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Oliver Anthony Wisely Snubs the Conservative ‘Rich Men

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Oliver Anthony has a very old soul for a 31-year-old.

No one knew anything about the singer behind the country’s biggest song, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” just a few weeks ago. He was a bearded Virginia resident grappling with alcohol addiction and his faith in the Lord.

Now, he’s being name-checked during presidential debates, singing at Joe Rogan’s Comedy Mothership club in Austin, Texas, and reportedly fielding (and rejecting) million-dollar offers from the music industry.

He’s as close to a literal overnight sensation as we may ever get. That means everyone wants a piece of The Oliver Anthony Story, for better and worse.

Except he wants to stay true to himself, not any political party or recording conglomerate. It might be the smartest move he ever makes.

Conservatives lined up to share his breakout hit, cheering the tune’s rebellious spirt and anti-Big Government lyrics.

“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 s*** and it’s taxed to no end
‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond”

Republican darlings like Fox News host Jesse Watters and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the song. Conservative influencers, along with apolitical folks like podcast giant Joe Rogan, shared the tune on social media.

The song topped Billboard’s Hot 100 songs chart for two weeks. According to Variety, the numbers speak for themselves:

“The country-folk song drew nearly 23 million streams in the last week — that’s an increase of 31% — and also earned 2.3 million airplay audience impressions for a spike of 310%. It also continued to overperform in digital download sales, logging 117,000 sales for the week ending Aug. 24, per Luminate.”

Except Anthony made clear he doesn’t want to choose political sides.

The singer recoiled after Fox News debate moderators brought up his song during the Aug. 23 televised debate. “It was funny kind of seeing the response to it,” he said. “That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden, you know? It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song is written about the people on that stage and a lot more too not just them, but definitely them.”

Why would Anthony reject the GOP in such stark terms? Why tack to the center, or at least reject his new, right-leaning friends, after so many of them made him a star?

He may genuinely wish to stay above the tribal fray. Or he quickly realized being a right-leaning singer put a big, fat target on his back.

Just consider the media’s reaction to his arrival on the scene. NPR took one look at “Rich Men’s” lyrics …

I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere

… and immediately sounded the alarm: “Scratch the surface, however, and you also find extremist and conspiratorial narratives.” The report then tries to make connections between the lyrics and QAnon, without ever explicitly saying Oliver Anthony himself is a fellow traveler; rather, he’s judged on the basis of some — but not all — of the people who have listened to and shared his song.

The most frightening example of the media’s quest to bring down the singer comes courtesy of Variety. The magazine not only admits it too is judging the singer by some of his listeners — “But if an artist is known by the fans they keep, the highest-profile fans Anthony has quickly accumulated are very much on the right side of the aisle” — it is also up front about the fact it tried to dig up dirt on him but came up empty: “’Oliver Anthony’ is a nom de plume; still, nothing that turns up under his real name suggests that he was actually financed by a PAC or major label or doesn’t really know what a deer blind is.”

The magazine also apparently took seriously a progressive conspiracy theory that the singer is a “plant” to help the GOP. Why would Variety do such a thing? Is it possible his right-leaning image made them do it?

That’s rhetorical.

Ordinary Americans thrust into the limelight often take the bait handed to them, and it’s hard to blame them. Kyle Rittenhouse became a conservative star after he was accused of killing two white BLM protesters in self-defense during the 2020 Kenosha, Wis., riots. (Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges).

The late “Joe the Plumber” rode a simple question posed to President Barack Obama in 2008 to a brief but memorable ride as a GOP darling.

The media savaged both, of course. “His real name isn’t even Joe,” journalists cried in mock alarm. Rittenhouse was branded a racist, even though the people he shot in self-defense were white.

Conservatives had their backs. Shouldn’t Anthony seek out similar protection?

Anthony’s greatest strength as an artist lies in his authenticity, and his bold and earthy voice is just part of that appeal. It’s hard to remain genuine when you’re pulling your protest song punches or trying not to alienate one side of the aisle.

There’s another obvious benefit to his apolitical pose: The press might stop digging through his background and trying to smear him for the sin of being a country crooner Heartland USA calls its own.

Christian Toto is an author, film critic and host of The Hollywood in Toto Podcast.

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