Whether Oliver Anthony likes it or not, the right wing may have found its newest hero in the culture wars that continue to polarize US politics. Anthony, an unknown singer-songwriter, became a viral success last week when his song Rich Men North of Richmond, which decries Washington and big government, was released on the YouTube channel of a West Virginia radio station.
The song has had more than 20 million views overall. Anthony, a huge, bearded man with a guitar in the crudely produced video, stands in a wooded area while seeming and sounding like a typical blue-collar worker. He sings, “I’ve been working all day, overtime hours for bullshit pay/I’ve been selling my soul.” “It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to/ For people like me and people like you.”
But not just the “you” he was talking to in the working class was paying heed. Within a few days, right-wing politicians were endorsing the song, which fits in well with certain conservative narratives and criticizes welfare recipients and overtaxed governments.
One person who labeled the song “the anthem of the forgotten Americans” was Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, who supported Trump, called it “the anthem of this moment in American history.”
The story was picked up by NBC News, who referred to it as a “conservative anthem” on their website. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, wrote on the left that “progressives should listen to this” and that Anthony’s troubles were “all problems the left has better solutions to than the right.” The song received a flood of media coverage.
Rich Men North of Richmond represents the image of the rural, put-upon white working-class hero
Regardless of Anthony’s song’s true musical appeal, its strong political message played a part in its cultural and media success. Anthony, though, stated: “I sit pretty dead center on politics” in a video that was published the day before Rich Men was released.
He hasn’t given interviews since his song went viral, and he didn’t respond to a BBC Culture request for comment. The most recent contentious cultural flashpoint, Rich Men North of Richmond, shows how pop culture and the sharply divided US political environment are linked.
Other recent instances include the country song Try That In A Small Town by Jason Aldean, which featured violent visuals and Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the video and had lyrics that said “good old boy” Americans could uphold the law on their own. On his New York Times podcast, music critic Jon Caramanica described the song as “dog-whistle stuff, red meat for the [conservative] base”.
Aldean, calling the criticism “not only meritless but dangerous,” insisted that the song had nothing to do with race and was instead a celebration of small-town values.
While some critics accepted the recently released movie Sound of Freedom’s anti-child trafficking message at its value, others claimed it repeated the unsubstantiated QAnon conspiracy theory about liberals tolerating sex crimes against children. The Sound of Freedom director, Alejandro Monteverde, has expressed in interviews how heartbroken he is by the fake QAnon moniker.