Oliver Anthony criticizes politicians after song played at GOP debate – The Washington Post

Oliver Anthony is criticizing politicians he said “weaponized” his hit song “Rich Men North of Richmond” — not only Democrats who consider the track a right-wing polemic, but also Republicans who embraced it at their party’s presidential debate this week.

“It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me, like I’m one of them,” Anthony said in a video published on YouTube on Friday, speaking from what looked like the cab of a rain-spattered pickup truck. “It was funny seeing my song … at the presidential debate because it’s like I wrote that song about those people, you know, so for them to have to sit there and have to listen to that, that cracks me up,” he said.

During the first Republican presidential candidate debate in Wisconsin this week, Fox played a snippet of the surprise chart-topper, in which Anthony sings about the burden of taxes, the pains of “working all day” for poor pay, and the “rich men north of Richmond” who “just wanna have total control.”

Presenter Martha MacCallum then asked the candidates onstage why “Rich Men” was “striking such a nerve” with people.

Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis replied: “Our country is in decline. This decline is not inevitable, it’s a choice. We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline.”

The lyrics of Oliver Anthony’s hit country song touches on conservative talking points, with some listeners dubbing it a working-class anthem. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

But in his YouTube video, Anthony disputed that he was “fighting the same struggle” as the conservative politicians onstage. “That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden, you know?” he said. “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.”

Such comments suggest that Anthony — a little-known singer before “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral this month, racking up more than 42 million views on YouTube and hitting the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart — doesn’t necessarily align with Republicans who would like to turn his music’s popularity into votes for their party.

At least one Fox News journalist, however, has suggested Anthony gave the network approval to play the song at the debate. Host Bret Baier told Politico they “tracked him down” and found out “two days before the debate that we got approval.”

Republicans such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia have labeled his song an “anthem of the forgotten Americans,” while Kari Lake, former Republican candidate for Arizona governor, said the song gives her “chills” adding that “it’s raw, it’s true, & it’s touching the hearts of men & women across this great nation.”

But Anthony has previously described himself as sitting “pretty dead center down the aisle” politically. In a statement posted to Facebook after his truck-cab video made headlines, he clarified that he was not a Biden supporter either. He said his song criticized “corporate owned D.C. politicians on both sides. … It’s knocking the system collectively.”

Oliver Anthony and the ‘mainstreaming’ of conspiracy theories

Artists such as the Rolling Stones, Adele and Neil Young have previously lamented their music being used by former president Donald Trump while Sam Moore (of the musical duo Sam & Dave) called out then Sen. Barack Obama for using his song “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”

“Musicians have long complained about their music being appropriated by Presidential contenders,” John Street, emeritus professor of politics, philosophy, language and communication studies at University of East Anglia, said in an email Saturday. “As to the song itself, it strikes me in sound and lyrics as part of a very long tradition of protest songs.”

Anthony’s sudden rise from obscurity to fame has sparked intense interest — as well as skepticism about the singer’s anti-establishment reputation. “Rich Men” gained traction online in part due to right-wing influencers picking it up on different platforms, while critics picked up on apparent nods to conspiracy theories in the lyrics.

His song also stoked controversy with those on the political left, who accused some lyrics of dehumanizing poor people: “Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat/And the obese milkin’ welfare.”

Anthony touched on the criticism in his YouTube video, saying “I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess in retaliation.” He denied claims his song was “an attack against the poor” saying “all of my songs that reference class defend the poor,” and that his lyrics targeted “the inefficiencies of the government.”

Anthony, who has previously described himself as “not a good musician” and “not a very good person,” appeared amused by the extent of sudden interest — from media outlets, music producers and commentators — in him and his music.

In a Friday night statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, he reiterated he did not support either political party, and then joked: “Now, go breath some fresh air and relax. Please? 🙂 I’m not worth obsessing over, I promise.”

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