The internet (or at least the most “online” right-wing corners of it) is abuzz about the hit new song “Rich Men North of Richmond” from heretofore unknown country/folk singer Oliver Anthony.
Released late last week, the song features a solo Anthony on his guitar as he belts out, with great sorrow and personal hurt, lyrics complaining about the falling value of the dollar, the heavy burden of taxation, welfare recipients’ purchase of junk food, and the sex trafficking shenanigans of Jefferey Epstein.
Rich Men North of Richmond has been uploaded to all major streaming platforms and will show up there in a few days.
Im still in a state of shock at the outpouring of love I’ve seen in the comments, messages and emails. I’m working to respond to everyone as quickly as possible. pic.twitter.com/iScaYp9AWQ
— Oliver Anthony (@AintGottaDollar) August 11, 2023
These ills and many others can be blamed, as the title suggests, on “those rich men north of Richmond” and their totalitarian aspirations.
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
Anti-elitism is not the most novel sentiment for a folky country song.
Still, some genuinely funny lines (“I wish politicians would look out for miners, and not just minors on an island somewhere,” and “if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds, taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds”) made funnier still by Anthony’s incongruously soulful performance add life and originality to the song’s generic populism.
Sure, one might quibble with the idea that food stamps are primarily responsible for driving up taxes and inflation, even if they are spent on fudge rounds. But the song’s not meant to be a white paper. If you don’t take it too seriously, you can have a fun and light-hearted time jamming out to the surprise viral hit.
Regrettably, people have begun to take the song much too seriously indeed. Rolling Stone notes that the song has been a hit with much of the online right, which has treated the song as this generation’s ballad for the forgotten man.
Conservative personality Matt Walsh praised it for supposedly injecting some flesh-and-blood beauty into this sterile world. “The main reason this song resonates with so many people isn’t political. It’s because the song is raw and authentic. We are suffocated by artificiality,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
The main reason this song resonates with so many people isn’t political. It’s because the song is raw and authentic. We are suffocated by artificiality. Everything around us is fake. A guy in the woods pouring his heart over his guitar is real.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) August 11, 2023
Over at The Federalist, Samuel Mangold-Lenett describes the song as “a haunting, bittersweet lamentation for an America that existed not too long ago but may never exist again” and one that “depicts a deep yearning to return to a version of America in which people were not plagued by existential economic and cultural woes every moment of every day.”
The love fest is not an exclusively right-wing affair either. Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) sees within the lyrics a “path to realignment.” Now that rural voters’ hearts have been laid bare by the song, they can be won back over to progressive politics.
a. I think progressives should listen to this. In part, bc it’s just a good tune.
b. But also bc it shows the path of realignment. Anthony sings about the soullessness of work, shit wages and the power of the elites.
All problems the left has better solutions to than the right. https://t.co/pQ64yFeBBd
— Chris Murphy ???? (@ChrisMurphyCT) August 14, 2023
Perhaps this reaction is what one might expect for a song with lyrics that are themselves a little “too online.” Nevertheless, people need to get a grip.
Contra Walsh, the right-wing meme politics running through the lyrics is exactly why the song resonates with people. If the song were instead an authentic recounting of getting drunk or being unemployed, the track probably would have gotten about as much attention as Anthony’s earlier releases.
Sad country songs speaking to poverty and social anomie didn’t start with food stamps and “Epstein didn’t kill himself” memes. Something tells me that the people who kept coal country folk songs like “Which Side Are You On?” alive had some economic and cultural anxieties as well. And the fact that Anthony has the musical equipment and technology necessary to sound good and reach a mass audience from his backyard suggests the times we live in aren’t so lean after all.
And while it gives me no pleasure to burst the bubble on Murphy’s working-class realignment, not every song sung by a sad guy with a guitar is a window into the soul of blue-collar America. The Epstein lyrics probably should have made that clear.
Still, just because Matt Walsh and Chris Murphy like the “Rich Men North of Richmond” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Like other pieces of right-wing musical media (think MAGA rap), it’s catchy and fun. It’s even more fun when you don’t take it that seriously.