts. What I care about is connecting with people.
Just for us to all sit here and do the stupid shit that it is we do everyday that keeps us all beat down and divided, that’s what I want to see stop. And I’m going to do everything I can to influence that, at all costs, even if it throws my world upside down. It’s well worth it.
On Wednesday (8/30), Oliver Anthony appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience. He could have appeared on Fox News, which has been obsessed with Anthony since the beginning. FOX conducted the Presidential Debate where Anthony’s song prefaced the opening question. He could have appeared on CNN or MSNBC as well. But similar to Oliver Anthony, Joe Rogan has assembled the biggest audience in all of media by eschewing the political binary, despite great efforts by his adversaries in the mainstream media to assign him to one side or another.
Though it started out rather lighthearted, the discussion between Joe Rogan and Oliver Anthony got quite deep in moments. Unlike Rogan’s recent discussion with Zach Bryan who seemed a bit starry-eyed to be sitting across from Rogan, Oliver Anthony seemed surprisingly comfortable, confident in the subjects he broached, and assured of the opinions he shared, despite only being a few weeks into the phenomenon that has taken over his life.
Oliver Anthony talked about how watching The Dukes of Hazzard as a kid and hearing Waylon Jennings is what initially made him a country music fan. He quoted The Bible on a couple of occasions, but revealed that he hasn’t been to church in 10 years. Anthony talked about a head injury he suffered, which Rogan attributed to his bout of depression that led to Anthony deciding he needed a change in his life, and had to start pursuing music before it was too late.
Anthony also talked about how he has taken on a mentor in the music industry. And no, it’s not John Rich. Though he was reluctant to name him by name (Joe Rogan eventually said the quiet part out loud), Oliver Anthony is being closely advised by Jamey Johnson.
“I don’t want to say his name on here and disrupt his privacy, but there’s one guy in particular that … he’s just a really good dude. He’s everything you think he is, but he’s just been a big help, like almost kind of a father figure in the industry. Despite all the craziness and all the people that have come out, just clawing at me … there’s also been a lot of just down-to-earth people that just have the interest of me trying to preserve whatever it is I’ve created here and turn it into something … to keep me on the train tracks.”
Oliver Anthony also talked to Rogan about how his 2nd most popular song “Aint Gotta Dollar” (6.7 million streams on Spotify alone) was simply recorded on his Android phone. Yes, this Oliver Anthony phenomenon goes well beyond “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The song/video he released after “Rich Men” called “I Want To Go Home” has over 6 million views on YouTube as well.
Oliver Anthony is not a one-hit wonder. He is a cultural phenomenon. And that cultural phenomenon is epicentered in the rise of earnest, acoustic songwriters that has also seen artists like Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan defy expectations and crash through ceilings previously erected over unpolished, grassroots country artists. Oliver Anthony is this phenomenon reaching the very apex of popularity in all of American music, at a time when country music is dominating the top of the popular charts like we have never seen before in history. Garth Brooks, eat your heart out.
If there was ever a moment in the last 15+ years of the existence of Saving Country Music where you could make the case that the music has been saved, it would be this one. But this assessment and proclamation probably just made quite a few spit out their coffee, because despite Oliver Anthony’s popularity, his critics are stern, and strong in numbers as well.
As Joe Rogan said near the end of his discussion with Anthony about his detractors, “They don’t even realize they’re working for you. They’re just making you more popular.” And they are, just like they worked for Morgan Wallen, and just like they worked for Jason Aldean. And just like they worked for Joe Rogan, too.
This is not a craze. The greatest art in history is often the art that accurately reflects the time in which it appears. As the media and political class continue to make American political rage a commercial commodity, the common people across America are waking up. Oliver Anthony isn’t just singing for himself. He is singing from the perspective of all the disaffected and disenfranchised people of the United States and beyond.
Still people will cite the Fudge Rounds line. Still people will falsely accuse him of being an “industry plant” and a product of “Astroturfing” despite the continued lack of evidence. Still people will say his ascent was unearned, illegitimate, if not ill-gotten.
And next year, Oliver Anthony very well may be headlining festivals across the country, just like Zach Bryan did this year, despite the small, but extremely loud critics and cynics of his improbable ascent. But none of that will matter, because the people have spoken. And the people say that Oliver Anthony speaks for them.