August 22, 2023

Rich Men North of Richmond

Oliver Anthony Music’s breakout viral hit ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart. Among other chart achievements for the singer-songwriter, he’s the first artist ever to launch atop the list with no prior chart history in any form…

“The song has drawn both praise from the right and opposition from the left, with its lyrics referencing ‘your dollar taxed to no end ’cause of rich men north of Richmond,’ as well as ‘the obese milkin’ welfare.’ Stated Anthony in a video posted Aug. 7, ‘I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have.’” Billboard

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From the Left

The left is critical of the song, arguing that it casts blame on the wrong people.

Don’t be fooled by the title: The most vividly drawn villains in ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ aren’t rich. ‘Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat/ And the obese milkin’ welfare,’ Anthony yowls in the second verse. In the next couplet, he completes the picture: ‘Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds/ Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of Fudge Rounds.’ It’s a potent image, one that draws on the ‘welfare queen’ stereotype that oozed to life in the 1970s.”

Josh Levin, Slate

“‘Do not let the rage of the populace become focused on the capitalists’ is the number one rule of capitalism’s perpetuation of itself… The story that the ruling class and the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan and all his forebears have told generation after generation of regular ass people like Oliver Anthony is: The villain is the government…

“Look! North of Richmond! That shiny city populated by elites! Where they make taxes! Where they take your money, and give it to fat people so they can buy fudge rounds! The government is the problem! There—the target for your rage!”

Hamilton Nolan, Substack

“Every Democrat in Congress voted for legislation that ensured permanent funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which pays out $149 million in benefits for miners suffering from black-lung disease. Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, meanwhile, provided $200 million in new funding for the Mine Safety and Health Administration…

“Finally, $4 billion of the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean-energy funding is reserved exclusively for projects in communities with closed coal mines or retired coal power plants…

“Americans who are ‘selling their souls’ for ‘bullshit pay’ deserve a politics that prioritizes their interests over those of the wealthy. Building that sort of politics requires working people to form solidaristic bonds across divisions of race and employment status and to resent concentrated economic power more than government authority. Right-wing populism exists to prevent them from doing just that.”

Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

From the Right

The right praises the song, arguing that it speaks for the neglected working class.

The right praises the song, arguing that it speaks for the neglected working class.

“The song’s real appeal lies in its ability to voice a sense among the white working class that they are the least cared about group of people in America… It is hard not to hear a ring of truth in Anthony’s general sentiment. Not only do many in Washington and New York seem unbothered by the mounting difficulties of rural life, but quite a few have openly derided the idea that rural America’s problems are worth solving in the first place…

“There can be no doubt that the majority of the nation’s economic and political power is concentrated in cities. Nor do the problems that plague rural communities (opioids, lack of solid infrastructure, and joblessness) get talked about in policy circles with the same frequency as the issues of the city (LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, housing, etc.)…

“When I’ve brought up the issue of joblessness in the countryside, my friends in the city often reply: ‘Well, people should just move.’ Cities and small towns each suffer from complicated problems that will almost certainly require widely divergent solutions. But I suspect if I offered that reply in response to the urban housing crisis, I would be shouted out of the room.”

Jeffery Tyler Syck, The Dispatch

“Real wages for the bottom half of American workers have been stagnant for the better part of two generations. And Anthony is right to complain of ‘workin’ all day’ for little reward: Since 1979, the dawn of the neoliberal era, American workers’ productivity has jumped by 65 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, while their hourly pay has crawled up 17 percent.”

Sohrab Ahmari, American Conservative

For anybody who feels like the world has spun off its axis and that in American society right is often treated as wrong and wrong is treated as right, the song strikes a chord… Very few country songs aim to lay out a coherent plan for rebounding when life gets us down. They’re about expressing the sadness, the regret, the frustration, and the sorrow of life’s tragedies and setbacks. It’s okay not to offer solutions.”

Jim Geraghty, Washington Post

Libertarian Perspectives

“The song’s lyrics probe political themes as surely as Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ or Pulp’s ‘Common People’ or Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright,’ so it’s understandable that political magazines and commentators are talking about it. Still, I’m struck by how little coverage there is of ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ as art. No song goes this viral without resonating with listeners on an aesthetic level. Nevertheless, even publications that rose to prominence based on their art criticism are covering the song through the lens of politics…

Preemptively assigning figures such as Anthony to existing ideological or culture-war factions is needlessly polarizing and can even be self-fulfilling. Mashable dedicates much of its coverage to the possibility that Anthony has some objectionable right-wing beliefs, whereas almost no one outside the most reactionary right-wing websites cares when a leftist singer-songwriter turns out to have some objectionable left-wing beliefs, because that’s not why millions were attracted to the music.”
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

“Anthony's tune bumped the similarly earnest anti-urban ‘Try That in a Small Town’ by Jason Aldean from the top of the charts. If you add in Austin Moody's lefty-taunting chart-climber, ‘I'm Just Sayin',’ you have a cluster of songs grabbing popularity with a shared sense of populist outrage. Call it the return of the country protest song

“But music critics don't want to put Aldean, Anthony, and Moody in the same tradition as Woody Guthrie because times have changed, name-brand media types overwhelmingly like today's elite establishment, and the protest songs come from a different direction than Guthrie's socialism. But not approving of a protest doesn't mean it's not a protest. Times have moved on, but the gap between rural and urban, populists and elites, remains.”
J.D. Tuccille, Reason

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