Country singer Oliver Anthony, whose song “Rich Men North of Richmond” became a viral hit and was initially praised by leading conservatives for its anti-establishment message, said he is frustrated that his chart-topping tune was used in a prominent question at the Republican presidential debate this week.
In a YouTube video posted on Friday, the Farmville, Virginia, singer said he doesn’t like seeing people “wrap politics” around his message, which is focused on the lives of people who are, as in the lyrics of “Rich Men North of Richmond,” “workin’ all day/ Overtime hours for bullsh** pay.”
“It was funny seeing my song at the presidential debate, because it’s like I wrote that song about those people. For them to have to sit and have to listen to it, that cracks me up,” Anthony said.
“That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden. It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden,” he continued. “That song is written about the people on that stage, and a lot more more too, not just them, but definitely them.”
The singer also said he was frustrated that people took his lyrics, such as one line about “the obese milkin’ welfare,” as an attack on the poor.
“They’re sending a message out that the initial song that shot me up the radar, ‘Rich Men North of Ricmond,’ is an attack against the poor,” he said. “If you listen to my other music, all of my other songs that reference class defend the poor.”
He mentioned another song, “Doggonit,” which has lyrics like, “Republicans and Democrats, I swear they’re all just full of crap/ I’ve never seen a good city slicking, bureaucrat.”
The surprise mention in the debate is the latest strange chapter in the musician’s sudden rise to fame, after he hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, the first person to ever do so with no prior chart history.
One interesting thing about “Rich Men North Of Richmond” is that he (rightly) attacks the welfare state. Many conservatives think that it isn’t populist to criticize entitlements but in reality blue collar Americans are sick of having their money stolen to prop up a system that…
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) August 11, 2023
The singer briefly became a conservative darling when a video of him performing “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral earlier this month, then lost fans on the right when he gave an interview to Fox News and spoke positively about diversity.
“I don’t see our country lasting more than another generation the way we are headed. We have to go back to the roots of what made this country great in the first place, which was our sense of community,” he said in the interview. “We are the melting pot of the world. And that’s what makes us strong, our diversity. And we need to learn to harness that and appreciate it and not use it as a political tool to keep everyone separate from it.”
The comments provoked outrage online, as The Daily Beast has reported, with right-wing figures accusing Anthony of abandoning the ideals they believed he was singing about in his breakout song.