Oliver Anthony, the country-folk singer behind this year’s most surprising No. 1 hit “Rich Men North of Richmond,” delivered a message to fans in a teary-eyed, 10-minute video posted to YouTube.
In the video, Anthony addressed his viral song’s mention at Wednesday’s GOP debate. Moderator Martha MacCallum opened the debate by asking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis why he thinks the message of “Rich Men North of Richmond” is striking a chord with Americans. (DeSantis responded by bashing “Bidenomics” and referencing Congress: “Those rich men north of Richmond have put us in this situation.”)
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“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.”
He continued, “It was funny seeing my song at the presidential debate, because 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. It was funny seeing the response to it. That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden — it’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song is written about the people on that stage — and a lot more, too. Not just them, but definitely them.”
Anthony went on to emphasize that “Rich Men North of Richmond” is about people, not politics. “It’s hard to get a message out about your political ideology or your belief about the world in three minutes and change. I hate to see that song being weaponized,” he said. “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 got to stop.”
Anthony noted that the people responding to the song are not “conservative people,” or “even necessarily Americans.”
“I don’t know that I’ve seen anything get such a positive response from such a diverse group of people, and I think that terrifies the people that I sing about in that song,” Anthony said. “They’ve done everything they can in 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.”
The Farmville, Va., singer-songwriter added that he is working on “a lot” of new songs, but he doesn’t know how his music career will take shape.
“I don’t know how many shows I’m going to do and how many tours I’m gonna put on,” Anthony said. “But I am going to stay true to my word. I’m going to write, produce and distribute authentic music that represents people and not politics.”
Anthony has previously said that he’s already turned down multi-million dollar offers and is in no hurry to sign a record deal.
Just as he took aim at conservatives for “weaponizing” and misunderstanding the message behind “Rich Men North of Richmond,” Anthony addressed liberals who interpreted the song as “an attack against the poor.” (The song features a lyric about “the obese milkin’ welfare.”)
“If you listen to my other music, it’s obvious that all of my songs that reference class defend the poor,” Anthony said, mentioning his song “Doggonit,” in which he sings: “Needles in the street, folks hardly surviving / On sidewalks next to highways full of cars self-driving.”
Anthony said his message pertains to “the inefficiencies of the government,” and the welfare lyric in “Rich Men” is based on an article he read about kids in Richmond “missing meals over the summer because their parents can’t afford to feed them.”
“We can fuel a proxy war in a foreign land, but we can’t take care of our own,” Anthony said.
He added of “Rich Men”: “30-some million people understood what I was saying, but it only takes a few to try to derail the train, to try to send out false narratives.”
Later on in the video, Anthony began crying as he said, “I don’t know what this country is going to look like in 10 or 20 years if things don’t change. I don’t know what this world is going to look like. Something has to be done about it. There’s been too many people die. There’s been too many people sacrifice everything they’ve had. People die before they’re even 18. Just for us to all sit here and do the stupid shit it is that we do every day that keeps us all beat down and divided. That’s what I want to see stop. And I’m going to do everything I can do influence that, at all costs. Even if it does throw my world upside down.”
Earlier this week, Anthony made Billboard Hot 100 history as the first artist ever to hit No. 1 with no prior chart history in any form.
Watch Anthony’s full video below.
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