NEW YORK — Oliver Anthony, the previously unknown singer whose Rich Men North of Richmond went viral and topped the charts over the past week, hit out Friday at politicians, particularly on the right, for co-opting his message.
In a more than 10-minute clip posted on YouTube, the songwriter from Virginia reflected on his breakout success, and said that “the one thing that has bothered me is seeing people wrap politics up in this.”
“It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I’m one of them,” he said. “It’s aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies and act like we’re fighting the same struggle here, like we’re trying to present the same message.”
Rich Men North of Richmond overtook megastars Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen and Olivia Rodrigo to snag the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, with 17.5 million streams and nearly 150,000 downloads in less than a week.
The track invokes the argument that Americans in the south and rural areas have been left behind by rich elites farther north.
In his lyrics Anthony leans into issues of long hours for little pay with high taxes.
He also picks up talking points that have persisted since the business-friendly, pro-austerity Ronald Reagan years, namely against the welfare state.
Anthony had previously insisted that his political views are down the middle.
In his clip posted Friday he scoffed that his song was used during the opening of this week’s debate between Republican presidential hopefuls.
“I wrote that song about those people. So for [the Republican candidates] to have to sit there and listen to that, that cracks me up,” he says.
“That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden. It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song was written about the people on that stage — and a lot more, not just them, but definitely them.”
Anthony also spoke to critics on the left who accused him of ridiculing welfare and the poor.
He said his stanza about the “obese milking welfare” spoke to an article he read about individual food subsidies going toward snack foods.
“If we can fuel a proxy war in a foreign land, but we can’t take care of our own, that’s all the song is trying to say,” Anthony said. “That the government takes people who are needy and dependent and makes them needy and dependent.”
In the video he choked up while saying he cares about connecting with people, not topping charts.
He also promised more music to come: “I’m going to write, produce and distribute authentic music that represents people and not politics.”