An Old Soul in a New World
Introducing Oliver Anthony
Two months ago, Oliver Anthony was playing his guitar at a North Carolina farmer’s market for an audience of twenty people. This weekend, he played the same market to an audience of hundreds, while his songs took the iTunes top ten by storm. At #1 is one viral hit that made the difference, a tune with a hook so fun you want to just say it a few times out loud: “Rich Men North of Richmond.” It’s like the word “smock.” Smock, smock, smock. Rich men north of Richmond. Try it. Fun, right?
For those of us on Twitter, it was fascinating to watch in real time as Anthony’s life changed quite literally overnight. Everything seems to have started when conservative influencer Chase Steely spotlighted a live performance of the song. It was professionally shot for a radio station, but the setup was simple. Anthony appears to be alone, except for a couple of dogs. They fit with the general vibe. A vibe he wastes no time establishing from the opening lines:
Well I’ve been selling my soul, working all day
Overtime hours, for bullshit pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away
It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is. Oh it is.
Who exactly are the “rich men” who are bringing about this state of affairs? Well, you know. The ones north of Richmond. What’s their political affiliation? It’s never specified, because it doesn’t matter. As Anthony elaborates in some commentary, they all “serve the same master.”
Anthony describes his own politics as “pretty dead center down the aisle,” which is interesting, given that he owes his viral success exclusively to right-wing social media. But while his lyrics might implicitly skewer “rich men” on both sides of the aisle, they’re still right-coded. In three minutes, they try (with mixed success) to touch every third rail from wages to welfare policy to government surveillance to the male suicide epidemic to child sex trafficking. (Epstein Island even makes a surprise appearance in the groan-worthy line, “I wish politicians would look out for miners/Not just minors on an island somewhere.”) Combine all this with Anthony’s fierce ginger beard and cigarettes-’n-whisky snarl, and bam: a phenom is born.