How right-wing-endorsed country sensation Oliver Anthony scored a left-field No. 1 hit

Oliver Anthony performs at Eagle Creek Golf Club and Grill in Moyock, North Carolina, on Aug. 19, 2023. Anthony, a Farmville, Virginia, native, is best known for his song “Rich Men North of Richmond” that went viral, making him an overnight country sensation. (Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS)

In a week and a half, Oliver Anthony became a rich man south of Richmond.

Essentially unknown as recently as early August, the red-bearded singer and songwriter from central Virginia burst into notoriety 10 days ago when his song “Rich Men North of Richmond” — a rough-hewn account of working-class desperation aimed at Washington bureaucrats bent on “total control” — went viral overnight thanks in part to its hearty embrace by an array of right-wing pundits and politicians.


First, the song topped the iTunes chart — one indication of the passion it had stirred among listeners still willing to pay to download a piece of music. Then it topped Spotify’s U.S. Top 50, a far more accurate gauge of widespread popularity in the streaming age. On Monday, Billboard reported that “Rich Men North of Richmond” — accompanied by a no-frills music video shot live in the woods that’s racked up more than 32 million views on YouTube — had entered the Hot 100 at No. 1, replacing Morgan Wallen’s smash “Last Night” atop the music industry’s flagship singles chart.

The achievement caps a stretch in which this self-described factory worker turned farmer, who’s in his early 30s and who’s admitted to struggles with substance abuse, was raking in an estimated $40,000 a day from sales and streams of his music, according to the trade journal Hits.

Anthony’s success comes amid a hot summer on the charts for country music. Behind “Rich Men” on the Hot 100 this week are two more country hits, in Luke Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s late-1980s “Fast Car” and Wallen’s “Last Night” (which itself has logged 16 nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1) — just the second time in Billboard history, following the first last month, that country tunes have taken the tally’s top three spots.

But this isn’t merely a story about the growing appeal of the country genre, which the tracking service Luminate says logged its biggest streaming week ever in June with 2.26 billion plays on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. According to Billboard, consumption of country music overall is up more than 20% in 2023 as compared to the first half of 2022.

At the beginning of a presidential race in which the right is on the hunt for MAGA warriors in pop culture, there’s also a complicated political aspect to the rise of “Rich Men,” just as there was with another country hit that recently went to No. 1, Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.” In that case, the veteran Nashville star’s song — a threat of vigilante justice directed toward anyone who dares to bring inner-city lawlessness to a place “full of good old boys raised up right” — became a conservative rallying cry after CMT banned its music video, which was shot at a Tennessee courthouse once used for a lynching.

Soon, the likes of Fox News host Jesse Watters and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were expressing their support, turning “Try That in a Small Town” into a symbol of the left’s supposed cancel-culture overreach and propelling Aldean toward his first appearance atop the Hot 100.

Anthony — who said in a YouTube video that he sits “pretty dead center down the aisle on politics” — drew enthusiastic praise from across the conservative commentariat: Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called “Rich Men North of Richmond” the “anthem of the forgotten Americans,” while Kari Lake, the failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate, said she couldn’t listen to the song “without getting chills.”

In a Facebook post last week, Anthony wrote that he has no interest in becoming a traditional superstar — that “people in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers.”

Asked whether he thought those offers were legit, a prominent Nashville manager told me, “I doubt that very much.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email