A few weeks ago, Oliver Anthony, an extremely red-haired singer-songwriter from Farmville, Virginia, released a single called “Rich Men North of Richmond,” and no one has really shut up about it since. Conservatives, particularly the kind of conservatives who livestream their podcasts, seized on Anthony—who sings that “your dollar ain’t shit and it’s taxed to no end” and laments about how the world now treats “people like me and people like you”—as the new voice of right-wing populism. A lot of liberals, zeroing in on lyrics about people “milkin’ welfare” to buy “fudge rounds,” saw something similar.
If it’s understandable that people engaged with the conservative strain in Anthony’s lyrics, it was maybe a leap to unilaterally anoint him a MAGA mascot. A lot of people’s politics are a little messy, after all, and lots of people are both mad at the Man and annoyed by their neighbors. (And also, yes, lots of people are very weirded out by the whole Jeffrey Epstein thing.) But Fox News forged ahead on Wednesday, when it played a clip of “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joined the fan club too when he endorsed the song and used it as the set-up to a joke about Hunter Biden.
The funniest thing that could happen, after that, would be for Anthony himself to tell them that they were the rich men north of Richmond all along. And on Friday, he sort of did that, in a lengthy YouTube video:
“It was funny seeing my song–seeing it at the presidential debate, because it’s like, I wrote that song about those people,” Anthony said. “So for them to have to sit and listen to that, that cracks me up.”
“That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden, you know?” he continued. “It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song was written about the people on that stage. And a lot more too, not just them. But definitely them.”
Anthony pushed back against the broader political debate that had popped up around his message, and attempted to explain his position on welfare and government in a way that did not really refute what anyone was saying. He seems like a conservative dude! But he was also annoyed by the people who had decided he was their ally. It is “aggravating to see the people on the conservative news try to identify with me like one of them,” he said.
There is plenty of stuff to unpack in Anthony’s lyrics. (This Slate piece was the best I’ve seen on the welfare trope in country music.) But it is also August. And sometimes, particularly in August, it is worth taking a step back and asking yourself “would we all be talking so passionately about this, if it weren’t August?”