First of all, Oliver Anthony can sing and he can write songs. The stunning popularity of Rich Men North of Richmond is not just because it’s message has touched a chord with a disaffected and derided rural working class core.
An off-grid farmer who admits to having struggled with addiction during the covid lockdown, Anthony only joined twitter a few days ago after a song he wrote exploded onto the internet and became an overnight sensation.
Everybody’s talking about Rich Men North of Richmond because it resonates in a way that captures an unexpressed feeling that the disenfranchised have been forbidden to express. The message resonates, the singing resonates, Oliver Anthony’s experience resonates. The song catches all of these intangible “felt” things in a perfect surge of empathetic creativity.
In three days it racked up 5.6 million views on X (formely Twitter), and 9.6 million on Youtube in five days.
“Rich Men North of Richmond” is the most listened to track in the world in the past 24 hours.
This American working-man’s protest song has millions & millions of plays.
Sung by an off-the-grid farmer in the countryside with his dogs.
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) August 11, 2023
These are the types of numbers that are only achieved by aggressive push campaigns run by the marketing side of big recording companies. With Anthony it seems entirely organic. In fact the youtube recording that went viral was recorded and posted by a local radio station, not by Anthony.
Almost as intense as the talk about the quality of the song, was the talk about the subject and what that represents. Predictably the left wing media and cultural establishment disapproved. More puzzling is the disapproval from the libertarian conservative types who have long past conceded the production of culture to the left.
Rolling Stone turned their irritation on the Virginian farmer who they correctly surmise has an appeal to the forgotten and demeaned, the people that Clinton named “deplorable”.
“Right-Wing Influencers Just Found Their Favorite New Country Song” reads the headline.
“A look at the lyrics,” continues Rolling Stone, “may suggest another reason why “Rich Men North of Richmond” is appealing to right-wing influencers. Anthony rails against high taxes and the value of the dollar”.
Oliver Anthony knows the relationship between melody and lyrics and how to make each magnify the other. We can hear this and feel this again and again. He delivers a story on what is wrong with his country as he sees with extraordinary clarity within just 30 seconds. Then the twist. A phrase and a cadence that summarizes that social and political dysfunction.
“Living in the new world” he sings, where that word “new” plunges through a melodic cadence and a lyrical tremolo which informs you at every intuitive level that this new world is an affront and a calamity delivered by the Rich Men North of Richmond.
Anthony after all represents the type of person who feels the disruptive effects of this “new normal” that we are told to get used to, most. The type who is “working all day, overtime hours, for bullshit pay.”
This is the type of person who was suspicious of the regime of lockdown and wild deficit spending that accompanied the Covid panic, and who was demonized for leaving their houses to protest, even while they were also leaving their houses to stack shelves and deliver goods to those who had the luxury of working from home.
We all knew this would result in inflation, but that didn’t concern the laptop class, who aren’t on an hourly wage getting the lowest income.
We all remember that it was the workers of physical jobs who were subject to the most excessive state brutality when it came to upholding the covid emergency narrative. In Dublin, the Rich Men South of the Liffey told us the protestors were all “far-right”, though it appeared to us at Gript that they were mainly working class. Of course as every proper-thinking progressive knows, “the far-roysh” have to be stopped with the most determined force (not shying from the use of violence when necessary of course) or else they might get eh… violent.
This pattern was replicated all over the West. In Melbourne, for instance, it was the construction workers who came under the most baleful stasi-style harassment from the Australian police.
The hourly wage earner remembers this and remembers the pious lecturing of the political establishment and the laptop class.
Some have complained that Oliver Anthony should keep politics out of his music. Stay in his lane to borrow a condescending phrase from the left.
Political music sucks says one twitter handle which is fairly reflective of a bland anti-cultural establishment conservative point of view.
Hate to ruin the moment but political music kinda sucks https://t.co/X55NswKBNW
— Fairfax County Conservative 🇺🇲 (@NOVAenjoyer) August 13, 2023
Politics ruins music is the point of view here which ignores the impact of countless political songwriters such as Liam Weldon, Woodie Guthrie, Dick Gaughan, Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan – and Pádraig Pearse. The funny thing is, the people coming out with this opinion probably even admire Neil Young’s music.
All these “political music suckz” guys are incredibly dumb. The most popular songs and bands of the 20th century were either covertly or overtly political.
These unserious people are dangerously impotent and should never be given any authority over a political movement.
— BowTiedRanger (@BowTiedRanger) August 13, 2023
Artists should stick to the old ways like Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others who knew to keep music pure! https://t.co/WZVQ5AlPWs
— Cernovich (@Cernovich) August 11, 2023
In fact, what’s interesting in today’s music world is that there are no protest song writers of note writing about the left wing populist working class issues that the old left wing liberals used to write about.
The old working-mans-club ballads about Factory workers don’t interest today’s left wing artists. In those circles a song about how hard it is to be trans in Virginia would have unlimited institutional support.
This is perhaps the most interesting facet that Rich Men North of Richmond represents. The turn of the elite left against the working class, and the awareness of the working class of who their enemies are in this new orientation. It is a phenomenon that is beginning to show in polls and attitudes.
A significant demographic are turning against the establishment and are turning towards populist voices. This is evident all over Europe in recent voting and polling patterns.
How this might affect the politics of the next two years is obviously one thing the establishment want to guard against, and so Anthony and his message comes under attack from the cultural establishment while the weak-bellied conservatives shoot angry glances imploring him to stay non-political.
The culture war has moved on from the fence sitters. The last few years have forced politics and policy into every cranny of people’s lives, and nowhere is this more felt than in the inflation that has hit the globe in the wake of covid and the war in Ukraine.
When Anthony sings “when your dollar aint shit and it’s taxed to no end” his audience appreciates exactly what he’s driving at because they are aware that inflation is a direct consequence of government spending. They know they didn’t get the benefit but they are paying the cost. They know that that the inflation of the money supply sucks the value of their labour away. With inflation consistently touching 10% they understand seigniorage – the de facto tax felt by the holders of money when more money is printed – and they know that that stolen wealth is going to the Rich Men North of Richmond and their friends.
The vast majority of the rich don’t add value but instead have created a Ponzi scheme. For example that $111 billion in money isn’t going to Ukraine. It’s going to the rich men north of Richmond.
If you’re educated why don’t you understand art? Also your neck is 13 inches. https://t.co/rDpEgGLx6z
— Cernovich (@Cernovich) August 13, 2023
The worm is turning. Those who appreciate art and understand its place in society understand this.