Oliver Anthony, the man behind this week's fast-rising, chart-topping hit “Rich Men North of Richmond,” released the second installment of his “It’s a pleasure to meet you” videos, this time talking about the way his song has been co-opted by conservatives and weaponized politically.
On Wednesday, when eight Republican presidential candidates faced off at the first primary debate, the question that kicked off the night was, “Why is ['Rich Men North of Richmond'] striking such a nerve in this country right now?”
In the 10-minute YouTube address, the Virginia songwriter said he hasn't liked watching “people wrap politics up in this,” and that he’s disappointed and aggravated that the conservative media have tried to identify with him, “like I'm one of them.”
In Anthony’s first “It’s a pleasure to meet you” videos, he described himself as in the middle, politically.
“It was funny seeing it in the presidential debate, because it's like, I wrote that song about those people,” 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, not just them, but definitely them.”
Anthony continued that it was nearly impossible to articulate his political ideology and beliefs in three minutes, and that he hates to see his song being used politically.
“I see the right trying to characterize me as one of their own, and I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess in retaliation. That s— got to stop," he said.
“I don't know that I've seen anything get such a positive response from such a diverse group of people. And I think that terrifies the people that I sing about in that song.”
The Virginia songwriter got choked up as the 10-minute address went on, and he said he wanted to touch on comments he's heard from the left as well.
“I do feel compelled to address something: I do need to address the left ... because they're sending a message out that the initial song is an attack against the poor,” he said.
Anthony was addressing a verse about the “obese milking welfare” by using tax money to buy Fudge Rounds. Anthony said the lyric references a news article he read this summer that said adolescent kids in Richmond who normally get cafeteria lunch at school were missing meals over the summer because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them; the article indicated that a significant portion of the food bought with welfare support was junk food.
“And that's not the fault of those people. Welfare only makes up a small percentage of our budget,” Anthony said.
“At some point, I will dissect all my lyrics of all my songs if that's what I need to do,” he said. “It's like it's driving people crazy to see the unity that's come from this, from all walks. This isn't a Republican and Democrat thing.”
Two weeks ago Anthony posted a lengthy Facebook post that he declined an $8-million offer, much to the shock from the industry. The post didn't provide more details about the source of the offer.
"People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers. I don't want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don't want to play stadium shows, I don't want to be in the spotlight. I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression," he wrote. "These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they're being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung. No editing, no agent, no bull—. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.