Oliver Anthony On Republican Debate Featuring “Rich Men North Of Richmond”: “I Wrote That Song About Those People”
Oliver Anthony, the man with the current #1 song in America, does not seem especially comfortable serving as a human cudgel for right-wing political types. Anthony’s “Rich Men North Of Richmond,” a lo-fi country ramble with some risible and incoherent politics, took off after right-wing influencers hyped the song up on Twitter, “Rich Men North Of Richmond” became a viral sensation and debuted at #1, mostly on paid downloads. Now, the song is a political talking point, and Oliver doesn’t want to represent the viewpoint of the people who are putting him forward as a voice of the common man.
On Wednesday night, the non-Donald Trump candidates in the Republican presidential primary gathered for their first debate, and the first question that moderator Martha MacCallum asked was about “Rich Men North Of Richmond.” MacCallum got a big applause break when she mentioned the song, and she asked Florida governor Ron DeSantis why it’s “striking such a nerve in this country right now.” DeSantis ranted a bit about Joe Biden and a country in decline, and he added. “We also cannot succeed when the Congress spends trillions and trillions of dollars! Those rich men north of Richmond have put us in this situation!”
A few days ago, Oliver Anthony gave his first interview since the success of “Rich Men North Of Richmond” to Fox News, and he said some positive things about the idea of diversity. In the process, he angered a lot of racists. Two weeks ago, in an introductory video posted on YouTube shortly after “Rich Men North Of Richmond,” Anthony described himself as being in the political center. Today, Anthony posted a video that’s labelled as a sequel to that introductory video. He’s sitting in what appears to be the front of a pickup truck, and you can hear rain drumming down on the roof. (I guess it rained in Farmville today. It’s been clear skies in Charlottesville.) Over the course of 10 minutes, Anthony addressed the response to his song and its use in the Republican debate.
Anthony started the video by claiming that he wasn’t trying to advocate a particular political viewpoint:
The one thing that has bothered me is seeing people wrap politics up into this. I’m disappointed to see — like, it’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me, like I’m one of them. It’s aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies and act like we’re fighting the same struggle here, like we’re trying to present the same message.
Anthony then talked about his song being a talking point in the presidential debate, specifically saying that he wrote the song about the politicians on that stage and about others like them. He also says that the song is connecting with people across the political spectrum, and not just in America:
It was funny seeing my song at the presidential debate. Because it’s like, I wrote that song about those people, you know? So for them to have to sit there and listen to that, that cracks me up. But it was funny kinda seeing the response to it. That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden! It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song was written about the people on that stage, and a lot more, too — not just them, but definitely them.
It’s cool seeing some of my other music come out because people are, I guess, starting to appreciate and understand what I’m trying to say. It’s hard to get a message out about your political ideology or your belief about the world in three minutes and some change. But I do hate to see that song being weaponized. Like, I see the right trying to characterize me as one of their own, and I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess, in retaliation. That shit’s gotta stop.
If you watch the response videos on YouTube to this song, it’s not conservative people responding to this song. It’s not even necessarily Americans responding to this song. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything get such positive response from such a diverse group of people, and I think that terrifies the people that I sing about in that song. And they’ve done everything they can, the last two weeks, to make me look like a fool, to spin my words, to try to stick me in a political bucket. And they can keep trying, but I’m just gonna keep on writing.
Anthony goes on to address “the left” and the idea that “Rich Men North Of Richmond” is “an attack against the poor.” On the song, Anthony sing about “milkin’ welfare” and about fat people using government checks to buy Fudge Rounds. In the video, Anthony insists that he’s on the side of the poor, and he quotes the lyrics of his song “Doggon It“:
Since I have addressed the conservatives, I do need to address the left as well. Because they’re sending the message out that that initial song that sort of shot me up the radar, “Rich Men North Of Richmond,” is an attack against the poor. If you listen to my other music, it’s obvious that all of my songs that address class defend the poor. “Doggon It” is a good example of that: “Needles in the street, folks hardly surviving on sidewalks next to sidewalks full of cars, self-drivin’. The poor keep hurtin’, and the rich keep thrivin’.” That’s what I like to sing about.
Anthony also talks about reading an article about kids in Richmond who are on welfare and who have to subsist on school lunch because there’s not enough food at home, and he says that a lot of EBT payments go toward snack foods. He continues, “Welfare only makes up a small percentage of our budget, you know? We can fuel a proxy war in a foreign land, but we can’t take care of our own. That’s all the song’s trying to say.” It’s not what the song does say, but I appreciate the clarification.
You can watch the video below.