Artist - Oliver Anthony 1
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‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ by Oliver Anthony - Lyrics & Meaning

September 18, 2023 8:57 pm GMT
Last Edited December 19, 2023 7:28 pm GMT

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Oliver Anthony - 'Rich Men North of Richmond'

Label: Oliver Anthony Music & RadioWV

Release Date: August 10th 2023

Producers: RadioWV

Songwriters: Christopher Anthony Lunsford

Chart Performance:

  • No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100
  • No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs
  • No. 2 on Billboard's Global 200
  • No. 43 on Billboard's Country Airplay

The Background:

When a previously obscure, bearded singer from Farmville, West Virginia released 'Rich Men North of Richmond' in August 2023, country music was reaching a sort of fever pitch.

Thanks to Luke Combs' 'Fast Car', Morgan Wallen's 'Last Night' and Jason Aldean's controversial 'Try That In A Small Town' anchoring the top spots on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, the genre was holding a place in popular culture that it hadn't seen for 42 years. This was not without some weeping and gnashing of teeth... but more on that another time.

Born Christopher Anthony Lunsford and taking his grandfather's name as his stage name, Anthony is the sole writer on 'Rich Men', which two days before the RadioWV recording was only half finished. Furthermore, it was only completed less than four hours before the video was captured.

On August 8, 'Rich Men North of Richmond' arrived quietly on the YouTube channel for RadioWV, a local outlet that serves to spotlight unsigned Americana and country acts in the West Virginia and Virginia area. Seemingly overnight, though, it started to gain traction, pushing Anthony to release it on streaming platforms on August 10.

Five days after the video first surfaced, the song reached No. 1 on iTunes' all-genre streaming charts. On August 21, after its full first week of tracking, the song debuted atop the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, making Anthony the first artist to debut at No. 1 with no prior chart history, and making ‘Rich Men’ the first song by a solo male artist to peak on both the Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs simultaneously in its debut week.

An overnight viral hit, the song has gained much of its attention due to its politically charged rhetoric, which addresses low wages, taxation, inflation, welfare abuse, food poverty, child trafficking, selfish politicians and other hot-button issues and political talking points.

With Americans on both sides of the aisle flocking to its pointed messaging, ‘Rich Men’ has become the newest weapon to be leveraged in the ongoing culture war that reflects a deeply divided America.

Seemingly a lightning rod for controversy, Anthony's blue-collar-anthem-turned-impromptu-protest-song fits into a deep vein of folk music that denounces the powers that be who would take advantage of the working class.

In a way that, at times, is reminiscent of celebrated and influential artists like Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, ‘Rich Men’ echoes some of the plights Americans have felt for generations. However, some people – mostly political pundits – have also found and resonated with much deeper meanings within its lyrics, including some extremist and conspiratorial narratives.

The Sound:

Touted as the "Blue Collar Anthem of the Year", 'Rich Men North of Richmond' doesn't have any bells or whistles attached to it.

The original video was filmed as a one-take cut in the middle of the West Virginia woods. Anthony, armed with simply his acoustic resonator guitar and a microphone, delivers the song's poignant lyrics with a moving conviction that, upon first listen, is utterly chilling.

Similarly, the studio version of 'Rich Men', which was Anthony's first time recording a song professionally and a step up from his previous method of self-recording on his phone, has the same simplistic production style. With presumably the same resonator guitar, Anthony is backed by just that, as he sings an almost carbon copy version of the tune.

Taking on the current trend in country music of recording unpolished cuts, there's something about Anthony's performance – both the live and studio takes – that renders an authentic and deeply emotive feeling, as he laments his frustrations and dissatisfactions with the current life and working conditions present in America.

Releasing his own music since 2022 under Oliver Anthony Music, much of what we've heard from Anthony thus far has taken on a similar type of sound, including tracks like 'Virginia', 'I Want To Go Home', 'Ain't Gotta Dollar' and others. None have connected quite like 'Rich Men', though.

The Meaning:

In just over three minutes, Anthony attempts to speak for a large swath of American people. Whether he wanted to or not, he's effectively become somewhat of a voice for an entire class of his peers and neighbors who often get left out of popular discourse and pop culture.

The man behind the working class anthem worked for three years in multiple blue-collar jobs, including at a paper mill in North Carolina. However, after fracturing his skull in a workplace accident in 2013, he moved back to Virginia, where he's since worked in the industrial manufacturing industry.

"I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day
Overtime hours for bullshit pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away"

The song opens with Anthony describes a working man's struggles, airing out some of his grievances concerning low wages and the labor market. With just these four lines, 'Rich Men' takes on the tone of your average working-class anthem, with no clear assailant or enemy having been named.

Singing of being overworked and underpaid, Anthony angles it in a way as to say that he's doing all of this toiling so that he can come home and drink his troubles away. Then he'll wake up and do it all again, caught in a vicious cycle until his life withers away.

For reference, the rural town of Farmville in which Anthony resides has a population of under 8,000. The per capita income of the town is roughly $13,000, putting its residents well below the poverty line (currently sitting at about $14,580 for individuals in 2023).

"It's a damn shame what the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is"

As we move on to the next verse, Anthony explains that the state of the world is worrisome, or better yet it's simply a shame.

Calling out his listeners and bringing them into this narrative, he notes that he wishes it was all just a bad dream that he could wake up from, but alas, this is the world in which he's stuck in.

"Livin' in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
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
'Cause your dollar ain't shit and it's taxed to no end
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond"

At this point, Anthony begins to fix his aim on some social-political issues being faced in the United States. Chiefly, this stanza refers to the "rich men" wanting "total control", referring to politicians living in Washington, D.C., roughly 100 miles north of his home in Farmville.

Anthony sings that he's an old-fashioned guy living in a new world, where things like the value of his dollar and his share of taxes don't exactly add up how they used to. Beyond that, he knows who is responsible for these pains: those greedy politicians and corporate elites up in D.C.

With an air of anxiety, Anthony notes that the "rich men" want to know everything about you; from what you think, to what you do. It essentially references the classic George Orwell take from 1984: "Big Brother is watching you".

"I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain't got nothin' to eat
And the obese milkin' welfare
Well, God, if you're five-foot-three and you're three-hundred pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of Fudge Rounds
Young men are puttin' themselves six feet in the ground
'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin' them down"

This is the point where things get hairy. Unironically, its also the point that has carried the most conversation, and for conservative talking heads, the crux of their arguments.

In the first two lines, there's an admittedly clever bit of wordplay concerning "minors" and "miners". Not so lighthearted is the presumed meaning of these lyrics.

Since its release, this specific section of prose has been interpreted as a reference to infamous sex offender and financier, Jeffrey Epstein, and his private island. Many have speculated that Anthony was referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds the belief that politicians and other elites engage in child sex trafficking and other forms of child abuse.

Holler can not speak to the actual meaning behind these lines.

Further down, Anthony shifts his sights to the topic of poverty, mentioning that there are many people in the U.S. out on the street and without a stable source of food or the option to go on welfare.

Meanwhile, Anthony sings, the country also has people who take advantage of the aforementioned government assistance program. Rather than using that aid for its intended purpose, Anthony notes that they're instead using it on "bags of Fudge Rounds" and other junk foods, which quickly became a viral meme across social media.

This section of the lyrics includes snide remarks about people who are overweight and the issue of obesity, which has been a notable point of criticism since the song's release.

"Lord, it's a damn shame what the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is"

What has Oliver Anthony said about ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’?

They journey of 'Rich Men North of Richmond' has been unprecedented, to say the least.

Not having any concept of how the song would explode, Anthony preemptively uploaded a nearly ten-minute long video to YouTube the day before the 'Rich Men' video was released. In it, he mentioned some of what the song's lyrics meant, as well as his sentiment behind writing the song.

"It's about some people that live north of Richmond, Virginia, who I'm sure you're very well aware of and who make life a little more difficult than it should be," he jested. "I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have... It seems like both sides serve the same master and that master is not someone of any good to the people of this country".

Explaining that the song does touch on sex trafficking, he also noted that, towards the end of 'Rich Men,' the lyrics pertain to suicide rates, mental health and depression. "People talk about epidemics in this country when it comes to homelessness, drug use, the lack of skilled labor and the suicide rates. Those aren't problems, those are symptoms of a bigger universal problem", he said.

After 'Rich Men' had essentially become part of our vernacular in August, the song was interestingly referenced at the first Republican presidential debate on August 23, further propelling it into the political arena. What followed from the debate doesn't pertain as much to the song, its meaning or its origins, but Anthony did feel called to address the rumors.

"It was funny seeing my song at the presidential debate, because I wrote that song about those people. For them to have to sit there and listen to it cracks me up," he laughed. "That song is written about the people on that stage, and a lot more, too".

He went on to say, "I do hate to see that song being weaponized... [The people this song is about] have done everything they can in the last two weeks to make me look like a fool, to spin my words, to try to stick me in a political bucket. They can keep trying, but I'm just going to keep on writing".

Anthony also addressed those who interpreted the song's fourth verse as "an attack against the poor", saying that all of his songs "defend the poor".

Though the song neatly fits some conservative narratives and has won overwhelming support from the likes of Republican House Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and a sea of conservative commentators, including Dan Bongino, Matt Walsh and Laura Ingraham, Anthony has confirmed that the song is about suits on both sides of the political dichotomy.

For the full lyrics to Oliver Anthony's ‘Rich Men North of Richmond,’ see below:

I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day
Overtime hours for bullshit pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away

It's a damn shame what the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is

Livin' in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
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
'Cause your dollar ain't shit and it's taxed to no end
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond

I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain't got nothin' to eat
And the obese milkin' welfare
Well, God, if you're five-foot-three and you're three-hundred pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of Fudge Rounds
Young men are puttin' themselves six feet in the ground
'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin' them down

Lord, it's a damn shame what the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is

Livin' in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
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
'Cause your dollar ain't shit and it's taxed to no end
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond

I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day
Overtime hours for bullshit pay

For more on Oliver Anthony, see below:

Written by Lydia Farthing
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