The musician behind “Rich Men North of Richmond,” the country song that launched him to fame earlier this month, seemed to find deep irony at his work being mentioned during this week’s Republican presidential debate.
“This song is written about the people on this stage,” Oliver Anthony said in a video posted to YouTube on Friday. “And a lot more besides her. But definitely her.”
“Rich Men North of Richmond” was the subject of Fox News host Martha MacCallum’s first question to the candidates, which included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie : “Why is this song so flashy?” “Is that a nerve in this country right now?”
DeSantis was the first to answer and dodged the question to attack President Joe Biden. Christie didn’t respond directly either, instead attacking others on stage.
Anthony was virtually unknown until he released “Rich Men,” a protest anthem that bemoaned the struggles of working-class life and was immediately seized upon by Conservatives as a supposed critique of their political rivals. Washington, DC is about a two-hour drive north of Richmond, Virginia.
However, Anthony said the right-wing experts are dead wrong.
“It’s annoying to see people on conservative news trying to identify with me like I’m one of them,” he said in the thoughtful 10-minute video.
“It’s annoying to see how certain musicians and politicians act like we’re friends and like we’re fighting the same fight here, like we’re trying to get the same message across,” he continued. “Many people have approached me and I have tried to be polite to everyone. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people over the past two weeks.”
He didn’t name any names.
For the past two weeks, the song has been trending on social media and has fueled a number of Fox News segments. The station spent at least three hours discussing Anthony’s song in the days leading up to the debate. according to Media Matters. Right-wing podcaster Joe Rogan, Fox News host Laura Ingraham and far-right extremists Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro also praised the move.
“The music side is exciting and all the Billboard charts, iTunes charts and all that crap – that’s great,” Anthony said. “But what was exciting was the conversations I had with people and the things I learned about the human mind and all kinds of other things in just a few short weeks.”
He also appeared puzzled that his song was brought up at the debate.
“The fact that they have to sit there and listen to this is driving me nuts,” Anthony said. “It was funny to see the reaction to that. This song has nothing to do with Joe Biden, you know? It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden.”
“Rich Men North of Richmond” has caused controversy because of his lyrics. At points, the song expresses sentiments that resonate across political lines: “I sold my soul, worked all day / worked overtime for bullshit wages”; “Those rich men north of Richmond / God knows they all just want total control.”
Other texts are more reminiscent of right-wing topics of discussion, for example where Anthony complains about “the obese milking helper”. “If you’re 5’7″ and 300 pounds, you shouldn’t be taxing your bag of fudge rounds,” he sings. He also references the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, hinting at darker conspiratorial undertones: “I wish politicians would be on the lookout for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere.”
In Friday’s video, Anthony said he saw a lot of reactions to his song on YouTube. Many spoke out positively, he said, but he was disturbed by accusations that his song was “an attack on the poor”. Referring to some of his other lyrics, which are more directly critical of the wealth gap, he said his problem lay with “the inefficiency of government” and not with welfare recipients themselves.
“It’s difficult to convey a message about your political ideology or your belief in the world in three minutes and a few changes. But I hate when this song is used as a weapon,” said Anthony.
Towards the end of the video, Anthony uttered a worried tone. “I don’t know what this country will be like in 10 or 20 years if nothing changes,” he said. “I don’t know what this world will be like.”