Ever since Oliver Anthony and “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral, the accusations that he’s an “industry plant” or that his meteoric rise has been the product of “Astroturfing” have been pervasive throughout social media. In fact, depending on your particular social network feed, this might have been how you were introduced to the song, or it may be the only thing you’ve seen about it. Tweets claiming that Anthony is nothing more than a fabrication have been retweeted hundreds and sometimes thousands of times.
A mere mention of Oliver Anthony often results in a long trail of comments screaming these “industry plant” and “Astroturfing” accusations. By the way, “Astroturfing” means the fabrication of grassroots support in something that is truly controlled by big monied shadow actors in the background. Other accusation against Oliver Anthony include that he’s is a rich man himself, as well as a conspiracy theorist, if not outright QAnon due to the “minors on an island” line from the song.
As someone who has regularly been speculative of certain performers in the country music space and the general gaming and laundering of “authenticity” in the country industry, I respect the cynicism the public has brought to the Oliver Anthony phenomenon. When an artist and a song shoot straight to the very top of the charts like “Rich Men North of Richmond” has (it’s the #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 this week), it deserves tough scrutiny.
In the past, I have brought similar scrutiny to bear on artists and performers myself, including upon individuals whose music may otherwise be considered favorable to more traditionally-leaning country fans. For example, Saving Country Music directly called out the clearly fabricated origin story of the Big Machine Records band Midland when they were originally sold as coming up through Austin honky tonks.
But after running down every conspiracy theory, looking into every viral Twitter thread, speaking to numerous folks in the industry, and doing deep research into this Oliver Anthony and “Rich Men North of Richmond” phenomenon, I’m sorry, there just doesn’t seem to be any validity to these “industry plant” and “Astroturfing” claims, at least not at the moment.
What is true is that right-wing influencers on Twitter (now X) and other places helped take Oliver Anthony’s already bubbling up viral moment, and sent it into the stratosphere. But just because the right got organized behind the song doesn’t mean it was orchestrated by some underhanded scheme.
The one thing Saving Country Music has not done is speak to Oliver Anthony or his co-manager Draven Riffe personally, despite multiple efforts. But other outlets have spoken to Draven Riffe, who also is the individual behind the RadioWV YouTube channel that debuted “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Oliver Anthony has addressed some of the criticisms toward him directly as well. And so far, everything checks out.
Draven Riffe told Billboard, “There was not a whole lot of planning involved. We just knew if we got the video out there people were going to love the song and it would resonate with a lot of folks. There wasn’t some big massive planning team around this. I had a few friends who helped us push the song out there, like my friend Josh [Baer], who has a page called Country Central. We all coordinated and Oliver’s following as well, we just tried to push it out there all at once with our little group of friends and that’s how it happened.”
Another reason you can have some confidence that this isn’t all some sort of industry psyop is because we’ve yet to see any scathing exposés into Oliver Richmond and “Rich Men North of Richmond” in the press, and trust me, it’s not from people not trying, including myself. If there were any smoking guns, or even smoke in this being some sort of industry plant situation, it would be reported on because it would immediately be viral content.
Chris Willman at Variety dove deep into Oliver Anthony’s story as well, and found nothing coming close to “Astroturfing” or Anthony being a “industry plant.” Even Rolling Stone that immediately spun Anthony’s viral moment into culture war click bait by centering their reporting on the story of how right-wing influencers had jumped on Oliver Anthony’s bandwagon early on (which they did), even they concluded a report from Anthony’s massive show this weekend in Moyock, North Carolina by saying,
“It’s hard to say with certainty just how much the genuine in-person reaction for Anthony is reflected on the charts, but this much is true: On a golf course in North Carolina, the enthusiasm for Anthony’s music went far deeper than any promotional efforts from conservative influencers.”
It doesn’t matter what the hunch is from your favorite social media personality, or how many times their spurious and unfounded accusations are retweeted, or how much you hate Oliver Anthony or “Richmond North of Richmond.” There’s just nothing true to the allegations that its all a hose job on the public, and least not anything that a breathless and eager army of media has been able to hunt down at this point.
None of this is a commentary on “Rich Men North of Richmond” itself. Whether you love it or hate it is irrespective of whether there is integrity behind how the song went viral. But of course like everything in this contentious time, often when there is something people don’t like or disagree with the message of, instead of battling back and forth on the merit of it in good faith, they cast aspersions and try to sow doubt through conspiracy, which social media amplifies, while truth and verified information gets depreciated and dies in the algorithms.
To be frank there is a level of “cope” in how we’re seeing certain people try to act like there’s no validity whatsoever to Oliver Anthony’s viral moment. In truth, right-wing documentarian and influencer Matt Walsh hit the nail on the head when he said, “The main reason this song resonates with so many people isn’t political. It’s because the song is raw and authentic. We are suffocated by artificiality. Everything around us is fake. A guy in the woods pouring his heart over his guitar is real.”
This is the same reason we saw Sturgill Simpson, then Chris Stapleton, then Tyler Childers, then Zach Bryan break down barriers for artists outside of the mainstream industry in country music and completely revolutionize the genre. We are living within those moments right now, and Oliver Anthony is just the latest example of that. This is a cultural phenomenon, and now it’s one that has reached all the way to the #1 song in the world.
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To further address some of the criticisms of Oliver Anthony, let’s take them one by one.
Right Wing Pundits Are Who Pushed Oliver Anthony to the Top
T/F = TRUE
Yes, Matt Walsh, Dan Bongino, Kari Lake, John Rich, Marjorie Taylor Greene and many other major right-wing influencers helped make “Rich Men North of Richmond” the biggest song in America. This is undeniable, and will always be a part of the Oliver Anthony viral moment, and a vector for criticism by some. That doesn’t mean that the song didn’t also enjoy widespread virality in its own right too.
Bots Made “Rich Men North of Richmond” Go Viral
T/F = False
Of all the spurious claims against the song, this is one of the easiest to verify as false. Some opportunistic conspiracy theorists have taken screenshots of some bot activity, and characterized it as the impetus for the Oliver Anthony viral moment in its entirety. Instead, this is just the regular phenomenon of any viral moment. Bots always seize on what is popular. But Dan Bongino, Matt Walsh, and Joe Rogan are not “bots.” It was right-wing pundits, influencers, politicians, and other popular personalities that gave the song the extra boost, not bots.
That said, “Rich Men North of Richmond” likely benefited from Twitter’s (now X’s) boost of conservative voices in the social network’s algorithm under new owner Elon Musk. It’s been previously documented how tweets from right-wing individuals like Matt Walsh are weighted heavier now in X’s feeds. This probably helped send Oliver Anthony’s song over the top.
There also have been some strange comments on Oliver Anthony threads like musician Matt Moran has pointed out. But it’s still hard to say this type of suspicious activity or bot traffic is what constituted Oliver Anthony’s viral moment in its entirety, or even to a significant extent.
Oliver Anthony is an Industry Plant
T/F = False
There continues to be absolutely no evidence that the mainstream music industry is behind Oliver Anthony, and if there is a major label or big money behind the scenes pulling the levers, they have yet to be revealed, and so have the levers themselves. “Rich Men North of Richmond” was distributed to DSPs such as Spotify, Apple Music, etc. through Distrokid. We know this due to the metadata and copyright for Oliver Anthony’s songs ending with “DK.” Saving Country Music did a deep dive into the DistroKid distribution network when running down a song theft scheme using the DIY distribution company in 2020.
Nobody working through or with the industry would ever use DistroKid to distribute music. It’s too clunky, unreliable, and amateurish. There might be an effort to hide the origin of the music, but they would still perhaps copyright it under Oliver Anthony’s name, or perhaps use companies like The Orchard or Sony’s Redeye to distribute the music. This would actually make it easier to hide the origins of the music as opposed to Distrokid.
Also, the original video of “Richmond North of Richmond” was released via the YouTube channel RadioWV, which has been a known and established YouTube channel releasing similar types of videos for over two years, including others that have gone viral. Kentucky/West Virginia singer/songwriter Logan Halstead went viral some 2 1/2 years ago when he debuted his song “Dark Black Coal” on RadioWV. The Halstead song now has nearly 7 million views, and other raw acoustic performance have done the same.
The owner of the RadioWV YouTube channel is Draven Riffe, who is also Oliver Anthony’s co-manager.
There Was a Scheme (or Bots) to Purchase the Song on ITunes to Push It Up The Charts
T/F = False
Undoubtedly, people purchasing downloads of “Rich Men North of Richmond” and other Oliver Anthony songs is a significant factor in how the song immediately shot up the charts. But you don’t have to give into conspiracy theories to understand how this happened organically, especially when you consider the right-wing political support for the song.
The controversy surrounding Jason Aldean’s song and video for “Try That In A Small Town” very much set the table for “Rich Men North of Richmond.” When there was an active effort to attempt to cancel the Aldean song, right wing networks on social media were mobilized to purchase the song en masse to support it. When “Rich Men North of Richmond” came out and was being touted by the same political influencers, listeners purchased “Rich Men North of Richmond” almost by muscle memory.
Is anyone actually listening to these downloads on their personal computers or iPhones? Probably not. They’re just streaming it on their service of choice. But purchasing a song on iTunes has become a sort of de facto tip jar in music, and a way for listeners to fundamentally support a track or artist they like. K-Pop Stan armies and other mobilized fan groups have been doing this for years. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theory to understand how “Richmond North of Richmond” racked up so many downloads.
Also, “Rich Men North of Richmond” is not the only song from Oliver Anthony to benefit from this. All of his songs are receiving tremendous download support.
What is true about this accusation is that “Richmond North of Richmond” does owe a lot of its chart support to these downloads according to Billboard, as opposed to just streams like many popular songs. But as also has been reported by Billboard, all of Oliver Anthony’s songs are receiving significant support via streaming as well.
Oliver Anthony is a Conspiracy Theorist / QAnon
T/F = False
This is arguably the most irresponsible and dangerous of the accusations against Oliver Anthony and “Rich Men North of Richmond,” especially since it’s one of the few that has seen pickup from the mainstream press. Due to the line in the song “minors on an island,” people are saying that Oliver Anthony has given into right wing/QAnon conspiracy theories.
For example, The Guardian in their article on the song states, “Anthony even gives a nod towards conspiracy theories about paedophiles.” The Washington Post says that Anthony is “mainstreaming conspiracy theories” with his song.
The Oliver Anthony line has to do with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and his Little St. James Island in the Virgin Islands where he brought young underage women who were sexually exploited by men of power from across the world of politics, business, and academia. This is not a conspiracy theory. Little St. James existed, and Jeffrey Epstein was a convicted sex offender.
The Virgin Islands are suing Epstein’s former banks over this issue right now. A&E is debuting a new documentary series called Secrets of Prince Andrew on August 21st about the British Royal Family member’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein.
To couch convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s escapades into the domain of conspiracy theory is a gross insult to Epstein’s victims, and an obfuscation of the truth. Sure, QAnon and other conspiracy theories also have a child sex abuse component to them that is hard to verify. But the Jeffry Epstein story and the shocking details are absolutely not.
Oliver Anothony is Apolitical
T/F = Somewhat False
In the video Oliver Anthony published right before “Rich Men North of Richmond,” he says, “I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics, and always always have. It seems like both sides serve the same master. And that master is not someone of any good to the people of this country.”
But make no mistake about it, Anthony’s quoting Bible verses before his live shows, and he’s made no effort to distance himself from the sometimes polarizing right wing people who’ve cozied up to him. People on the left tend to love to tell you their politics, as do people on the far right. People from the center right often like to claim they’re apolitical, but in truth they lean in an obvious direction. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is definitely a political element to Oliver Anthony and “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
Oliver Anthony is Actually a Wealthy Landowner
T/F = False
As the microscope has come down on all of Oliver Anthony’s affairs, some have attempted to characterize him as a wealthy landowner who is in no position to sing a song such as “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Even if he was wealthy, you don’t have to live it to write it. Some consider Jason Isbell’s new song “King of Oklahoma” as one of the best songs so far in 2023. It’s total fiction. Johnny Cash did not shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
Some have specifically criticized Anthony over his purchase of 92 acres of land in Virginia for $100,000 in May of 2019. How can someone who owns 92 acres be complaining about rich men? But $1,000/acre rural farmland in Virginia is not exactly a handsome estate. The average house in the United States currently costs $417,000. If anything, the real estate deal verifies that Oliver Anthony is of below average means.
Oliver Anthony addressed this concern and many others in a post on Facebook on August 17th.
Im 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. Draven from RadioWv and I filmed these tunes on my land with the hope that it may hit 300k views. I still don’t quite believe what has went on since we uploaded that. It’s just strange to me.
People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers. 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. No editing, no agent, no bullshit. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place.
So that being said, I have never taken the time to tell you who I actually am. Here’s a formal introduction:
My legal name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford. My grandfather was Oliver Anthony, and “Oliver Anthony Music” is a dedication not only to him, but 1930’s Appalachia where he was born and raised. Dirt floors, seven kids, hard times. At this point, I’ll gladly go by Oliver because everyone knows me as such. But my friends and family still call me Chris. You can decide for yourself, either is fine.
In 2010, I dropped out of high school at age 17. I have a GED from Spruce Pine, NC. I worked multiple plant jobs in Western NC, my last being at the paper mill in McDowell county. I worked 3rd shift, 6 days a week for $14.50 an hour in a living hell. In 2013, I had a bad fall at work and fractured my skull. It forced me to move back home to Virginia. Due to complications from the injury, it took me 6 months or so before I could work again.
From 2014 until just a few days ago, I’ve worked outside sales in the industrial manufacturing world. My job has taken me all over Virginia and into the Carolinas, getting to know tens of thousands of other blue collar workers on job sites and in factories. Ive spent all day, everyday, for the last 10 years hearing the same story. People are SO damn tired of being neglected, divided and manipulated.
In 2019, I paid $97,500 for the property and still owe about $60,000 on it. I am living in a 27′ camper with a tarp on the roof that I got off of craigslist for $750.
There’s nothing special about me. 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. 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.