How Oliver Anthony’s ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ became a chart-topping conservative anthem | CNN (2023)

How Oliver Anthony’s ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ became a chart-topping conservative anthem | CNN (1)

Oliver Anthony performs "Rich Men North of Richmond."


In a matter of days, Oliver Anthony’s working-class anthem, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” has gone from viral sensation to legitimate country hit.

The song, which channels the previously unknown singer’s anger at working hard and paying taxes just to “waste ‘his’ life away,” has racked up millions of views on social media in less than a week and ascended to the top of Apple Music’s Top 100 USA chart and the iTunes top 40 US country chart, dethroning Luke Combs’ cover of “Fast Car” and the controversial Jason Aldean single “Try That in a Small Town.”

Anthony’s single has courted controversy, too, for its lyrics referring to politicians, “obese” welfare recipients “milking” the system, and “minors on an island.” Notable conservatives, from US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to commentators like Matt Walsh, have adopted the song.

(Video) EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Oliver Anthony discusses his hit song ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ #shorts

CNN has reached out to Anthony through the email addresses he’s publicly shared but has yet to hear back. For his part, Anthony has not given an interview with a major outlet about the song. Nor has he commented on the song’s adoption mostly by conservatives.

Instead, he’s thanked his millions of new fans who see themselves reflected in the song’s lyrics.

“I appreciate the compliments, but … I’m not a good musician,” Anthony said in a YouTube video posted on Monday. “I hardly know my way around the guitar. My singing’s OK. That’s not what made this (success). It’s you, and the struggles in your life. That’s what’s made this what it is.”

Here’s what we know about how Oliver Anthony went from a self-described Virginia factory worker to a bonafide star in a little more than a week – and how “Rich Men North of Richmond” became a cause célèbre among many listeners on the right.

Oliver Anthony’s star rose rapidly

Up until last week, the Virginia-based musician, whose real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford, used his phone to record videos of himself singing his own songs, like “Aint Gotta Dollar” and “Ive Got to Get Sober.”

Anthony said in a recent YouTube clip he started writing his own songs in 2021, at a time when he was struggling with substance use.

“Things were obviously not good for a lot of people, and in some respects, I was one of those people … even things that I did care about didn’t mean anything to me anymore,” he said. “I found an outlet in this music.”

In late January, Anthony’s YouTube channel had just over 350 subscribers, per the Internet Archive, a digital library that archives websites at different points in time. Anthony’s most-viewed video at that time was “Aint Gotta Dollar,” a ditty about making one’s own joy and comfort in lieu of spending, with 1,500 views, according to the archive.

And then, on August 8, the YouTube channel RadioWV, which films and shares outdoor performances by musicians in Appalachia, posted a clip of Anthony singing “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which he later said was his first time playing with a “real microphone.” (CNN has reached out to RadioWV and is waiting to hear back.)

The day before the song was posted online, Anthony shared a 9-and-a-half minute video filmed in his car introducing himself to potential fans whom he hoped would discover the song. (It’s since been viewed over 877,000 times as of Thursday morning).

(Video) ‘Right-wing anthem’: Hit country song ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ under fire

“Rich Men North of Richmond” touches upon Anthony’s time as a factory worker in Western North Carolina, he said in the video shared before the song was posted online. Its title appears to refer to politicians in Washington, DC, who Anthony said “make life a little more difficult than it should be.”

Its chorus goes:

“Livin’ in the new world/

With an old soul/

These rich men north of Richmond/

Lord knows they all just wanna have total control/

Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do/

And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do/

‘Cause your dollar ain’t s**t and it’s taxed to no end/

‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond.”

(Video) Why Oliver Anthony's Music Is Stirring Up Controversy

The song also includes an apparent reference to Jeffrey Epstein, whose estate was sued after his death over Epstein allegedly trafficking girls and young women to his home in the US Virgin Islands. One line goes, “I wish politicians would look out for miners/And not just minors on an island somewhere.”

Anthony said he felt compelled to speak about human trafficking because he felt it was “becoming normalized.”

Since RadioWV shared the video on its YouTube and TikTok accounts, it’s received a combined 20 million views as of Thursday. Anthony posted the clip on X, formerly known as Twitter, on August 10, thanking those who’d already found it and reached out with their support. And from there, its popularity ballooned even further, with more than 25 million views.

His song has been praised by prominent conservatives

In recent days, the song has been widely lauded by far-right politicians including former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, who called it an “anthem for our times.” It’s also received praise from country stars like Travis Tritt and John Rich of Big & Rich.

Conservative media personality Jason Howerton said he has offered to pay to produce Anthony’s record and that Rich had agreed to produce it. (A representative for Rich told CNN on Wednesday that there “isn’t much to report on” about Anthony and Rich working together. CNN has reached out to Howerton and is waiting to hear back.)

Anthony, meanwhile, said in the video posted the day before the RadioWV performance was uploaded that he sits “pretty dead center down the aisle on politics” and finds fault with leaders on both the left and the right.

How Oliver Anthony’s ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ became a chart-topping conservative anthem | CNN (2)

A screenshot from Jason Aldean's music video for "Try That In A Small Town." Anthony's song has been compared to Aldean's for their rural perspectives and embrace by conservatives.

(Video) John Rich Slams Record Labels Trying to Sign Oliver Anthony

The singer parlayed his online success into a live performance on Sunday in Currituck, North Carolina, where hundreds of people attended, and some waited for hours to meet him after the show.

Anthony said in a Facebook post Thursday that he “never wanted to be a full time musician” and is “sitting in such a weird place in (his) life right now.”

Though he did not address his song’s booming popularity among conservatives, he ended his Facebook post, which included comments on his past work and his feelings about his newfound fame, by condemning the way the “Internet has divided all of us.”

“Freedom of speech is such a precious gift,” he wrote. “Don’t let them take it away from you.”

Anthony thanked his millions of new listeners in a video shared Monday and asked them what they could do to “maintain this energy” even after “Oliver Anthony’s long gone and forgotten about.”

“There used to be such a strong sense of community in this country, and you still see it a lot in small-town America, but even there it’s dying out,” he said in the latest video. “I’m no Dr. Phil, but I just feel … it would be wonderful to capitalize on that to help other people in your life – maybe people that are different from you.”

Country music has long been dominated by songs about the working class – including welfare recipients

Anthony’s song is the latest in a long line of anthems that address the challenges of working-class Americans. Country musicians have dedicated songs to working class listeners, particularly those living in the Bible Belt and Appalachia, since the genre was founded.

Many beloved country artists, like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, were born into poverty and incorporated their early experiences into some of their most memorable songs. But many of those songs also emphasized solidarity with people everywhere who are underpaid and overworked but still persevere (think Parton’s pop-country anthem “9 to 5,” Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and Cash’s “Oney”).

Anthony’s hit is more reminiscent of songs like Tritt’s “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man,” a more overtly political anthem that apparently decries taxes – “Uncle Sam’s got his hands in my pockets/And he helps himself each time he needs a dime” – and Merle Haggard’s “Working Man’s Blues,” in which the singer proudly says “Never been on welfare, and that’s one place I won’t be.”

The protagonists in many country standards pride themselves on never having been on welfare, and some go as far as accusing welfare recipients of spending their financial aid on luxuries; Guy Drake’s “Welfare Cadillac” was written from the perspective of a hypothetical welfare recipient with ten kids who bought a brand-new Cadillac with his welfare stipend.

(Video) Thousands of fans attend 'Rich Men North of Richmond' singer Oliver Anthony's show

Anthony’s song has been criticized by some listeners for its depiction of welfare recipients as unhealthy and dishonest: “Lord, we got folks in the street/ain’t got nothin’ to eat/and the obese milkin’ welfare. Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds/taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds.” (Tritt’s song “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man” portrays “rich” men as “fat” and “poor” men as “thin” in its final chorus.)

So far, Anthony has not said much to media outlets about his song’s rapid ascent and his sudden fame, though he did say in Thursday’s Facebook post that “people in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers.”

“I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight,” he said on Facebook. “These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they’re being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung.”


How Rich Men North of Richmond reached top of the charts? ›

“Rich Men North of Richmond” drew 22.9 million streams (up 31%) and sold 117,000 downloads (down 20%) in the Aug. 18-24 tracking week, according to Luminate. Not being promoted to radio, the song also tallied 2.3 million airplay audience impressions (up 310%). The single logs a second week at No.

Is Oliver Anthony a conservative? ›

Some accused him of faking his "hillbilly accent" or that he was a left-wing extremist. But Anthony, who has asserted he is a centrist on the political spectrum, said he's tired of always trying to correct people.

What does Oliver Anthony say his song is about? ›

The song, in which Anthony sings about working hard and paying taxes just to “waste (his) life away,” has been embraced by conservatives. Anthony, though, was critical in the video toward both sides of the political spectrum and said his ballad “has nothing to do” with Democratic President Joe Biden.

How much is Oliver Anthony worth? ›

What's Oliver Anthony's net worth? His estimated net worth ranges between $1 and $2 million.

How did Rich Men North of Richmond get so popular? ›

"Rich Men North of Richmond" is a song by American country-folk singer Oliver Anthony (credited under the name "Oliver Anthony Music") that was released in August 2023. The song became an overnight viral hit after gaining traction on social media.

What did Oliver Anthony say about conservatives? ›

“It's aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me, like I'm one of them,” Anthony said. “It's aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we're buddies and act like we're fighting the same struggle, like we're trying to present the same message.”

Why is Green Arrow liberal? ›

Since Green Lantern was essentially a space cop, Green Arrow was established as his boisterous, liberal foil as the two encountered many prevalent social issues, including racism, radicalism, the environment, and drug use.

Is Oliver Stone a Democrat or Republican? ›

Stone has been described as having left-wing political views.

Did Oliver Anthony write a song about Republicans? ›

Singer of 'Rich Men North of Richmond' Says It's Not a Republican Anthem. “I wrote this song about those people,” Oliver Anthony said of his No. 1 hit, after presidential candidates answered a question about his Billboard hit at their first debate.

What song did Oliver Anthony play at the presidential debate? ›

'I wrote that song about those people': Country singer speaks out after song used at GOP debate. Oliver Anthony, the country singer whose song "Rich Men North of Richmond" rocketed to the top of the Billboard 100, spoke out after his song was used as the crux of a question at the first Republican presidential debate.

What is the song on the GOP debate? ›

The viral song 'Rich Men North of Richmond' made its way to the RNC debate stage. Oliver Anthony performs in Moyock, North Carolina, on Saturday.

Is Oliver a billionaire? ›

In the series, Oliver, a billionaire playboy, who claimed to have spent five years shipwrecked on Lian Yu, a mysterious island in the North China Sea, returns home to Starling City (later renamed "Star City") to fight crime and corruption as a secret vigilante whose weapon of choice is a bow and arrow.

Where does Oliver Anthony live? ›

Personal life. Anthony was born and raised in the Piedmont area of Virginia and currently resides in Farmville, Virginia. As of August 2023, Anthony lived with his wife and two children in a $750 camper on an off-the-grid property, where he said he intends to raise livestock.

Does Oliver Anthony have a wife? ›

Oliver Anthony, family man? The "Rich Men of North Richmond" singer (real name Christopher Lunsford) is allowing a glimpse into his personal life and shares that it's not just the three dogs that live with him in a camper in Virginia. Anthony has a wife and two kids, with another on the way.

Is Rich Men North of Richmond number 1 song? ›

“Rich Men North of Richmond,” the out-of-nowhere viral protest song by Oliver Anthony Music, is the country's No. 1 single for a second time, after playing a key role in last week's Republican primary debate.

Is Rich Man North of Richmond number one? ›

After enjoying a historic opening week on Billboard's Hot 100 songs chart, Oliver Anthony's “Rich Men North of Richmond” now spends a second week topping a list that also includes fresh releases from Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo and Gunna. The single first launched to No. 1 in the tracking week ending Aug.

How much did Oliver Anthony make from Rich Men North of Richmond? ›

I In two weeks, Oliver Anthony went from an unknown artist to the owner of the No. 1 track on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the surprise hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” — and in the process went from earning less than $200 in weekly royalties to roughly $356,000 in his chart-topping week.


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