Rich Men North of Richmond: The hit song that has divided the US

Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men North of Richmond has become a huge viral hit, and the latest in a series of cultural flashpoints that reflect a deeply divided America, writes Caryn James.

Amidst the ongoing cultural divides shaping US politics, the right-wing faction seems to have discovered a potential icon in Oliver Anthony, whether he intentionally sought such a role or not. Just last week, Anthony unleashed his track titled “Rich Men North of Richmond” via a West Virginia radio station’s YouTube channel.

In an unexpected turn, this unassuming singer-songwriter has skyrocketed to viral fame, garnering an astonishing two million views within a mere two days, and an impressive cumulative count of over 20 million views to date.

The accompanying video, though modestly produced, features Anthony – a robust individual boasting a fiery red beard and armed with a guitar – positioned within a wooded backdrop. His presence exudes the essence of an ordinary blue-collar toiler.

The lyrics of the song resonate with those who harbor criticisms of Washington and the overbearing presence of big government. “I’ve traded my soul, toiling ceaselessly all through the day,” he passionately croons. “Extended labor hours, recompensed with nonsensical wages.

The state of affairs the world has deteriorated into is undeniably disheartening – particularly for individuals akin to both you and me.”

However, the song’s resonance wasn’t confined solely to the working-class demographic Anthony addressed; its impact reached far wider circles. In a matter of days, the composition captured the attention of right-wing politicians, who found in it a seamless alignment with various conservative narratives.

The song eloquently critiqued excessive government taxation and the provision of welfare, themes that resonated deeply with conservative ideologies.

Among the prominent figures voicing their support, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene emerged as a vocal advocate for the song, hailing it as “the anthem of the overlooked Americans.” Likewise, Kari Lake, the Republican endorsed by former President Trump during her gubernatorial campaign in Arizona, hailed it as the “defining anthem for this juncture in American history.

” The way of the song extended even to the digital pages of NBC News, where it was prominently featured as a “conservative anthem.”

Yet, the song’s influence extended beyond the confines of the right. On the opposing side, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut took note, asserting that “progressives would benefit from heeding this,” emphasizing that the concerns Anthony raised were issues that the left could address more effectively than the right. This tug-of-war of perspectives ignited a surge in media coverage surrounding the song, amplifying its impact exponentially.

Rich Men North of Richmond represents the image of the rural, put-upon white working-class hero

While the authentic musical allure of Anthony’s composition played a role, its emergence in both news and culture was significantly propelled by its potent political underpinnings. Intriguingly, a video posted just prior to the release of “Rich Men North of Richmond” revealed Anthony’s own political stance: “I find myself comfortably positioned at the center of the political spectrum.” Following the viral surge of his track, Anthony has conspicuously refrained from granting interviews and notably declined to respond to a request for comment from BBC Culture.

The track “Rich Men North of Richmond” stands as the latest addition to a sequence of contentious cultural flashpoints that lay bare the intricate links between popular culture and the deeply divided landscape of US politics. Another recent instance involves Jason Aldean’s country hit “Try That In A Small Town.

” This song’s video, replete with imagery portraying violence and Black Lives Matter protests, along with lyrics insinuating that “good old boy” Americans can administer justice themselves, ignited heated discussions. Music critic Jon Caramanica dissected the composition in his New York Times podcast, attributing it to “dog-whistle” tactics that cater to the conservative base.

However, Aldean vehemently refuted any racial connotations, asserting that the song instead celebrates the virtues of small-town life and values. He decried the criticism as not only baseless but also perilous in nature. The ongoing discourse encapsulates the intricate interplay between art, politics, and perception in the contemporary American landscape.

The newly premiered movie, “Sound of Freedom,” has surprisingly gained traction as a hit in the United States. While a portion of critics wholeheartedly embraced its narrative centered on combatting child trafficking, others raised concerns that it might inadvertently echo the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, insinuating that liberals are complicit in endorsing crimes of child exploitation. Director Alejandro Monteverde, responsible for helming “Sound of Freedom,” has actively engaged in interviews, expressing his profound dismay at being unfairly associated with the unfounded QAnon label.

Boosting sales

Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” portrays the archetype of a rural white working-class hero burdened by circumstances. The song aligns with the narrative of grievances often championed by certain right-wing politicians.

In his lyrics, he references “the obese milkin’ welfare” and calls for politicians to prioritize miners over unrelated matters. Some have drawn parallels between this line and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, though Anthony’s intentions remain unclear. In a candid video, Anthony mentions that his decision to speak out was spurred by the normalization of child abuse, a concern that struck a chord with him.

In a parallel instance, when backlash ensued over Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” video, his wife Brittany Aldean defended him on social media, urging attention to real issues like child trafficking. This sentiment echoes themes from the QAnon conspiracy narrative, drawing critique from some quarters.

Though the “Try That in a Small Town” video’s controversial imagery was later removed due to copyright issues, the subsequent uproar significantly bolstered sales. Following suit, the current controversy could herald a turning point for Anthony, previously known for songs centered on drinking and labor.

In a personal video, he shares his journey toward sobriety and newfound spirituality. His political stance, if he chooses to address it, might shed more light in the future. Presently, his song has become yet another potential weapon in the ongoing culture wars.

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