It’s a pattern that has played out repeatedly across popular culture this summer. “Sound of Freedom,” a feature film about fighting child trafficking, was championed by conservative politicians, including Donald J. Trump, while its star sometimes promoted QAnon conspiracy theories. Its nearly $180 million in domestic box office receipts have already made it one of history’s most successful independent films.
The veteran country singer Jason Aldean rode a wave of controversy to commercial success with “Try That in a Small Town.” Following a backlash against its lyrics, which critics said promoted racist vigilantism, and after Country Music Television pulled the song’s music video, which was filmed in part at a courthouse in Tennessee that was once the site of a lynching, the languishing track catapulted to No. 1 on Billboard.
But the stunning success of Mr. Anthony, whose real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford, testifies not only to the potency of confrontational works that cater to an audience that believes it is underserved, but also to something else: the increasing savvy of promoters and fans — including conservative ones — who have mastered digital platforms and guerrilla marketing tactics to dominate the very culture industries that they say have marginalized them.
Interest in “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which was streamed 17.5 million times on services like Spotify and Apple Music in its first week of release, partly grew in the manner of a typical viral track, according to the service Luminate, whose data fuels the Billboard charts.
Polarizing lyrics also ginned up the discourse. Mr. Anthony gives voice to the longstanding conservative critique of public assistance — he sings of “the obese milkin’ welfare” and adds, “Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds/taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds” — and links politicians to “minors on an island somewhere.”
Conversation flared on social media — “That’s a big reason why Oliver Anthony went viral,” said The Daily Wire’s Mr. Walsh — but there was a more targeted digital savviness at play, too. Much of the consumer activity that drove the track to No. 1 came via 99-cent digital downloads from outlets like the iTunes Store — an outdated format that is declining in popularity faster than CDs.