“Rich Men North Of Richmond” quickly shot to number one on iTunes after going viral on social media. While singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony, with his wily beard and bluegrass style, is not the typical country-pop star one would expect to top the charts, he breaks the mold of indie-country music as well. By failing to conform to either of the two styles in the genre that are popular today, Anthony shows that his blue collar anthem is the real deal.
Oliver Anthony | Rich Men North of Richmondpic.twitter.com/egEqDHcZXB
— Country Chord (@CountryChord) August 10, 2023
Country music is making a “comeback,” according to Billboard magazine. Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Kelsea Ballerini, Marren Morris — all among the top country stars — blend country themes with “hip-hop aesthetics,” bringing mainstream cross-genre appeal. While often hitting the same repetitive motifs — dirt roads, ripped jeans, cold beer, pick-up trucks — they conform to the idea of what producers in Los Angeles imagine appeals to the average joe. And with the regular sell-out shows, it’s clear the formula works. Earlier this year, Wallen became the first country artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 42 years.(RELATED: The True Life Story Behind Mega Viral Country Hit ‘Rich Men North Of Richmond’ Sent Chills Up My Spine)
This country-pop star often conforms to the strictures of the broader left-wing music industry. The media has long insisted that country music atone for its sins — its “longstanding race problem” and “intensely homophobic” history. This “new class” of country singer largely abides. These stars are not shy about advertising their left-wing bona fides on social media. At minimum they are willing to bend to the mob.
Combs engaged in a struggle session about his “own role in upholding systemic racism,” while Stapleton is a “BLM activist.” Ballerini infamously performed alongside drag queens at the CMT Music Awards, while Morris went on Ru Paul’s Drag Race to apologize for the industry’s “homophobia.”
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There is another strain in the genre that styles itself as a traditionalist alternative to commercialized country. Indie artists like Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell also achieve broad success, but with an aesthetic that hearkens back to the folk roots of early country music. They focus themes of struggle associated with rural life in post-industrial America — nostalgia, addiction, economic decline and cultural malaise with a genuine connection to local lore. Rolling Stone has deemed Childers the authentic “voice of Appalachia.” What was once a counterculture stalwart is now a certified establishment mouthpiece.
Why would a magazine committed to delegitimizing Donald Trump as a dictatorial racist gush over a musician who claims to represent the demographic most likely to vote for him? Perhaps it’s because they’re both on the same side.
Childers and Isbell are both adherents of the social left — variously termed “hicklibs” or “woke yokels.” Isbell is proudly “not afraid of alienating Southern fans” over their support for Trump. He is so overtly politically that he even considered running for office after his kids are grown, “if we still have a democracy” by then, he said, in his best impression of a CNN anchor.
Childers too made a descent into left-wing racial activism on his 2020 album “Long Violent History,” denouncing American police brutality. At the time, NPR proudly covered how he “pushe[d] back” against the apathy of his rural, white listeners. His latest release, “In Your Love,” tells the story of a “queer love story.” NPR praised him for “taking chances,” but is it really a risk to echo the favored political narrative of America’s elite?
Ultimately, the media loves the woke yokel country star because his popularity sends the message that resistance is futile. These musicians appropriate the style and language of authentic country music and exploit their own genuine connection to the regional culture to slyly re-orient traditional values toward a left-wing social agenda. Your chosen representatives in the music industry all support these new values — so give up your backward traditions and fall in line, bigot.
Being told their hollow virtue signalling is actually a brave stand of resistance allows hicklibs to keep their indie cred, all while racking up mainstream praise and profit. You can’t blame them for taking such a sweet deal. (RELATED: Country Music Backlash Reveals The Left’s Visceral Hatred For Conservative America)
Oliver Anthony is the rare country singer who doesn’t fall into either category. “Rich Men” comments on the genuine grievances of working class America— the lack of economic opportunity (“overtime hours for bullshit pay”), a politically incorrect critique of cultural decline (“the obese milkin’ welfare), and the establishment’s ceaseless desire for “total control” and indifference toward non-favored groups (“‘cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down”). These are the true iconoclastic positions that most country-pop stars or their indie comrades would never touch. But this is exactly what makes Anthony so appealing to the masses.
Now dominating the iTunes charts, Anthony shows that an aspiring country star does not need to conform to the aesthetics or the values of the broader music industry. There is a swelling appetite for a truly authentic voice in country music, which is why the media has worked tirelessly to trivialize his success. Anyone who brings traditional values and styles back to the genre has the power to disrupt the left’s narrative on what country music should be.