History was made on August 21 when a singer-songwriter from rural Virginia topped the Billboard Hot 100 despite having no prior chart history. What makes this even more remarkable is the fact that Oliver Anthony doesn’t even have a record deal and that “Rich Men North of Richmond” was the first time he used professional recording equipment instead of his mobile phone. The song went viral on YouTube for criticizing Washington politicians for ignoring the struggles of workers like Anthony, and was quickly embraced by right-wing Republicans.
In Rich Men North of Richmond only Anthony’s wailing voice and dobro guitar can be heard. There are no other arrangements or instruments. It’s an unfiltered sound that fuels the heartfelt country songs that come from the remote Virginia farm where the singer-songwriter lives with his three dogs and composes music in his spare time. A friend who works for RadioWV, a West Virginia Instagram page dedicated to the area’s musical talent, posted the video hoping to get 300,000 views. In less than two weeks, the song racked up over 31 million views on YouTube and 15 million streams on Spotify.
The song rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, a chart that combines audio and video streaming, radio airplay and physical sales of all music genres. Surprisingly, without radio commercials, Anthony’s song took first place. Billboard reported 17.5 million views and 147,000 downloads of the song, well above the 15,000 weekly downloads of a typical #1 song on the Hot 100 chart.
The heart of the song’s message lies in the chorus. “Living in the new world / With an old soul / Those rich men north of Richmond / God knows they all just want total control / Want to know what you’re thinking, want to know what you’re doing / And they don’t believe That you know, but I know you do / Because your dollar don’t suck and is taxed to infinity / Because of the rich men north of Richmond.”
In a lengthy Facebook post, Anthony reveals his official name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford and reflects on the song’s success, which came as a shock to someone who started making music in 2021 because he suffered from mental health issues and depression . “These songs have touched millions of people on such a deep level because they are sung by someone who feels the lyrics the moment they are sung. No editing, no agent, no bullshit. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music we should never have let go of.”
Lunsford, originally from Farmville, a small town west of Richmond, Southeast Virginia, writes, “My grandfather was Oliver Anthony, and ‘Oliver Anthony Music’ is a dedication not only to him but to the Appalachian people of the 1930s where he was born and raised. Dirty floors, seven kids, hard times.” It’s the backdrop to many country songs, such as Loretta Lynn’s early hit Coal Miner’s Daughter (1969).
Anthony shared some of his personal stories with his new followers. At the age of 17 he dropped out of high school and worked in various factories in North Carolina, most recently in a paper mill. “I worked the third shift six days a week for $14.50 an hour, hell on earth. In 2013, I fell badly at work and fractured my skull. It forced me to move back to Virginia. Because of complications from the injury, it took me about six months to return to work.” Since 2014, he has worked in sales at a manufacturing company, traveling throughout Virginia and the Carolinas and meeting other workers. “People are so damn sick of being neglected, divided and manipulated.”
After going viral, Anthony reflected on his newfound fame and what it meant to him. “I never wanted to be a full-time musician, let alone top the iTunes charts…People in the music industry give me blank stars when I turn down $8 million offers. I don’t want 6 coaches, 15 semitrailers and a jet. I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight.” Then he admits: “There’s nothing special about me. I’m not a good musician, I’m not a very good person. I’ve spent the last five years struggling with my mental health and using alcohol to drown it out.”
Many Americans have associated the song with right wingers, who often share the opinions and grievances expressed in Anthony’s lyrics. Issues such as high taxes, welfare abuse, and mistreatment of veterans, patriots, and working-class people. In part of the song, Anthony says politicians should focus on miners rather than “minors on islands,” a clear nod to multimillionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s private island in the Bahamas.
The song and its message have been touted by MAGA supporters like Marjorie Taylor Green, Matt Walsh and Kari Lake, as well as election deniers like Donald Trump. Backed by Trump in her run for Arizona governor, Lake made unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud in her defeat. Despite the right-wing takeover of his song, Anthony will only say that his political position has always taken center stage. But its position on the Billboard Hot 100 is undeniable.
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